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Online Community "Courts" Customers Seeking the "Live" Experience

By Jim Bray
October 12, 2007

Do you live in a cocoon?

Cocooning is the buzzword for the phenomenon where people stay curled up in their multimedia-enabled home and from there experience all of the delights the world has to offer, or at least all the delights they can access from the comfort of home. And in this virtual, digital age, it's a phenomenon that's become more common all the time which, of course, makes it increasingly less a phenomenon and more of a trend.

Alas, when you're sitting at home in your pajamas it's hard to get that feeling of community, or of really being at some live event such as a matchup between your favorite teams or a concert by your favorite band. You can only get that by being part of a real audience at the actual venue.

Well, duh, you may say.

But this may be changing. A company called Paltalk has begun marketing what it calls multimedia socialcasting, which they say lets an online audience experience live events with unprecedented levels of video interactivity. You still aren't there, but maybe you're a little closer.

To prove the point, this past summer (July 2007) Paltalk broadcast to its online community a tennis match between former Grand Slam champs Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, a broadcast that allowed viewers to watch the match while interacting online with other Paltalk members, through voice, video and text chat, as the match unfolded live. All the customers needed besides their subscription was a web cam so people at the other end could see them and a microphone so they could be heard.

Presumably, the tennis champs couldn't hear all this chatter and undoubted second guessing….

Paltalk says this multimedia socialcasting represents a new type of "virtual living room," where people can gather to enjoy live events without actually gathering and, in fact, without even having to be in the same room (or, since location is irrelevant to the Internet, on the same continent).

It's a neat idea and I can see the potential for it, though I doubt it'll ever replace the honest to goodness live event. But I'm all for new choices and opportunities.

I went to see "The Who" when they played my town last year, then later bought the DVD of the event, a disc that lets me watch the same concert I'd seen live, any time I want. It's really cool.

But as good as the DVD is, one thing that's missing – despite its 5.1 audio I play through an audio system with prodigious power – is the sense of being part of some 20,000 people there. Paltalk's experience probably can't duplicate that feeling, or the smell of marijuana that wafted through the arena and prompted Who vocalist Roger Daltrey to ask the imbibers to cease and desist lest his pipes give out, but perhaps it can split the difference between the DVD and the real McCoy. Only time will tell.

Paltalk itself seems more like a fairly standard online chat community than a pioneer in leading edge interactive entertainment, but it could certainly separate itself from the pack with these events – because not every band or team I like to follow deigns to show up in my city, though why anyone would miss the excitement of being in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is beyond me.

Imagine if you'd been able to watch the Cream reunion live from Royal Albert Hall a couple of years back, while "oohing" and "aahing" about the outstanding show to your best buddy – who just happened to be in Australia. Or, as Paltalk's current offerings allow, catching a live show from a comedy club and being able to heckle from the comfort of your easy chair.

Of course, the downside here is that if you throw stuff, it just bounces off your wall or your computer screen, possibly causing damage to your own stuff instead of the comedian's ego.

Such is life in a cocoon….

For it to really be interesting, I'd want to watch the shows on a big screen with high definition video and surround sound audio (and plenty of power!), and that will undoubtedly come as technology and bandwidth continues to march forward. You can already browse the Web on your TV with platforms such as Nintendo's Wii, and TV's themselves are starting to become web-enabled – so it's probably inevitable.

In the meantime, this Paltalk thing sounds like an interesting stopgap.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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