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Chapter 7


After having conducted such a varied range of investigations into video conferencing a number of lessons have been learnt. Perhpas the most important is that the successof a video conferencing depends not just upong its technical specification,but the nature of the tasks it is intended to support and personalities of the users.

We feel that certain tasks, such as those in which the collaborators focus on some sort of worksurface (such as a shared drawing surface) seem to have less of a need for video in addition to audio. That is, an audio link such as a telephone and a collaboration tool may well be sufficient to complete the task in hand. However, tasks which require more in the way of social communication - perhaps first-time meetings, or less structured collaborations - can benefit from video conferencing - even at low frame-rates. This became evident from the 'real world' study conducted between members fo the Research Office.

We have further evidence of this. In a more recent study we linked design students in Holland with art students in Derby. The distributed teams were given the task of designingand 'installation' artwork for later construction in Derby. The collaborative system we constructed included the ability for the students to 'meet' via CUSeeMe - which was running over the Internet at a rate of about 2 frames per second. In our analyssis of this project ( which included other groups without such elaborate collaboaration tools) the fact that the students ( who had never met before) could see each other was flagged as being very important and a major factor in building a working relationship between them. Hence, here we have an example of low-frame-rate video conferencing having a real benefit.

The Apple Macintosh was found to be a highly suitable platform for video conferencing. As is discussed in this report, the architecture of the computer system suitss this style of application and a range of video conferencing tools are available - of which CUSeeMe is only one example (but the least expensive and therfore more accessible). The development of the Macintosh as a video conferencing platform looksset to continue with an announcement by Apple that a video conferencing extension (based around QuickTime) will soon be available for MacOS. Giving a more seamless integration of different video conferencing tools on the Mac and hopefully providing additional software-based CODECs capable of compressing and decompressing video images to even lower bandwidths without the need for expensive CODEC hardware.

Finally, it is worth noting that some quite 'pratical' issues can significantly affect the perceived success of a video conferencing system. For example, the position of the video camera is important. As is the ease at which the video conferencing application can be accessed by the user - if they have to close all the applications they are running on their computer in order to use it they will be less encouraged to do so. Additionally, users need to be able to develop their own usage patterns. At times they may only wish to confer via, say, a telephone link but at other times they may wish to use the video conferencing systems as well. In summary, giving the users control over the use of the video conferencing application and the position of the cameras etc. is a significant step towards getting the system accepted and used.

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