Blue Jeans = Skype + Polycom: Water And Oil Don’t Mix

oil and water don't mix

photo credit: bitjungle

Blue Jeans Network is a hot video conferencing startup that has been gaining a lot of attention even since before the public release of its product earlier this year.  They raised $23M from a set of A-list investors with its cloud-based solution that aims to bridge any video conferencing platform from any device anywhere including room-based Polycom and Cisco, desktop Skype and GoogleTalk, and mobile Skype and Android tablet.

I had the chance to drop by their booth at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference last week after I gave my talk and was quite impressed with their demo.  They showed me how beautifully Skype linked with Polycom on both desktop and tablet.  The video quality was good, and overall I thought everything was very well done.

The Blue Jeans video conferencing User Experience

However, when I examined the design of  how they make calls and share applications, I realized this is where Blue Jeans had issues.  I was reminded  of an old lesson I had learned in school – “don’t be compatible with a poor user experience.”  This was one of the principles of Larry Tesler, the inventor of “cut and paste” and an influential designer who helped shape most of Apple’s products.  It’s the problem of mixing water and oil:  they just don’t mix.  Likewise, the fundamental laws of design tell us that good and bad user experience don’t mix either.  In other words:

Good user experience + Bad user experience ≠ Okay user experience

rather,

Good user experience + Bad user experience = Bad user experience

With Blue Jeans, linking products like Skype with its great user experience and Polycom and Cisco/Tandberg with their frustrating user experiences means the overall user experience is going to be poor.  Another way to put it is you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

This isn’t to say that Blue Jeans doesn’t solve a real and critical problem in video conferencing.  It’s perfectly understandable that enterprises which have already purchased a lot of expensive Polycom and Cisco/Tandberg hardwares are unwilling to chuck their legacy systems without a fight.  But the reality is that more and more people are using Skype because of it’s better user experience.  What Blue Jeans does for many companies (with its ability to bridge Skype and room-based hardwares) is to provide a great middle ground solution that allows them to  justify the money that has already been poured into these slowly dying room-based behemoths.

Blue Jeans will have an OK Exit

On a business analysis note, my feeling is that Blue Jeans will have a good-but-not-great exit, eventually  getting acquired by one of these hardware equipment guys like Polycom, Cisco or Avaya.  Why do I think this?  Unless the Blue Jeans user experience is amazing, they will not have the user growth necessary to justify a great exit.  Very few people rave about how much they love their room-to-room hardware systems – so Blue Jeans is tying a dead weight around their customer experience which even Skype’s wings will not be able to lift up.  However, Blue Jeans does add enough value to the hardware equipment guys to have a decent exit.  As for VSee, an amazing user experience has always been our focus because ultimately we believe that  the user experience is what matters the most!

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About milton

Milton is the CEO of VSee, a startup that makes the simplest video conference and screen share tool for virtual teams to meet online. VSee serves more than 8000 enterprises including IBM, the Navy SEALs, and US Congress and was used at President Obama's inauguration. Milton founded VSee following his PhD at Stanford University on the human factors of video collaboration. He has deployed VSee for Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, Mandy Moore, the band Linkin Park, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. He has also worked in refugee camps from Syria to South East Asia to Africa. Milton is the co-author of XMPP video standard and winner of the DEMO God Award. He loves reading biographies and doing experiments on how people communicate.

17 thoughts on “Blue Jeans = Skype + Polycom: Water And Oil Don’t Mix

  1. Thanks, Jim, for commenting on our blog! While Polycom HD has significantly better video quality than Skype, getting onto the system is significantly more difficult.
    I would be very interested to hear more of your thoughts on why Polycom is better, etc.
    We love deep discussions at VSee, and we love learning from our users.

