When Rob Glaser started RealNetworks in the mid-1990s, video on the web was barely functional. Now thousands of video streams later, Glaser is launching a startup to put Facebook users' faces into socially oriented videoconferencing.
The new company, called SocialEyes, has Glaser as chairman, with ex-Microsoft and RealNetworks executive Rob Williams as cofounder and CEO. It was to be demonstrated Monday in Palm Desert, Calif., at a conference appropriately called Demo. A public beta of the service begins this week.
'Four Powerful Elements'
Facebook users can get on SocialEyes through the social-networking site's Facebook Connect platform. Friends can be invited to join, and video streams are displayed in cubes -- not unlike the Hollywood Squares TV show or the opening of the Brady Bunch. Users can interact with multiple video conversations, instant messaging, and shared links. Video messages can also be recorded and sent to others even if they are not currently online.
Glaser told news media that a user can see his or her own video stream in a cube and then invite others to populate the other cubes, up to six in all. Invitees can be Facebook friends, or they can be Facebook users with similar interests, such as a sport or a medical issue. Glaser suggested a user could find a guitar instructor via Facebook and receive musical lessons remotely via video.
The Groups function connects users by specific topics, as indicated in their profile. There's no limit to how many Groups an individual can join, and Groups can be private or public.
Glaser said SocialEyes "brings together four powerful elements for the first time -- the Facebook Social Graph, no-download Flash video, a group system that lets people easily connect with other people in meaningful ways, and a Twitter-like feed."
The target platform for SocialEyes is initially computers, but the service expects to roll out versions for tablets and smartphones.
Timing Is 'Right'
The company has raised $5.1 million, of which $4.5 million is from the Bellevue, Wash.-based venture-capital firm Ignition Partners. The service is free to users, and the business model envisions marketers attaching advertising to the video conferencing.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said the timing for SocialEyes is "right" because of two major factors.
First, he said, social networks' profiles "let you know whom you're talking to, so there's more of a sense of trust." However, Shimmin added, he fully expects some level of "abuse" by advertisers and others, who will probably issue invitations "for a mess of marketing messages" using the technology.
The other factor, he said, is that many tablets and smartphones now have front-facing cameras and the necessary bandwidth to support this kind of service.