Cutting to the Qik


3 Jul 2008

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How the mobile handset is making live broadcasters of us all with streaming video services like Qik

If a picture is worth a thousand words then what value does live streaming video have when you can broadcast it straight from your mobile? It is turning the handset into a broadcasting device where you are the star, says Bhaskar Roy, co-founder of California-based Qik.

Armed with a camera-enabled 3G handset (almost all handsets now have this), a user can broadcast live footage and invite friends, family or business colleagues to come watch on the Qik site or via embedded Qik video on their personal blog.

This has tremendous possibilities for keeping in touch with loved ones, getting the inside view on a conference you cannot make in person or simply video blogging when you have something to say.

“The live element is extremely compelling, some of the Irish people I know who are using the Qik service use it almost like a video postcard so they can keep in touch with family members,” says Roy, giving the example of Pat Phelan, CEO of Cork-based Cubic Telecom, who has used Qik to connect with family from San Francisco.

There are hundreds of other possible application, says Roy: “With this connected experience from a handset, people are using Qik for personal shopping feedback, anecdotes, citizen journalism. Before the media trucks come rolling in, those witnessing an event can get live footage out there instantly.”

While Qik is still in the early stages, it does now have tens of thousands of users. Roy says it is all of a sudden getting more and more mainstream. People are beginning to hear about it and are considering possible applications.

“We were recently approached by a law enforcement agency. The Qik application could definitely be used in a citizen-patrol situation. It is a case of having a great product but figuring out how to apply it.”

But does Roy think live streaming video, and essentially streaming life logs from mobile handsets, will become the norm for mobile users in the next few years?

“Absolutely, especially from a consumer standpoint. Talk about a million and one uses! One user told me he used it as a personal shopping assistant.

“He was out buying a webcam in Target [US chain store] and couldn’t decide if it was good value so he starts Qik on his mobile phone and said: ‘This is my first time using Qik. I’m buying a webcam but I don’t know if it’s good value. Take a look and help me out’.

“Within minutes, a viewer on the web saw this and replied almost immediately advising him to go to BestBuy where the webcam was cheaper.”

Despite these advantages, Qik, which has funding of $4m to date, is still in the early adopter stage.

Jackie Danicki, director of marketing for Qik, added: "The growth has been phenomenal. We have tens of thousands of users in over 55 countries. Qik is now on over 30 devices, including our Windows Mobile and iPhone clients".

Recently, the company said it would now be compatible with Windows Mobile devices, and last week it was announced iPhone users could take advantage of the service.

The future of Qik holds greater things than live streaming video to the web, says Roy. The ultimate goal is to have streaming video from phone to phone, as well as building data centres in Europe, he says.

This expansion is a given if Qik’s celebrity fans are anything to go by: Kevin Rose, of news site Digg.com, and technology evangelist and blogger, Robert Scoble, swear by Qik.

Part of the adoption of Qik has also been due to micro-blogging site Twitter. When you see a message or tweet via your handset proclaiming ‘I’m streaming live right now, come and chat’, you know we are living in a hyper-connected world.

The consumer and personal user may be getting wise to live broadcasting but will Qik make it big in the business world? Roy says yes: already the World Economic Forum is using it for press conferences.

“It can be used as a self-service way of broadcasting your content when your business involves travelling because you might only want to take your cell phone with you when on the road.

“Streaming is becoming popular again. A few years ago, streaming video meant using a big camera, big network, a desktop and a webcam! Now this can all be done via a mobile phone.

“The 3G mobile and Qik have opened up a whole slew of things people can do. We started up with the notion that it’s not just about knowing people but seeing what they are seeing. I might know where Pat Phelan is but I want to see what he is doing in person!”

By Marie Boran