  2. Milton
    We use polycom, tandberg and Cisco and here you are comparing apples with oranges
    Telepresence systems with spatial audio aacld and h264 codecs dedicated hardware and software for mixing audio and video streams (enterprise) vs Skype (consumer and smb) which rely on personal computers resources, internet ( no qos) and probably your pc screen display just doesn’t make sense.
    Telepresence and polycom/tandberg personal endpoints using obtp and outlook for scheduling allow users to create and attend meetings inmediately, I encourage you to use those systems…

  3. Dear Jeff, thanks for your comment. I have used many room based systems from the days when I was a graduate student – from Cisco telepresence to high-end Tandberg and Polycom desktop units. In fact, I have a Tandberg desktop executive unit in our office right now :) When these dedicated hardware works – they offer an amazing audio and video experience. Skype or any other software can only come close – but not match their performance. When your IT implements Outlook unified scheduling, the experience Can be very easy.

    Would you acknowledge that the experience you described is not the common experience for hardware-based system users? Your company may be very advanced – and it is great that you have great people who made it easy. May I ask which company you work for?

    I have visited hundreds of companies where the beautiful Cisco hardware is mostly collecting dust since it is too difficult. At places like NASA, where Skype is banned, there are still a few hundred Skype users since it is so much easier than their hundred-thousand dollar video conference rooms. From my customer visits around the world – NASA is the more common scenario. What makes systems such as Cisco and Polycom so scary is that IT must also deal with the potential well-known security issues: http://vsee.com/security

    Can you share the behind the scene work that your company did to offer an amazing Cisco experience? I acknowledge that Cisco is still the dominate way enterprises do video, thus any tips you share would be loved by many frustrated Cisco users.

    btw, you are correct that comparing Skype and VTC hardware is like comparing apples and oranges, but the goal of Blue Jeans is to link these systems together. I don’t think it is a good idea to mix two very different experiences, in the same sense you think it is also wrong. thanks and with warm regard.

  4. I was very suprised to see anything even comparing the quality of a professional video conferencing/telepresence system with Skype.

    Skype is a consumer software with, what I see as very lousy quality, just suitable for chatting to friends for a few minutes here and there – professional video conferencing and telepresence from the likes of Cisco, Polycom, LifeSize etc. offers a totally different experience – high quality, high definition (if required), multipoint, datasharing, continuous presence, collaboration with other technologies i.e. interactive whiteboards, robotics technology for healthcare applications, 3D visualisation, reporting, monitoring and scheduling… and this is just a touch on what these systems offer.

    The user experience actually for many of the systems is very simple after a small amount of training, which if a system is purchased, should in my opinion, be given when the system in installed. I often find that some companies and organisations do have a system sitting on their shelves collecting dust, but with a few minutes of explanation of what these can do and the benefits they have, they realise how much these systems can really be improving their organisations rather that just being an outgoing cost.

    I wouldn’t personally say Skype has anything like a good user experience – I think this is only down to what people are use to, rather than what is good. Skype were the first mainstream consumer “video conferencing” company giving out a free piece of software so this of course was going to become what people were use to. But thats the same as any technology, when someone is use to something, they don’t like change. I don’t think I have ever used Skype without the video cutting out, losing quality all over the place, audio dropping out, out of sync video and audio or a mix of the above.

    Now BlueJeans in my opinion is offering a service that links the two completely different worlds – those who know and use real video conferencing and love the experience, realise the benefits and improve their organisation because of it, and those who use a piece of chat freeware download which happens to incorporate some video. Really the BlueJeans network to me is enabling those without any real video requirements to, on an ad-hoc basic, connect with those in the business world.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Emily! First, I completely agree that video quality of Skype can’t even begin to compare with Cisco, Polycom, etc., but I don’t think that is what post is talking about. The point is more about convenience and ease of use. Comparatively speaking, Skype is much friendlier to use than traditional videoconferencing systems, and this makes a huge difference in people using videoconferencing in their everyday work lives. In fact, I would argue that it’s precisely this ease of use factor that is going to make or break the success of any video calling or video conferencing product. It’s this factor that makes Apple products so incredibly popular and causes people who have access to videoconferencing systems choose to use Skype for everyday communications.

