Video calling - popular or not?
Written by Janet Swift   
Saturday, 21 May 2011
Almost a fifth of American adults – 19% – have tried video calling either online or via their cell phones. Is this a larger or smaller proportion than you would expect?

I was alerted by the headline "Why Don't we Video Chat More Often?" on Singularity Hub to investigate findings from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

According to Pew almost a fifth of American adults – 19% – have tried video calling either online or via their cell phones - and this was interpreted by Singularity Hub as being a very small proportion, which just goes to show that statistics can be interpreted whichever way you want according to your point of view. 

The 19% comes from a Summer 2010 Pew survey of 3001 adults (aged 18 and older) and was obtained adding up the number who said they either had made a video or teleconferencing call online (17%)  or made video calls on their cell phones (6%). In cases where people had placed video calls on both the Internet and their cell phone they were only counted once in the overall tally of video callers.

This is the first time the ongoing survey has covered both online and cell-phone video calls, so there are no prior comparable data to show how much the overall activity is increasing. However, among the 74% of the respondents who are Internet users video calling rose from 20% in April 2009 to 23% in the 2010 survey. In response to the being asked if they had participated in an online video call "yesterday"  4% of Internet users answered yes in the 2010 survey are participating in video, up from 2% in April 2009 - which Singularity Hub interpreted (legitimately) as a doubling.   

Among cell phone owners (85% of the total) video activities are far less common than other cell features. While 74% of cell owners use text messaging features, 39% use their phones to access the Internet, 34% use them for email, and 30% use them for instant messaging only 7% have used video calling or teleconferencing facilities.

The Singularity Hub article expresses surprise at the low use of video communication given how ubiquitous video cams are - most laptops are equipped with one for example - and how easy it is to do using Skype, Google Talk etc. It may be that bandwidth issues deter some would-be users or as Singularity Hub suggests that it requires some planning and preparation and isn't as casual as text messaging or instant messaging.


It will be interesting to compare the findings of the next Pew survey to see if video chat is a growing trend.

More information

Video calling and video chat (pdf)


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