How Critical Is Instant Messaging When Making Video Calls?

 width=At last Friday’s lunch meeting, what started off as a walk-through of the VSee development road map, highlighting recent improvements and anticipating future features and functionality, quickly degenerated into passionate debate about whether VSee needed to include instant messaging in it’s next major release.

I don’t think it was a question of whether or not we want to have this function, but rather  a question ofhow big a priority it should be at this point in time, and whether it’s worth the time and manpower to implement it now.  Maybe we should focus all our resources on bigger and better things like rolling out the Mac OS X version or developing iPad and Android versions.

The Arguments
In one corner, we had sales saying that it is a key selling point if we want to extend the client base and improve user adoption.  The argument goes that checking someone’s availability before a video call is a natural part of the call cycle and should be allowed when making a VSee call.  Including this feature would shorten and make the call cycle more convenient.

In the other corner, we have usability saying that it doesn’t add enough value to the product itself for the time and effort it would take to implement.  People who choose VSee get it for its audio and video capabilities, not for its Instant Messaging (IM), so it’s more important to focus on delivering a great, easy-to-use AV experience.  However, usability did concede that it would be a good idea to include the ability to leave a reason for declining a video call instead of the current “black hole” response.

Within VSee itself, having that instant messaging feature isn’t crucial since we use gTalk and can use that to text-check someone’s availability before escalating to a full-on VSee call.  Most of us intuitively use it to avoid the whole intrusiveness issue and interrupting someone in the middle of doing something.

Some Interesting Research width=
Professors Garrett and Danziger did a national phone survey to investigate whether people who used text-based IM were more productive than those who didn’t.  They found that IM actually reduces workflow disruptions.  Since it is usually acceptable to ignore IM messages, and it’s easy to get a quick measure of someone’s availability, (whether through a visible indicator or a quick response), people are able to time interruptions and prioritize their interactions better.  They can easily engage in “low-intensity collaboration” and ask quick questions throughout the day without disrupting someone or being disrupted by someone.  They note that this is not the case for voice and video messaging.  Sixty percent of voice- and video-enabled IM users report that they are regularly interrupted, compared to 48% of non-users.

In Shaw, Scheufele and Catalano’s field experiment comparing workplace communication before and after the installation of an IM service in a Fortune 500 company, workers reported a significant reduction in voice mails and the need to play phone tag in their day-to-day interactions,  because they were able to check their contact’s availability using IM.  Interestingly, people did not report significant change in their communications done face-to-face, over the (landline) phone, or through e-mail, although they perceived a drop in fax, snail-mail, and cell phone use.

Isaacs et al. found that about 16% of the conversations they collected for their study were used to switch to communication in another media (like phone or face-to-face).  In these cases IM was usually used to call together an impromptu (7.8%) or prearranged (7.2%) meeting.  Less than 3% of IM conversations explicitly switched to another medium mid-conversation.  They also found that only about 31% of all IM conversations had to do with scheduling meetings and only 29% of all IM conversations were simple, single topic exchanges.

Moral of the story:

  • IM does not change how often and if people need to use other mediums including VSee video calls (Shaw, Sheufele & Catalano)
  • IM is less disruptive than a VSee call (Garrett & Danziger)
  • People will use IM to initially get a-hold of someone.  (Shaw, Sheufele & Catalano, Isaacs et al.)

What do you think?  How much value does Instant Messaging give VSee?  Should it be a VSee priority at this point? (Note:  VSee does have text-chat functionality once you’re in a video call meeting.)

R. Kelly Garrett and James N. Danziger. 2007. IM = interruption management? Instant messaging and disruption in the workplace.

Bret Shaw, Deitram A. Scheufele & Susan Catalano. 2007. The role of presence awareness in organizational communication: An exploratory field experiment.

Ellen Isaacs, Alan Walendowski, Steve Whittaker, Diane J. Schiano & Candace Kamm.  2002.  The Character, Functions, and Styles of Instant Messaging in the Workplace.

Comments ( 6 )
  • anne
    Rich Griffin says:

    Whether or not VSee keeps text chatting will probably depend most upon perceived value versus resource cost; as it is already working it makes most sense to keep it. However, from a strictly usability perspective, it depends upon whether VSee is assumed to be used as the sole tool or part of a larger unified communications platform. Even this consideration depends upon the target market.