  6. I think people overrate and misunderstand the “user experience” of Skype and even Apple . First, the UI of Skype is just terrible, and these updates haven’t really “updated” for the better. And really, it’s not that difficult to press “power” or “call” on ANY videoconferencing system. To me, saying Apple is user friendly is like doing a simple math equation on a calculator because you’re too lazy to do it in your head.

    In the workplace, user experience doesn’t mean how easily you can see contacts (which Skype is bad at anyways). What workers and managers really want is good quality with secure connections so that there is clear communication and collaboration. If you have your video freezing every 5 minutes or an out-of-sync video & audio, you simply can’t communicate and it’s absolutely frustrating. THAT is user experience, NOT how convenient it is to make a video call. Sociologically speaking this is just a reinforcement of a Western attitude of “we deserve the highest level of comfort and convenience”.

  7. According to Cisco’s latest sponsored survey, 83 percent of US voters disagree with you, Milton:

    “83 percent (67 percent strongly) want Skype to be interoperable with other video technologies”

  8. Dear Greg,

    I think this may be the classic ‘what the customers say they want, is not actually what they want after they experience it’ :) If you use any of the Skype compatible services such as Blue Jeans – you will find the experience not as compelling and the user adoption low. Blue Jeans et al have great engineers, the problem is that the Skype experience is more than just the video – from chat rooms, to the sound notifications, it is a complete experience. Hopefully I will be proven wrong :)

    Milton

  9. Milton,
    Becky is being very helpful to me in my fledgling start up pains. I need a functionality to make my ‘solution’ complete. I plan to offer a way of re-envisioning Home Exercise Protocols by merging my simple clear animations and VSee video conference with a distant family or professional caregiver. The kind of personal encouragement most of us need to do what we know we should do. I need all parties in the video conference to be able to see the moving animation and hear the audio clips in the presentation ( PPTX) .
    Some are suggesting I convert my presentation to a video and add stop and start controls. Do I need to do this or can we make this fly with VSee out of the box !!!
    I love your work and your team!
    David Culver

  10. As others have said, this is an apples and oranges comparison. We are a Blue Jeans customer because some of our international offices don’t have a pro video conferencing solution. BJ makes it possible to connect to these offices even though those offices using Skype drag the overall quality of the conference down.

    Skype is a poor quality consumer solution. We’re trying to get rid of it in our company as fast as we can. Skype multipoint is overpriced and of dubious quality and audio is awful because Skype is a PC based solution – which means that table mics and room speakers don’t integrate we’ll with it. Furthermore, Skype’s echo cancellation is marginal at best.

    In our company, for a multi-point call with some participants using Skype, we require that the Skype users don headphones with integrated mics (the built-in mic and speakers on the computer are forbidden). If there is more than one person at a far end location then they are required to go to separate quiet rooms on their own laptops since laptops don’t have multiple headphone or mic jacks.

    All this to say that BlueJeans solves a problem, that being that some users have consumer software and equipment but we don’t want to freeze them out of participating in a video call. BJ keeps the Skype users in the loop despite the fact that it’s an otherwise toy video conferencing tool.

  11. Dear Dan, thanks for your comments. Btw, Blue Jeans has raised ~$50M, their leadership include the people behind the Skype to Microsoft multi-billion dollar acquisition, so they definitely know what they are doing.

    Regarding Skype has poor echo cancellation, try lowering the microphone volume just a bit if you are using Logitech webcam. Typically the Skype echo cancellation is very good. Google purchased Global IP Sound to acquire it, and now it is in WebRTC. There are definitely cases where Skype echo cancellation breaks down, like vsee, but in most cases, you don’t need to wear headsets.

    I think your company shows why Blue Jeans will be successful. We work with thousands of companies – we rarely see them adopt your style of working – since you need simple video, simple screen share, and a simple experience overall end-to-end – so mixing Skype + Blue Jeans + Polycom adds quite a bit of friction.

