Is Facebook Video Chat the Future of Social Media?

Video wants to be social, my colleagues at GigaOM have said. While I have my own misgivings about that idea, I’m more interested in the reverse: “Does social media want to be video?”

Everywhere you look, social media is increasingly becoming video. Last fall, in the space of only a month, Facebook went from being the 10th most popular site for viewing video to being third – behind only YouTube and Hulu. And while Hulu had four times as many streams as Facebook, Facebook had more than double the unique viewers.

Oh, and that surge in traffic Facebook saw on Christmas wasn’t just people posting status updates. OoVoo, a company that provides video chat over Facebook, reported a 50 percent spike in users that day, prompting OoVoo’s CEO, Philippe Schwartz, to boast, “This confirms our belief that connecting face-to-face, whether for personal or business use, can bridge distances and make people feel closer together than phone, text or email.”

Twitter is seeing a similar phenomenon. In the back half of last year, Twitvid, the site that allows users to share video via Twitter, grew an audience of nearly 460,000 unique monthly visitors. And it’s growing in stature all the time, introducing search capabilities last month and gaining mindshare in pop culture.

“Text in 2010 is boring,” Robert Scoble wrote in a recent blog post on why Twitter use may be tapering off. (That its tapering off at all is a matter of debate, though, as available numbers may be misleading.)

Even enterprise social networking is gravitating more toward video, as demonstrated last week by the partnership struck between Mzinga, an enterprise social networking provider, and Kaltura, a much-younger provider of social video platforms.

As social networking becomes more mobile and as next-generation mobile broadband technologies increase the amount of bandwidth available to mobile devices, video will be the most natural mode of social communication. Status updates spelled out in letters may become the minority before very long.

One of the drawbacks to using video instead of text in this way, however, is that video is not searchable the way text is, nor is it quickly scannable; you have to consume it at its own pace. But even these limitations could be overcome in time. Perhaps social video eventually will be accompanied by automatic speech-to-text operations that add a metadata transcript to every video, making it easier to search textually. So if I posted video of myself singing the Star-Spangled Banner, you could find it by Googling, “rocket’s red glare.” If each video’s transcript were viewable with a click, and each word in the text linked to that moment in the video, the videos would be easily scannable, too. That might be hard to pull off technologically, given the spotty accuracy of most speech-to-text systems today. But we’re already accustomed to that spottiness in visual voicemail services and the like. And thanks to YouTube, we don’t expect high precision from our social video.

So where will we draw the line? When it comes to social communication, when will we type rather than simply look into a lens and speak?

Question of the week

When it comes to social communication, where won’t video take off?