Enhanced Videoconferencing Gets An Instant Scene: Festoon
Festoon is a new free video conferencing tool that supports real-time screen sharing while seamlessly integrating with Skype and Google Talk.
Festoon, formerly known as VSkype, has changed its name while releasing a completely upgraded new version of its simple-to-use PC-only video conferencing tool.
Photo credit: Robin Good
Festoon is very simple to use and it allows to run one-to-many video conferencing presentations with up to 200 attendees.
The company behind Festoon is also the company that has brought us in the recent past Viditel, a cutting edge real-time multi-party video conferencing hosted service which provided many excellent features at truly accessible prices. Viditel is now being discontinued and Festoon is the new product replacing it.
The integrated screen-sharing functionality is not really state of the art, but for a free product this is still great value that can be put to immediate use. While videoconferencing one can easily select anyone application or document open on his Windows PC and show it in real-time to all those attending.
A unique eye-candy facility premieres a concept originally showcased over three years ago by the company who gave birth to Santa Cruz Networks: RealityFusion. Using pre-designated backdrops and backgrounds in the video transmission allows your live face to appear integrated on the body of some unique funny characters. The effect is quite hilarious and the first time around a lot of fun for anyone involved.
On top of this, Festoon throws into the eye-candy facility an array of other video effects including mirrored and split images which can create some quite amazing kaleidoscopic compositions.
On the other hand quite a few of the additional visual effects included in this facility are rather lame and do not seem to be as fun as the few main ones.
As I wrote three years ago, this looks to me as a smart and ingenious way to move videoconferencing to some new shores.
While much of these new ideas can't be utilized in standard business scenarios, there are many other opportunities to creatively leverage what presented by Festoon that it is only a matter of time before we see such video scenarios, templates and backdrops develop a whole market of their own (thing ringtones exponential).
Most interesting though is Festoon business model and future plans.
While the basic technology will remain fully free while extending its compatibility and integration with all other major instant messengers, the "premium" services to be added will allow users to leverage Festoon to run and charge for their own consulting work carried out via Festoon audio and video conferencing facilities.
This is why I have decided to go out and call Itzik Cohen, CEO of Santa Cruz Networks, the pioneering video conferencing company, that is behind this new interesting tool and ask him a few direct questions.
Itzik has been a long-time WebEx executive, and has only recently joined the company, to bring in a more aggressive marketing attitude and vision for how and where to commercialize Santa Cruz Networks great intellectual properties and ingenious technical ideas.
Let me re-iterate that this company has had vision and engineers that have tapped into powerful video aplication ideas much earlier than anyone else in this field. So, while I don't know how many of those original people are still working at Santa Cruz Networks, the heritage of this company indicates that these guys have done their home work well to get where they are.
So, if there is one thing going strong for Santa Cruz Networks and Festoon, is that I do think that they are truly on a golden path, and if they can refine, adjust and diversify a lot more the targeting and applications of their cool ideas, they can easily make a ton of money.
I don't know whether the new management will have the vision and endurance to do all this, but the initial signs do indicate so as the company has been steering strongly toward a new marketing strategy and has been picking up intelligently on its greatest intellectual assets.
Here is my Good conversation with Itzik Cohen, which you can listen directly as a streaming audio by pressing the play button here below, or which you can read in full in the full text transcript that follows.
Robin Good: Hello everyone, here is Robin Good live from Rome in Italy and today I have with me Itzik Cohen. Connecting from where, Itzik?
Itzik Cohen: From Campbell, California.
RG: All right, and Itzik is the CEO if I'm not wrong, of Santa Cruz Networks, the company that is being behind many innovative and interesting cutting edge solutions for real time collaboration online. Itzik, are you the CEO, actually?
Itzik Cohen: Yes, I'm the CEO and president of the company. You're right, and we've been around for a while doing some cutting edge communications stuff and it's fun to be here.
RG: Yes indeed, I've been following quite a bit the work of your group and some of the solutions that even date back three or four years ago when there were some truly innovative laboratory experiments coming out from your company or the group that initiated your company that were already diving into what we're seeing and what we're going to introduce today which is your latest product. Do you want to have the honor of introducing it or shall I do?