    When we designed vsee – we count every single click. our hypothesis is that when you need to work, the tool must get out of the way. a single extra click is unacceptable. If you were to count the number of clicks your team is currently experiencing and capabilities they are missing (like simple annotation across all applications) – you may be surprised at the productivity you should be gaining! :)

  12. The photo for this posting is a nice metaphor: skype-style apps can be in the same container as higher end hardware-based solutions like Polycom and Tandberg… though as revealed the posting and comment sections- not all wish to mix their oil with water, apples with oranges, or skype with polycom.

    Software-based and hardware-based apps can mix in the same container– conference call, glass, bowl of fruit, etc– and Bluejeans serves as the mixing container. Some, like the author of the post, wish not to mix the two, however should the need arise, it appears Bluejeans and others (Vidtel, PolycomCloudAxis, Zoom, etc) are (will be) available.

    I’m just beginning to explore these technologies and look forward to see how products across the spectrum can best serve solutions for a university setting where there is one-to-many lectures, online faculty office hours, and classroom-A (traditional onsite) connecting with classroom-B (also traditional onsite) connected via video/audio. Currently at my workplace we do this with skype and it has proven to be a bit of a mixed drink!

  13. Wow. Really? Skype a good UE? In what alternate universe? I too have been in the VC world since the very, very early days. I have Skype on my laptop, but not because it is good. And I’d wager (and I know it is certainly true among the people I know) that the vast acceptance of Skype is not that it is so easy to use, but that it is FREE. Try using one of the softphones with video support. Just as easy and works a whole lot better.
    As far as the companies that allow their high end VC equipment gather dust, I’d bet that it isn’t that they don’t know how to use it, they don’t know WHY to use it. Admittedly, it is more complex to use a board room system than Skype. Of course, with a little work you can make it EASIER to use than Skype, something the integrator should have done for them. Still, would you expect to use Skype for a board meeting? I’d hope not.
    I think you are off when you say that Blue Jeans will deliver a bad user experience. A directory entry in the VC system and a new contact for the Skype user, will give both users the same experience: Easy, one button calling. BTW, I have been testing Blue Jeans (and others) because I have a need for this function. So I can state with authority that it is not a bad user experience from either endpoint. It’s not perfect, but that isn’t because it uses standalone systems. It’s their (Blue Jeans’) own implementation that makes the wrinkles, not because it connects to a Polycom.
    So, from my point of view, I really can’t agree with you.

  14. Dear Drew,

    Yes – Skype has a good UI :) I know this is controversial – if you were to do a user study, I am certain you will find endless stream of people who say that Skype has a terrible UI. Just like there are plenty of iPhone fans, there are just as many who find iPhone not that great. In design – it is not possible to please everyone; eg, at vsee – we constantly prototype different designs – and some turn out great and many turn out terrible.

    Btw, as I said numerous times, Blue Jeans has very smart people, backed by the people who sold Skype to Microsoft. These people know what they are doing, and can they make Blue Jeans easy to use, have a great UI? I have no doubt they can do as good a job as anyone.

    In design, the first step is deciding the core use case and the design theme foundation – but Skype and Polycom each has a different core design theme, this is why Blue Jeans has a near impossible task. This is why I think Blue Jeans will ultimately serve a much smaller market than Vidyo, Zoom, Tango, etc.

    Btw, I would love to hear where Blue Jeans could improve from your UI testing, as well as how vsee can improve. thanks and with warmest regards.

  15. I noticed that VSee doesn’t support h323 calls yet. Is it on the roadmap? If so, what timeframe?
    Thanks,
    Mike

  16. Hi Mike – we actually have an H.323 adapter but it isn’t anywhere near release. Our focus right now is really to get VSee Android and VSee 1-Click Waiting Room perfected. So the short answer is “not anytime soon.” Thanks!

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