Video Chat Goes Mainstream: Google and Facebook Push TokBox into the Spotlight

TokBox, provider of the OpenTok video conferencing Platform, has seen a surge in interest and activity since Google and Facebook stepped into the ring.  Today the company has 13,370 developers building on its TokBox API. Since Google launched its video chatting “Hangouts” feature on June 28 developer interest in TokBox has doubled.

This turns the typical notion of competition on its head.  Many small companies would tremble, and with good reason, when a giant steps into their space.  One would cynically assume that the big player would overshadow the niche player, thereby dashing any chance of fame or fortune.  Not so in TokBox’s case.  One reason that the video services from Google and Facebook have helped TokBox is that the video chat API space is still developing, with only four other players in the ProgrammableWeb API index:  Apideo, Auralink, ooVoo, andRayDash.

Seven months ago TokBox was hosting a video chatting service with 2 million users.  Looking to the future they concluded that no, 2 million users does not define success for our service.  They resolved to leave it all behind to focus entirely on building the OpenTok plaform.

Why this dramatic change in course? Tokbox CEO Ian Small says the process for Tokbox was gradual and organic. TokBox had been doing well as a destination chat site, but was simultaneously offering an embeddable video chat widget.  There were two things that combined into an “Aha!” moment for the team.  First, they noticed that when content was provided alongside the video, such as YouTube or Flickr photos, people would chat for longer. Second, the widget was increasing in popularity. "Instead of bringing the content to the conversation we needed to bring the conversation to the content,” Small said.

In that sense, the old Tokbox maybe would have feared competing with Google and Facebook, but the new Tokbox is helping others ride the wave of interest in group chat. While OpenTok can support one-on-one chats, it's seeing growth in those incorporating group and audience chat.

But for a company that doesn't charge for its services, how will Tokbox turn this recent developer adoption into revenue? Small said TokBox plans to offer a few different premium services to partners that wish to use the service more extensively.  The OpenTok platform will start to cost money when scale becomes an issue.  For instance, making a presentation in town hall format to 10,000 viewers, who can each interact with the presenter, that wouldn’t be free.  Another service that will come at a premium is recording and archiving.  Many video chat use cases will require that the videos be stored for future reference, either as a precaution or to meet compliance standards.

It should be a very exciting time for video on the web.  Expect to see more content sites offering video chat services as the API providers get more attention.

Be sure to read the next Video article: Yahoo Targets Youtube With Embeddable Media Player