Itzik Cohen: I'll be honored of course to do it Robin. Our product is called Festoon, and Festoon is multi-party, one-to-one, or all the way to two hundred people, video and audio conferencing solution that is plugged into any IM that is currently available today in the marketplace.
RG: Well, that's great news. I thought that it was the ideal compliment for Skype and that it was also a new innovative solution that you could integrate with Google Talk, but now you're saying every IM that is out there! Is that correct?
Itzik Cohen: Correct. We are about to launch on AOL, a AIM plug-in and ICQ before the end of the year, and MSN and Yahoo IM's are going to be launching in Q1 of next year. We have the products already, it's just about marketing and getting ready for launching these products. But, the technology is available and as you can see, the Google Talk plug-in was launched last Saturday and we already have thousands of users using it after a few days.
RG: Great, great news indeed. And the Festoon technology is a new release of something that I believe that you have made available to Skype users already for a while. Am I correct in this?
Itzik Cohen: Correct. Initially we launched a product called VSkype. VSkype was the first video plug-in for Skype. Obviously we chose the name because it made sense; what we do is video and V-Skype made sense to Skype. Obviously we are partners with Skype and Skype and us realized that the name VSkype was inappropriate and we look for another name that will also to make sure that there will be no confusion with Skype and also will allow us to be less Skype-centric, if you know what I mean, as we launch new plug-ins, for other software rather than just Skype.
RG: Great, so the name "Festoon," F-E-S-T-double O-N, came from which idea?
Itzik Cohen: Well, we actually hired a firm to look for a name that is appropriate for our product and for what our products are doing. And Festoon in English means something new, something pretty, and something that it is transforming something that looks okay into something that looks much better, which we believe that is what we are doing for IP communications. We are allowing people to enjoy a much enhanced, more enhanced video experience and audio experience than they can find today on the market.
RG: So for everyone who hasn't heard of VSkype or Festoon yet, the big news is that there is basically a completely free plug-in for you to download at "www.Festooninc.com", where you can download in Microsoft Windows, either XP or 2000, Internet Explorer 5.0 or better, and Skype or Google Talk, a little plug-in that will do what for you? Will allow you to conference in real-time with your web cam with one or more people and not only that, will allow you also to screen-share any application, any document you have on your computer with the people you are video conferencing with. That is, you can show in real-time your Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, or any application or document you are running on your machine. Itzik?
Itzik Cohen: Yes indeed, that's a very accurate description of what we can do. On top of that, the latest release of Festoon includes some very unique technologies that allow you to have video effects, and all kinds of fun and games. Think of it in terms of ring tones and adding personalization effects to your video experience. You can, you know, see yourself four times, you can add different backgrounds to yourself, put yourself in different environments and we feel that communications on IP is going to be more proliferated and more available. People are going to treat their communications as they treat their cell phones: they are going to be their means of communications, and they will require more personalization and effects and things that are essentially like ringtones, and we provide things like that in our first version, and it's actually very fun.
RG: It is indeed a lot of fun I must say. And this eye candy facility that is being introduced with Festoon makes it possible for you to have your face appear within preset scenarios, just like you do in airports around the world, where you can take pictures of yourself within a river with some alligators or wild tigers almost eating your head. Well, similar to that in Festoon you can pull up pre-designed backgrounds which you can make your live face show up. And this is a lot of fun among other interesting facilities. As a matter of fact, I've seen people testing Festoon for which I've sent the URL for and stayed online for hours trying out all those effects and having lots of fun. I was thinking that if it could not be leveraged for some really specific opportunities and monetization since people really are spending lots of time in that situation and playing around. I don't think that is going to be in fact the application that traditional people want to collaborate and video conference are going to do next to their experimentation with it, but since the experimenting part tells me a lot about people fun needs I think you may have other opportunities and you may have already been considering them.
