Mobility

3 apps and services to help your business prepare for the video-first future

Video has already changed how we work and learn. Asynchronous video will change how we communicate—and video search will change it even more. Here are three apps to get you started.

Timeline with various video images attached to several points along it
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

Today, video plays an important role at work. We meet, livestream events, and learn via video, thanks to services such as Hangouts, Periscope, Facebook Live, Lynda.com, Khan Academy, and YouTube. To support these activities, IT leaders boosted bandwidth, upgraded network equipment, and bought faster devices with better cameras and more storage.

Two trends point toward an even larger change. More people carry a camera than a physical keyboard, thanks to the global adoption of smartphones, and mobile connection speeds continue to increase: Akamai reported that 52 of 61 countries/regions surveyed achieved average mobile access speeds of 4 Mbps or more in Q3 2016.

Asynchronous video will change how we convey ideas and information to other people. Soon, we'll type less and record more. But before we do, we need apps built for this video-first world. And we're only now starting to see the video-first app ecosystem develop. Flipgrid gives us video-first discussion for learning, while Catch gives us video-first status updates for teams. And Google's Cloud Video Intelligence service gives us smart video search, which can eventually be built-in to all sorts of video-first apps. Here's a quick look at each of these video-first apps and services.

Flipgrid: screenshot of student app (left); admin video upload web page (right)

Flipgrid encourages video discussions. The grid owner — often a teacher — creates a topic and records a short video. People respond with a short video of their own, essentially creating a video conversation with many threads.

1. Video discussions

Flipgrid facilitates distributed asynchronous video conversations, which is a fancy way to say that Flipgrid shifts the use of video from one-sided lectures to two-way discussions.

Built for educators, Flipgrid enables "prompt and response" video dialogues: A teacher records a brief video, then each student records a video response. The teacher, or other students, can reply to the response, which results in a threaded, asynchronous video conversation. Unlike a live conversation, though, everyone can participate, and each person can take time to think before they record.

Several smart decisions make Flipgrid work well. The service works with a web browser, and offers both an iOS and Android app. The teacher can set a time limit for each response to encourage people to be concise. And each grid can be password protected to preserve privacy, or shared publicly to broaden the discussion.

I think Flipgrid also offers value to professionals outside of education, too. A public speaker could use a Flipgrid to engage an audience after an event. An association leader might use a grid to discuss common concerns. Additionally, a manager might leverage Flipgrid to gather not only ideas, but also gauge the emotions of team members as they respond. Video preserves tone, which can be hard to convey in text alone.

Catch app: screenshot of Daily update (left); screenshot of "Status" story type (right)

In Catch, you record short updates throughout your day. The app consolidates these into a story team members can watch, so you reduce the need for update meetings.

2. Video updates

Catch consolidates video check-ins from your team into a single stream. The idea is that you record a brief video from your Android or iOS device when you have news to share, then other team members can view the video at their convenience.

Ryan Dewsbury, one of the developers of Catch, said, "The main reason we're using video tech is because we're doing far too much typing to each other at work. We want to get faces and emotions back into communications and figured it needs to be asynchronous because meetings don't scale well."

Catch aims to reduce the need for scheduled team meetings. If you choose, Catch will prompt each team member daily for an update. And updates are easy to record: Open the app, tap the button, then talk. The app records as long as you keep your finger over the on-screen record button, with a maximum time of 15 seconds per segment. (Yes, it does have a bit of the Star Trek, "Captain's Log" update feel.)

The time limit matters: Catch wants you to offer several short updates throughout the day, instead of a single long monologue. Dewsbury said, "We haven't seen the 15 second limit push people to talk less, they just share more segments. We had it unlimited previously and found people were recording two minutes and then re-recording to make it perfect. The messages weren't very authentic."

Screenshot of Google Cloud Video Intelligence webpage

Google's Cloud Video Intelligence API gives developers powerful video content search capabilities.

3. Intelligent video search

At Google Cloud Next '17, Google announced the Cloud Video Intelligence API, which gives developers the ability to identify things in videos. Much like searches of photos, Cloud Video Intelligence lets you search with keywords—like "boats" or "water"—across a collection of videos. The system finds videos from your collection that match, and highlights the specific segments of the video where the relevant items appear. It's entity recognition for video, and it's made possible by Google's machine learning systems.

In a way, the Cloud Video Intelligence API is Ctrl-F for video. Just as we use Ctrl-F to find words in text, we need similar tools to find things in video. It's a foundational component developers need to build video-first apps. If you want ideas for other future foundational video-first features, look at your word processor: Replace, resize, style, insert, link, and so on. Take those features and think of them in video. (Some smartphone apps, such as Velapp and Vee—both on iOS—also show new and powerful ways to record and edit video.)

I think we're still in the extremely early stages of video-first communication tools. Apps like Flipgrid, Catch, and new capabilities like Google's video search service make me excited to see what developers will build next.

How do you use video today in your organization? What video-first apps and services do you find interesting? And if you're building a video-first app or service, let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber).

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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