When sending an instant text message on the Internet just won't do, try flashing some video instead. With a Webcam and the right software, friends and colleagues can see you live.
Instant messaging programs have long come with the ability to send documents, photos and video files. Live audio also was possible. Now, there's live video.
Yahoo Messenger now offers built-in live video, and an add-on is available from Logitech for AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger. Both products are free.
Don't get your hopes up, though.
Most of the time, the video looks more like a series of photos, even when using high-speed connections on both ends. It's even worse when one side is using a dial-up connection.
The exception: the "Super Webcam" mode that comes with Yahoo Messenger version 5.5, released in mid-August.
Both sender and recipient must have broadband, and even then, they must be direct connections unencumbered by security firewalls or gateways known as proxies. The best way to know is to try.
If you do get Super Webcam to work, you'll get pretty decent moving images. I got up to 10 frames per second on a screen 5 inches across and 3 1/2 inches wide--not bad given the technical limitations.
The frame rate for normal mode, available since last summer's release of version 4.1, is less than one per second, meaning the video comes across stilted and jerky.
The software is fairly easy to use. Just select "Invite to View My Webcam" and enter the user name of the person you're trying to contact. The software will automatically configure your settings and determine whether you can run Super Webcam.
The recipient must accept the invitation and can lodge a complaint with the click of a link.
The feature could use better integration with text messaging. It would be nice to have video and text together in the same window.
AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger do not have native live video support (though Windows Messenger for Windows XP does). So Logitech, which includes Webcams in its product portfolio, developed the IM Video Companion to fill the void.
Performance is so-so. The video stutters clumsily even when both sides have broadband.
Video comes across as a text message encouraging me to "Click to see my video." Clicking on the link takes me to Logitech's Web site, where I can view the stream. Better integration between text, audio and video would be nice.
Logitech lets you send the same video stream to multiple AOL and MSN users at once or stop a feed to specific users you've already invited. Yahoo also permits multiple users, but they must all be on its system.
The Logitech software works with non-Logitech cameras, though older and cheaper ones may not be compatible. It needs MSN Messenger 4.0 or AOL Instant Messenger 4.7 and up.
Yahoo's video feature works with Windows 98 and up and most standard Webcams.
Neither works with Macintosh computers.
With Yahoo's Super Webcam, you might be able to make out some facial expressions and gestures. Barely.