Itzik Cohen: Yes indeed, the opportunities were very clear. In the more professional world you can see yourself putting up background with the logo of your company behind you all the times, so it doesn't matter where you are, you'll always look that you have a background of your company. Think of it as blue screen technology of the TV world. On other things, we have a lot of other opportunities like for example you can have all kinds of video effects that are games related, you can have companies like Universal Studios or Sony Pictures coming out with a new movie and using some sort of effect that is a promo for their movie or all kinds of promotional materials that are going to be fun, funny to use. Also we are considering putting some kind of wizard for actual users to create their own content with their own pictures, even their own videos and put that in their video experience.
RG: Oh, certainly those are some good ideas. I was just thinking that if there was a service out there which today allowed me to, you know, go into a scenario and pick out some pictures of myself within the jungle or underwater, I would certainly spend some time there, look at the ads, even pay a little fee if I was able to probably share and send them over. These scenarios are well-done, this is a market that I haven't seen being tapped upon. So, I was just thinking about that, and that would be a bit divergent from a main collaboration application, but still I think you are there also to make some money for your company so what do you think of that option?
Itzik Cohen: Right, exactly, we think that that option, and of some kind of a micro-charge business, and we're not going to charge 99 cents for a backdrop. And that's why I compare it to the ringtones market. Nobody thought a few years ago that the ringtones market was going to be a $4 billion market in 2004 and that's pretty amazing to us. So, that's what we're looking at.
RG: Great, so I am reserving myself a seat on your next service, which should be video postcards. I would like to put myself on some amazing scenario and sing a serenade to my next girlfriend across the world. And, I think that I don't have a service where I can do that, but it seems you do have the technology. So add a recording button and some more of those beautiful backgrounds and I think we're in for spending some money with you.
Itzik Cohen: Yeah, exactly, and the other thing that we can do is right now in the product, you can take snapshots of windows, different kinds of windows. If you have six people on your conference you can actually choose which one you want to actually take a snapshot and it's going to save it to a special directory as a JPEG.
RG: Great! What about the capacity? You said that you can have up to 200 simultaneous people in that video conference. Is that correct? And can you tell us a little bit more about the technicalities of how this is possible?
Itzik Cohen: Yes, this is the result of, like you know, three or four years of a lot hard work in a lab. We came up with a lot of interesting stuff, and we can do either one-to-one or two hundred people in one call, which is phenomenal. We're a very unique place with that kind of capability. And it's just because of the way we do things and the way we manage bandwidth and our the scalability of our technology. It's a very unique one and a lot of our smart people worked for a lot of years on it, so we're very proud of it.
RG: So when I use the facility I basically do a conference call through Skype or Google Talk. I select multiple people, I call them up, and they can all receive my video feed at the same time while I don't see them, is that correct?
Itzik Cohen: That is absolutely correct. You can chose as many people as you would like up to two hundred people and they will all join you in that call. Soon enough we will allow you to choose people from both Google and Skype in sync, which is another unique thing we are doing, inter-network calling just doesn't exist yet for video and audio. And we will allow you to do inter-network conferences as well.
RG: Great and what about other platforms? Are you focused on Windows or are you going to embrace everyone else?
Itzik Cohen: Well it's all about priorities and what we can do with a small group, we are growing, but we are a small team still. Currently we have on the Windows, but we're planning for Q1, the end of Q1 into Q2, working on our Mac release as well.
RG: Great, what about the business side of things? Are people going to be able to enjoy this thing for free on an ongoing basis or something is coming their way next?
Itzik Cohen: Well, you know Robin, the thing that we're doing right now is, you know, our vision is all about the fact that communication is free. And, we think that Skype already proved that just talking to each other, or seeing each other, or video conference even, is going to be free the next two to three years. We don't feel that anybody is going to pay to talk on your computer. Everything is going to be on IP and IP communication is going to be free on the internet. So we believe talking is going to be free. We feel that people will pay for voice and video services, and that's what we're all about. Think about, if you're an attorney, or you're a CPA, or if you're a psychic, or whoever you are, and you want to bill for your time online, for the services you provide online, we will provide you with a whole set of tools besides our video and voice services that will allow you to bill and charge for your services on a time basis or a flat fee basis. Think about your blog, Robin. You can have a town hall meeting, charge $5 flat fee for once a week for all your people who read your column and read your blog and you know, just have a discussion of up to 200 people. So basically what we're providing is a way for you to charge for the content and the premium services that run from the top of communications, rather than just communications. So our services alone are always going to be free.
