Qik: Social Networking Meets Video

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As video uploading becomes easier (and editing becomes almost nonexistent, at least at the consumer level), a relationship between video and social networking starts to seem inevitable. Riding that wave, along with companies like Kyte and Flixwagon, is Qik, which offers a microblogging experience in video form.

Qik is still in beta (it alpha launched on December 17, 2007 and beta launched on July 21, 2008), but that hasn't stopped it from gaining a dedicated user base. While the company doesn’t give exact usage figures, a representative said that tens of thousands of new videos are created daily from over 200 countries, and that over 1 million videos have been streamed from cell phones since the alpha launch. She also said that Qik videos are viewed hundreds of thousands of times daily. Still, some observers aren’t convinced that Qik or any other mobile video streaming service will reach a critical mass of viewers—i.e., enough to make it a successful business—anytime soon.

Launch Day
The public launch should come in three to six months, says Bhaskar Roy, vice president of product marketing and Qik cofounder. Expect to see a few changes at the time. While Roy wouldn't go into specifics, he said the finished product would offer more interactivity.

Qik is currently free and there will always be a free version, says Roy, but the company is currently looking at premium features for business customers.

"There are a number of folks using it for professional purposes, and they've indicated that there are a number of services they'd be willing to pay for," says Roy. Businesses would like to depend on Qik to reach customers, he says, but they need a service level agreement that guarantees 24/7 support and mission-critical services.

Qik's Business Strategy
For the short term, then, Qik's strategy is to engage connected users with its free service, while creating new premium services for business. For the long term, it needs to grow beyond the mobile phone user.

"The reason for picking the mobile phone is that that's a device you have with you all the time," says Roy. But the company needs to expand to allow video viewing on any connected device, including gaming consoles.

Besides offering the immediacy of sharing live video, Qik lets viewers communicate with each other in live chats. The site connects with Twitter by sending updates to a user's Twitter followers that he or she has posted a new video. Qik also works with Blogger sites, Tumblr accounts, and other online networks.

The Next Twitter?
The question everyone is wondering is whether or not Qik has the appeal to be the next Twitter. Reading a Twitter post takes seconds, but videos are typically longer than that. People may enjoy sharing their experiences, but is anyone watching?

The average Qik video, says Roy, is only 107 seconds, so he doesn’t see length as a problem. In this YouTube age, people seem to instinctively know that online videos shouldn't be long. Plus, Roy sees a built-in physical limitation. "When you're capturing something with your phone held up high, there's a factor of how long you can keep your phone held up and frame it correctly," he says. Put simply, people's arms get tired.

Limited Interest
One person who isn't convinced that Qik will take off is Giovanni Gallucci, a social media consultant based in Texas. While Gallucci uses Qik on his jailbroken iPhone (it isn't available for non-jailbroken iPhones), he mostly finds it useful for taking notes: He has an elaborate automated system in place for using Qik to send items to his to-do list.

He's doubtful, however, that it will catch on widely as a social media tool.

"For me, it seems pretty heavy to replace tools like Twitter and MySpace," Gallucci says. "There's a lot of technology there that's not as accessible for the average user."

While Gallucci sees most people using Qik experimentally, "like a video Twitter," he thinks it will end there. "You have to have more than just people producing content," he says. "You have to have people viewing it, as well." Look at the comments and the viewer counts, he adds, and you'll see that those viewers aren't there.

"Qik isn't solving a problem that needs to be solved," Gallucci says. "It's a neat utility, but I don't see it breaking into the mainstream."

The Role of Video
Low viewings aren't a problem for Roy: There's a limited interest for personal videos, and that's fine. Most videos only get about 10 viewings, he says, from family and friends. Some newsworthy uploads get viewed hundreds of thousands of times, he says, but those outliers only occur every week or two.

The public launch will let us know whether Qik is destined to remain a niche product or break into the mainstream. Another potential milestone is the next iPhone release: if it has video camera support and Qik creates an iPhone app, it could open doors to a new audience and greater recognition. Then we'll see whether or not social networking and video have a strong future together.

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