How to send Web-based video mail

by David Spark on September 20, 2007

I have become an enormous fan of video conferencing and video email for quite some time. The problem is not many people share that feeling so I engage in few video conferences. While not appropriate for all communications, every time I receive or send a video email or engage in a video conference, it’s extremely memorable. Video can convey a level of personal communication simply not possible with IM, email, or even a phone call. If you’re not using video mail or video conferencing for personal or business, you’re missing out. It makes a great touch point for even the simplest of messages. Below is some technical and creative advice on how to get started sending video mail messages. It’s really easy, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be doing it.

Listen to the Spark Minute (John Scott and David Spark from Green 960 in San Francisco, CA) talk about how easy it is to set up and send video mail to your friends and colleagues (Run time: 6:29).

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Download the MP3 (right-click, select Save Target As…)

Get a Webcam – Most notebook computers are now being sold with built in webcams. If you don’t already have a webcam, you can purchase them for as little as $50 or get one for free with a one year subscription to SightSpeed, a really good downloadable video conferencing tool that also can do video email and video blog posts. Since all webcams are USB-based, they’re incredibly easy to install.

Go for quality, not features – Unless you’re going to be using the webcam for security purposes (you’ll want a camera with motion detect) don’t bother with any of the bonus features, you’re never going to use them. Features like head tracking (seriously, how much are you moving your head in front of the computer?) and avatars (those are fun for maybe 15 seconds) are completely useless. Instead, purchase a good camera with high resolution. Most have built in microphones that are actually sufficient for voice recording.

Use a Web-based video mail tool – I was actually surprised to discover that there aren’t that many tools out there for Web-based video mail. There were a few that I found that can do the job. None of them require any downloading or installation.

  • Springdoo – Can send video mail, post video blogs, or send video from your phone (only available in the UK right now). Can record up to five minutes of video, but I found it to be very buggy tonight as sound kept dipping in and out when I was recording. On some days that problem didn’t happen. Video has to buffer for a few seconds before it plays. Requires a free registration.
  • Eyejot – Can send up to one minute video mails. Simple to use and it keeps a list of all sent to addresses so you can pick them again from a drop down list when you send follow up emails. No buffering at all during playback. Requires a free registration.
  • Gab Mail – No registration required and can record up to a minute of video, but your video plays back in a really hideous window and there’s a completely unrelated advertisement that plays before and after your video.
  • TokBox – UPDATED: This is a new video mail service that I’m having the most luck with. Springdoo failed to send a bunch of messages of mine, so I recommend trying out this new tool.

There are a handful of other players, and I know that SightSpeed had a Web-based tool they were touting a while ago, but I can’t seem to find it now.

If you can, use Facebook’s video mail – I’m a huge fan of Facebook. Read my post about why it’s so much better than other social networks. Facebook’s video mail is much better than these three competitors because it works within the Facebook application and if you have a running video dialogue going with your friend you can retrace the video thread. I like to take advantage of Facebook’s birthday announcements and send a video birthday message via Facebook. It’s always a big hit. Easier than sending a card via snail mail, and more personal then sending an e-card.Look at the camera, not yourself – There’s a tendency to watch the little video of yourself while you’re recording the video. Resist the urge and look directly into the camera. Imagine your friend you’re recording the message for and don’t forget to smile. :) Although you’ll notice that in the above video message, I ended up looking at myself at the beginning. Don’t make the same mistake as me.Don’t obsess – Of course you’ll want to play back the video to see how it looks and sounds. But don’t obsess over it. You don’t need to be a TV news anchor nor do you need to be perfect. You need to look appropriate for your friend or colleague. A few “ums” and a “well…” are perfectly OK.It’s not the technology that’s holding us back from using video but rather people’s aversion to send a video message. Be the first one to send the message and you’ll see it catch on with all your friends and colleagues.

For more, read this article I wrote last year for eWEEK about small businesses using video conferencing.

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