RG: That's great, and I think it's the way to go on the web. So I think that you're right on the mark with this strategy and that looks very interesting. So is this you think targeted more at the professionals and the individuals who want to leverage more the potential of these new media technologies or is this targeted more at companies and large enterprises.
Itzik Cohen: It started towards providers, so whoever providers are going to be. It can be an attorney, it can be a CPA, or it can be a stripper. It can be anybody who wants to charge for his time online, right? I mean, we would let a free market determine the best use for these services are, but what you need to think about is think of it as EBay, but not for goods, but EBay for services.
RG: An EBay for services that are not particularly connected to video.
Itzik Cohen: Correct, so basically what I'm trying to say is think of it as EBay for voice and video services, it's not EBay for buying you know, little things like videos, I don't know, things people buy on EBay. It's basically everything other than goods. It has to do with services, advice, you know, think. You go out to buy today, you know with the globalization today, you have so much advice and knowledge that is spread around the world, and people need to share that over communications. And people will get paid for their knowledge, so, if you're an engineer who lives in India and you need to give a project to somebody in the United States you can do that over voice and video communication and collaboration. And that's what we're trying to create, a market for video and voice services.
RG: The other very interesting thing that you have been adding to your technology is the possibility of doing screen-sharing. How well does your technology compare to existing tools that focus specifically on that? I don't know, GoToMeeting, Glance, and many others ones out there. Is your performance capability to broadcast 24 bit images all on par with this or are there some advantages or unique features to it?
Itzik Cohen: So, you know, I'm a veteran of Webex communications, I was one of the early starters of Webex. So I've been there for almost seven years, and I knew the collaboration market very well before I started working for Festoon. Our collaboration feature or our screen sharing feature is a very low-end very simple kind of consumer-based, "share a picture", "share a webpage", "share a simple application". It is not on the same par as these high end services like Webex and GoToMeeting, etc. What we feel is that if there are specific services that people are going to provide, there are going to be room for us to charge an additional charge for having, to having an enhanced experience of the collaboration features, rather than the one we give away for free.
RG: So you're saying in other words that you are giving us a taste of extra features we could leverage while doing a video communication and in the future you may be considering billing us for adding or turning on some of these. Is that correct?
Itzik Cohen: Yes, exactly. What we feel we have right now for a free feature is good enough. I mean, it's something we have, it's easy enough for us to implement and it's good enough for people and consumers to just show pictures of their family to each other, or go web surfing together, or whatever. But we feel that there's going to be additional features that we can add for pay when it comes to the more professional world like the scenario that I explained to you before about you charging for your time. You might want to have, for example, archiving and recording, which would be a feature we can add. Or you can have additional features on the collaborations side, like voting, or polling, remote control, et cetera, which we would be able to add as an additional premium package.
RG: Great, well we definitely look forward to that. So welcome to Festoon, which while still in Beta release, is available to all of you on Windows, guys, if you want to test it out and do video conferencing for free. Again, one-to-one or one-to-many up to two hundred, screen sharing of all your applications, and perfect integration with Skype and Google Talk. From Robin Good, live from Rome in Italy, this is all for today. There's a lot of great news, and you need to go have some fun with the eye candy that Festoon provides. I leave the microphone to you, Itzik, for your closing remarks, giving URL's for downloads or more information or anything else you want to say about your tool. Thank you for your patience and availability today and I look forward to being able to talk again about your new features as they come up in the future.
Itzik Cohen: Thanks, Robin. First of all it's a pleasure to talk to you and besides, I just want to summarize. Go to Festooninc.com, download our software, enjoy it, it's a lot of fun. The eye candy like Robin said is just amazing and just remember, this service is growing right now at 5000 users every day. We have over 640,000 users already and we've only been out for three and a half or four months. So, it is growing fast, join the revolution, and it was a pleasure talking to you all today.
Robin Good -
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