Video virtual reunion

Videophones are still an early adopter thing, but I was imagining an interesting application for them — reunions. Recently a theatre company I was in had a reunion far away, and I couldn’t come, but I wanted somebody to bring in a laptop so we could run a SIP or Skype videophone there. It would not have given me a true sense of participation, but individuals I wanted to catch up on could have come to the video phone and chatted.

Most conferencing applications assume there is going to be one big meeting with everybody talking together. That’s useful, but I can see a use for something that facilitates a lot of parallel one-on-one or small group conversations, for something like a reunion. In fact, one might be able to do a decent reunion entirely on the internet, or mostly on it.

For a video reunion, participants would prepare a bit in advance. They would enter some basic information in a database that they were going to attend, including some answers to all the common questions that start every conversation at a reunion. (“What have you been up to? Kids? Job?”) In addition, they would use their camera (and, if they wished to, video editing software) to prepare a higher quality version of that introduction in advance. A little video talking about what they’ve been doing, showing off the spouse, the kids etc. These videos would be downloaded by others in advance of the reunion, so they could be at a higher video quality than would be supported by streaming.

Before the reunion, you would also list the people you wished to catch up with, along with the groups and cliques you were part of. You could also list people you don’t particularly want to see, catty person that you are.

You could review the high-res videos of others in advance, or wait until the actual reunion. The reunion might have an official start time, with speeches meant to be delivered to everybody like a standard video-meeting, with live streaming, but it would also contain an organic part.

During the organic part, the system would find people who wanted to catch up and connect them in pairs or small groups as they became available. This would include people online and those physically present. Complex scheduling would have to figure out optimal ways to give everybody a chance to see everybody. One-on-ones could be done with direct video between the parties (saving bandwidth.) Group meetings would need a video bridge. Like a real reunion, you could also see the talks and gatherings going on, and even ask to join them rather than let the system do the work. (If the catty people mostly hated you, however, you would not even see that they were chatting, they might just appear logged out or in private session — it would be up to you to figure out why that was.)

We might mirror a lot of the experiences of the reunion — seeing old friends, catching up, joining up in groups of friends to review old times. Not as good as a real one, but also vastly easier and cheaper to attend.

In addition, the system could be modified to work at a physical reunion for those who could not make it. In that case, the physical reunion would bring in some laptop stations with cameras. People at the reunion could come up and have chats. One station could cover any group events, speeches etc. The remote folks would feel a bit lonely when not in chats with themselves, but could still participate. People at the physical reunion could register their phone numbers and be paged with a text message when somebody remote wants to grab them.

Considering that the alternative for many is a very expensive and time-consuming trip, this could be a pretty good business, as people would easily pay $100 or more to join such a reunion if they are not local. They could also cover the cost of rental stations that are shipped in and out of the physical reunion, since it’s better to assume that nobody at the reunion will be itching to spend time maintaining and running software — the more turnkey it is the better.

Such a system might well make reunions so easy they happen much more frequently, which can be both good and bad. It might allow groups to maintain a cohesion, if they want to, after they disperse. This could work for all the groups that have reunions, such as classes, clubs, military units and even large families.

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