VOIP and the home “hoot and holler”

What happens to distance conversations when you take away the cost constraint? That thought experiment is playing out empirically right now, and I think we’re seeing that people have text/video conferencing wrong. It is not that that instant message and voice-over-IP are merely cheap replacements for phone calls or physical visits. Sure, it is that sort of difference in degree, but it is also a difference in kind.

If you didn’t have to pay, why wouldn’t you leave connections open longer, perhaps for hours? It becomes a sort of personal/professional relationship squawk box, a home “hoot and holler” analogous to what is on the trading floor at brokerage firms. Such firms generally have a persistent audio link among London, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto whereby traders can hear one another working and yammer back and forth about trades and customers. It creates a disconnected connectedness that bridges distances and reduces conversational transaction costs — there is no need to initiate a new conversation when you are always already in one.

On a more personal level, you see this phenomenon in action in John Perry Barlow’s comments today. He talks about using Apple’s iChat AV and leaving the audio connection on after the “conversation” was over. Having done the same thing, it is a little unnerving at first, but the results can be interesting and collaborative.

Fascinating how many people are noodling about this subject. I’ve had a couple of recent conversations with David Akin about iChat, most of which were precipitated by David Pogue’s (excellent) series on video conferencing in his N.Y. Times Circuits newsletter.