Group video meetings from TokBox just got significantly improved: the service is now capable of handling up to 200 viewers, with a dozen of them active at any given time. Tokbox calls this new feature Broadcast Video Chat, and the potential group use is significant, including business collaboration or education. What’s more, there’s no software to download, as TokBox works in a web browser.
The service includes text and video chat “via IM and social media,” and allows up to 20 people video chatting for free. To have moderation and scheduling features for small groups requires a 30-day signup fee of US$9.99. For the Broadcast Video Chat feature, which allows larger groups of up to 200, with video welcome messages and control over participation, the fee is either $18.99/video chat, or $9.99/month plus $12.99/video chat.
The potential for such an application is pretty clear: collaboration and interactive video meetings of all kinds, over the Internet. No software needs to be downloaded. It works in a Web browser, on any Internet-connected computer, so no tech support is needed (aside from using any advanced audio/ video equipment), and webcams are ubiquitous on new laptops and netbooks. TokBox makes it clear that they’re focusing on three main niches: business, religion and education. With public school systems suffering from the economy (the State of California recently handed out pink slips to thousands of school teachers), TokBox might be a solution for fulfilling the education of many thousands of students. In fact, the service is already in use in education by public schools and universities. Beleaguered public schools low on funds could leverage such a service, possibly with equipment donations from corporations. While class sizes would have to be limited to stay free or low cost, even TokBox’s higher pricing plans could be justified long-term, and it certainly beats the cost of live satellite video classes that some colleges and universities have been using for the past 15 years or longer.
We’re maybe not at The Jetsons level, where kids can stay home and do their studies through video conferencing, but maybe we’re not far off. Schools like Seton Hill University plan to give all full-time students an Apple iPad in Fall 2010. If iPads become as ubiquitous as some experts believe, and if TokBox or other similar services can run on iPad web browsers, video-based education, with all its benefits, could take a big step forward.