    If VSee’s target market is those organizations needing approved, secure communications – then it’s feature set is complete

    If VSee’s target market is the unified communications – workplace environment, then a modular structure may be desirable (org already has IM? then remove VSee’s IM; allow org’s IM to escalate to VSee sessions; merge VSee’s presence/activity-status with org’s existing platform; allow org’s existing PSTN-gateway PBX to include VSee audio &/or escalate to secure VSee session, etc.)

    I seldom use VSee’s IM simply because I have to already be in a VSee session before I can use IM. As stated in this post, I use IM as a session-initiating-approval tool. i.e. IM’ing someone the message, “can you jump on a quick VSee session?” If VSee had IM-only functionality, I would use it far more often.

    My usual VSee workflow is as follows:

    1.) Click on VSee icon in toolbar (VSee window loads, VSee address book loads) – close VSee Window because I just wanted to see status of my VSee contacts’ presence and activity status
    a.) I miss the earlier version’s ability to right-click on the VSee icon to pop-up my VSee contact list

    2.) Once I’ve completed the steps in #1 to see who is online and available from my VSee contacts; I then open Pidgin to see which of my gTalk, AIM, YIM, WLM, FB-chat contacts who (as a subset) are also VSee contacts – are available in the respective IM platform; so that I can IM them and ask if they have the time/inclination to pop over to VSee for an ad-hoc session.

    3.) If all conditions met, then have VSee session; if not then go through entire process at later time &/or use ScheduleOnce or Tungle to schedule a VSee session

    All this would be greatly simplified if VSee’s IM could work independently &/or preceding a full on VSee session – that, and a quicker way to ascertain my VSee contacts’ availability and ability to engage in a VSee session.

    If VSee’s IM stays as it is, then it loses a goodly chunk of functionality. I think VSee should keep IM – I like the ability to have simultaneous side-channel IMs during VSee video+audio calls; but it really would remove more barriers of use by cutting down the steps to ascertain a potential contact’s willingness and ability to engage in an ad-hoc VSee video+audio session than the current workflow – which is just a little irritating, and has prevented some potential sessions due to intended conferee’s annoyance level exceeding the ad-hoc conversational spontaneity window.

  • anne
    Michael Chu says:

    From my practical experience, I’ve found that instant messaging is important in the following 2 cases:
    – Debugging… if I can’t get audio to work (due to misconfigured input or output device settings…) this makes it that much easier for me to let the other person know what is going on and get the connection up and going.
    – Sharing quotes and/or website info… there are times that I will want share small quotes or URLs… saying it verbally is too error prone. Sending it via email seems too heavy weight. And I might not want to share my browser window just for sending over this information.

    I wouldn’t have put it as a stand out feature to have to set a video calling app apart from other apps, but if it were missing, it might be sufficiently annoying that I’d consider exploring other options next time.

  • anne
    anne says:

    Thanks Michael! I also like being able to send text messages in meetings when you want to ask something without interrupting the speaker or meeting. (Although, I find that sometimes people abuse the side chats in Webinar-style meetings.)

  • anne
    anne says:

    Thanks for the input, Rich! I remember the first couple of times I tried to use VSee, I kept trying to find the text-only function so I could check if someone was available before I VSee’d him. It never occurred to me that VSee wouldn’t have that ability. I guess I’m wondering how much of turn-off this is to potential users.

  • anne
    Raymond Kwok says:

    Hi All

    Great blog and replies so far.

    IM is here to stay therefore my vote will be to have IM at all cost rather than letting users to switch on and off to other medium to use IM then switch back to Vsee. What users’ wish is to be able to communicate within one medium all user friendly tools to complete our work. Our tagline “Teamwork made simple” will only be embraced by users if we include IM within VSee.

    What is missing in our current Vsee IM is the request to vsee when users are offline from VSee, and we have to use other medium like gmail and IM within gmail to connect.

    Resource allocation options? Actually there is no option!

    We cannot delay our development longer on Mac OS X version as well as iPad and Android compatibility. We are already late and the next targets are to enable VSee on all mobiles and then 3D.

    We also cannot do without IM.

    Therefore we should ramp up our resources (if we need $ there are many solutions but good programmers are gold dusts) to develop both and set real target (not moving target) dates for new release launches, and to do so we need a Sergeant Major General;) and I am not showing my ages;)

    Warmest regards

    Raymond Kwok from Singapore

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