Screen shot of ooVoo's iPad app. (Peter Belanger / ooVoo )
Ever want to video chat with a few of your closest friends? How about 11 of them at the same time? That's what video chat service ooVoo offers free through Facebook and a new iPad app.
The company, whose name represents two sets of eyes looking at each other, lets users access video chat rooms from the iPhone and Android phone over Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G LTE as well as via Web and desktop apps. The desktop apps allow up to 12-way chat, screen sharing and sharing of files up to 25 megabytes.
The Facebook app, which actually quietly launched a bit ago, already had over 300,000 users listed during its beta and currently has 12,000 likes. The app does make it very easy to connect with friends on the social network and could make for an interesting way to experience, for example, live television events that Facebook users are already sharing through their real-time updates.
The new app for the iPad allows up to four chat streams at the same time.
One of the most convenient aspects of this service over, say, Skype or Facetime, is that users can invite people by sending them a user-specific ooVoo link, so friends can participate without having to download the application.
The service has been around for four years and experienced a sizable bump in registrations about two years ago. That was about the time mobile devices got front-facing cameras as a standard feature.
Now ooVoo has 46 million users, doubling in size over 14 months, with a huge appeal among youth, according to Chief Executive Yuval Baharav.
More than 65% of the video chat service's user base is younger than 25 years old, Baharav said in a video interview over ooVoo on the iPad. "What we're seeing happening on this service is part of a new interesting phenomenon of youth using video communications not just as a means to conduct a phone call," he told The Times, "… but as a way to always be on" and connected with one another.
The kids using the service aren't using it simply as a replacement for Skype-style services to call family overseas. "They are spending time with friends they just saw [at school], doing homework together, watching television together," Baharav said.
In fact, the average user spends about 204 minutes a month on the service, he said.
And users are sharing their ooVoo chats in interesting ways. Some are recording their chats on their computers and uploading them to YouTube or taking screen shots and posting them on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr.
When it comes to communicating among ooVoo's young users, Baharav said, they "re-create intimacy using new technologies or by combining new technologies."
Although the iPad app doesn't currently allow recording, the ooVoo team said that's in the works. The desktop application does include video chat recording.
My interview over the iPad app with the ooVoo team connected a total of four different chat locations over the same number of devices. The quality of video depended on the quality of the network connection.
I further tested the service over Facebook using Safari on a MacBook connecting to the user-specific link using Firefox on a Windows-based Dell netbook. After having to update the java plug-in on both computers, the video quality was decent, though the netbook's slower processor made for video trailing the audio by about a full second or two.
Note, though, that simply having the app open in Facebook isn't enough to show up as available to your friends. I found that I had to click the button to start a new chat to appear ready to connect.
"We've been stuck in a metaphor that's existed in a hundred years of the phone call," said Robert Jackman, ooVoo's executive chairman. And "instead of doing a planned phone call, [ooVoo users] are living their lives ambiently."
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