June 25, 2004 spout

My Experiments in Social Video

June 25, 2004

Because I’m a rarity at Microsoft, a remote employee, I’ve been conducting experiments in social video to increase my presence from afar.

Experiment #1: Mini-Me

My first experiment was a dedicated laptop for IM audio and video that sits on my desk in building 5. The idea was that anyone that wanted to chat with me could wander by my office and start an a/v chat w/ me nearly as easily if I was actually in the office. And then, when I’m supposed to be in a meeting, instead of requiring someone to bring their laptop, with a web-cam installed, and give it up to me for the duration of the meeting so that I could see folks, they could just grab the mini-me” laptop from my desk and bring it to the meeting.

Sounds nice, eh?

Doesn’t work.

The reason mini-me doesn’t work as a stand-in for me in my office is because there’s no standard account I can login with on my desktop, e.g. redmond\guest. The reason a standard account would be nice is so that I can leave it logged in all the time, tie its own .NET Passport to the account and put a shortcut on the desktop to make it IM me in video conference mode (I actually wrote an app that does just that). Unfortunately, it has to be an MS domain account so it has network access and if I leave an anonymous domain account logged in on a laptop all the time, that’s an enormous security hole. And if I make folks that want a quick chat with me log in themselves, they’ll will have to wait for their domain settings to migrate to the laptop, they’ll have to login with their own IM account, they’ll have to configure the web cam before using it and they’ll have to remember to logout when they leave for the next person. Frankly, I’m not worth all that trouble when they could just call, IM or email me.

So, the mini-me laptop is a bust unless I can figure out a way to get Internet access without Intranet access inside the MS corporate Intranet without requiring everyone to log in w/ their own account to get it. Oh, and it has to be in a way that works with wireless so that they can haul mini-me to a meeting without having to haul along a cable, too.

Experiment #2: Maxi-Me

My 2nd experiment in social video went quite a bit better. Last week I gave two 1-hour talks back to back to the AZ .NET User Group, but the trick was, I gave them from my house. The setup was two computers on each side. One was for NetMeeting app-sharing (using MSN Messenger to request Remote Assistance works, too, but I can never get MSN Messenger app-sharing going). The second is for the video (the CPU load was too heavy to do both on one computer). Voice was done over the phone, which they put through their PA system. They also had two computers, both attached to video projectors, broadcasting my screen using one projector and my image using another (can you imagine how disturbing it must have been to see the giant, pixelated maxi-me? I shudder at the thought : ).

The app-sharing worked well, as I was able to easily switch between PowerPoint and a Terminal Services session to my Longhorn box. The audio worked well because I insisted on 2-way audio so I could hear them ask questions (I hate talking into silence). The video was cool, because I could see them raise their hands, drift off, laugh, etc, but it required somebody sweeping the room on their end periodically (talking without seeing your audience is slow death).

Overall, it seems like folks were able to enjoy a remote presenter without too much trouble. Once I got em warmed up, the speaker phone and roving camera made Q&A very natural. I would try maxi-me again, although I’d love it if I could get mini-me working, too.

In general, I believe that ubiquitous a/v conferencing is inevitable. I just I’m just a bit ahead of the curve. : )