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Video: The Bridge Between Online and Offline

Some friends of mine from the Twitter tribe, #UsGuys, had the novel idea to stage a three-day virtual conference. We named it “usXsw,” for those not able to attend this year’s SXSW extravaganza in Austin, TX. Rather than sit home and pout, it’s always better to get in gear and turn a negative into a win. With more than 250 participants and over 4000 tweets, the event was a resounding success.

As an add-on, a few of us orchestrated a live video chat and billed it as the usXsw After Party. Jeff Namnum of Socialisle, @SocialSchoolLI and a recent member of #UsGuys, suggested the idea and hosted the event. Of course, meeting by live video provides several possibilities for engagement.

We tossed around the idea of focusing the chat around selected topics, similar to what was being done in the Twitter conference, but quickly abandoned that after a test drive proved it was fun simply spending time together in our virtual party hall. We decided real value could be derived just from giving people the opportunity to finally see each other and talk together after weeks of tweeting, strengthening the relationships of those we’ve met online.

It was a blast! And if you don’t believe me, then you weren’t there for our virtual fist bump!

Exploring new ways to share and develop real, meaningful communities online, requires venturing beyond Twitter’s 140 and Facebook “Likes.” Oddly enough, pushing these online relationships deeper increasingly means driving these relationships further offline.

This is how many of us are propelling our newly assembled, globally-amplified networks to bigger things and richer experiences. Beginning with short tweets and comments, posting photos and then moving onto email, video and finally having real life meetups — this seems to be the natural progression of meeting strangers online and converting them into truly meaningful friendships and business relationships in real life. The world is indeed getting smaller.

Lights, cameras, action

As #UsGuys continues to expand and grow globally, perhaps even venturing into other endeavors, video is the right thing at the right time to push our relationships to the next level. It’s also a great tool for facilitating virtual work meetings and planning discussions since geographical realities make meeting in person impractical.

Many of us have Skyped together, but video conferencing is offered as a premium service requiring member fees so it’s not practical for larger groups that desire the flexibility to video chat at any time. Other services are available, however, that allow people to join in chat conferences at any time for no cost.

A service called Tinychat allows up to 12 people on camera simultaneously and up to 400 others joining in through live texting (and tweeting out these same messages if they choose). People can also join by sound only without activating the camera, but it uses up one of the 12 assigned video slots (replaced by a black box).

The texting function is good too and adds a whole other dimension to the communication. It gets really fun when additional commentary flies under the radar, and sometimes at the expense of those speaking on camera (kind of like talking behind someone’s back except this is right under their noses). Being able to tweet out any of these comments at any time is an additional bonus.

Early adopters

Our forays into video have already offered value, even though the technology has been glitchy at times. This was mostly the result of either broken video or sound dropping out. Sometimes poor connections are at fault; other times people have difficulty finding the correct setup that works best; and sometimes not switching off other applications while using a camera or microphone causes interference.

And yes, sometimes people simply don’t notice their microphone is muted. I’m guilty of that one (for some reason, Tinychat defaults to a muted microphone — I assume to protect the user from inadvertently broadcasting a private conversation).

#UsGuys Afterhours Party

As we continue to familiarize ourselves with the technology and how best to utilize it, I like keeping it simple for now. I thought it would be a good idea to hold a regularly scheduled #UsGuys Afterhours Party every Thursday at 10:00 PM EST.

Pure fun may seem trivial to some, but just as other people prefer to “fill the world with silly love songs,” anything that helps strengthen bonds and deepen relationships is a pretty strong benefit in itself. What’s wrong with that?

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