Multi Party Video Calling

I spent some time yesterday afternoon trying to do a group video call. We ultimately couldn't make it work and ended up on an old school conference call.

That was a disappointment to me and I am hell bent to fix it.

I know that Skype just released a new client that supports multi party group video calling. But I've heard that Skype plans to eventually charge for that feature. I don't mind paying but I don't want a service that requires an entrepreneur to pay just to talk to me.

I'm looking for a free service. We tried jabber over gtalk in the iChat client. I've heard that works. But we could not get it to work for us. I think it may have been a firewall issue.

I can toubleshoot the firewall issue if it is on my end but I don't want to be dealing with firewall issues every time I try to video with someone new.

Possibly the best thing about Skype is that I've never encountered a firewall issue with Skype.

Anyway I would love some advice on this. We've got a great video setup on the Mac mini in our conference room and I want to look at the people I'm talking to if at all possible.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Matt A. Myers

    The biggest thing I’ve always hated about the internet is the lack of emotional signals in text. I’m looking forward to hearing what solutions people post here!

  2. Teresa

    New poster here, but I’m currently a college student and we’ve been using ooVoo for a couple years at least. I’m pretty sure it’s exactly what you’re looking for!

    1. fredwilson

      Lots of suggestions to try oovoo in this threadThanks

      1. Eric Leebow

        There are plenty in this space, and just met someone recently with a startup that does just what you’re talking about and have the business card somewhere. It’s just what you’re looking for, possibly come back to you on this one. Here are a few names to drop: ooVoo, Tokbox, Stickam, Vsee, Paltalk, iVisit, Tinychat, VoiceThread. A few years ago there was something called YackPack, yet don’t think it works anymore. Stickam has an API. Possibly you’re looking for ooVoo or Tinychat.Actually, here’s the new one Concert-Oh: http://www.concert-oh.comJust for fun, check this one out: http://www.internetcongalin

        1. ShanaC

          hehe- a congaline

          1. Eric Leebow

            Yeah, it would be nice to actually see this thing get some traction and see some people using it all at once.

      2. Teresa

        On a totally unrelated note, I remember you had a post about being able to not carry cash anymore. But they just rolled out a new thing on our campus called Bling Nation (linked to your PayPal account) where it’s a sticker/tag on your phone that allows you to pay just by tapping your phone. Perfect for college students who don’t carry cash, like me, and want to buy that coffee or bagel without cc-ing a $3 purchase! When I signed up for it, my first thought was your blog post!

        1. fredwilson

          My friend Wences is the founder of Bling Nationhe is one of the best entrepreneurs i have ever worked withi hope Bling is a huge success and i suspect it will be

    2. ShanaC


  3. The Real iMDiggs

    Or you could just get the ACN video phone

  4. chuckboycejr

    take a look at ooVoo

  5. Eric Leebow

    There are plenty in this space, and just met someone recently with a startup that does just what you’re talking about and have the business card somewhere. It’s just what you’re looking for, possibly come back to you on this one. Here are a few names to drop: ooVoo, Tokbox, Stickam, Vsee, Paltalk, iVisit, Tinychat, VoiceThread. A few years ago there was something called YackPack, yet don’t think it works anymore. Stickam has an API. Possibly you’re looking for ooVoo or Tinychat.Actually, here’s the new one Concert-Oh: http://www.concert-oh.comJust for fun, check this one out: http://www.internetcongalin

    1. Reilly Brennan

      I love ooVoo’s opening slide: “8 out of 10 Skype users prefer ooVoo.” That’s sort of a direct hit on Fred’s question.

      1. David Noël

        Yeah, that made me hit the Download button. Checking it out now.

      2. Eric Leebow

        Yes, and there’s a newer one since ooVoo that was just recently released. It’s supposed to be amazing. I think there was one at the Demo conference as well, yet not sure about them all.

    2. m_shark

      What about DimDim (

      1. Eric Leebow

        Haven’t heard of this one before, thanks for sharing!

    3. stevof

      Eric, you covered most of the main video communication providers – that’s an impressive list! The current market provides consumers with numerous options. In light of the high adoption of webcams, I think an interesting development will be how video chatting habits develop. SteveCEO of FriendCameo

      1. Eric Leebow

        Very true. I think there’s something interesting to think about this, and the whole user psychology behind chatting in video. Does this distance people? You might wonder about this, and if I can chat with you on video, that means I don’t have to go to a coffee meeting with you. Or, if I can chat with you on video, does that mean it will feel as though I saw you the other day, when in fact I haven’t seen you in years. The whole concept of telepresence is fascinating. I think that there’s potential for it, yet there are certain things people should do without the technology as well to make the communication more real and in person. If everything were done via this method of communication, I don’t think it would be beneficial to real social and human interaction. People need to meet and communicate off the Internet as well as on the Internet.

  6. Daniel Kligerman

    This has always stuck out for me as the most significant limitation of Telepresence, which we use in our organization. It’s fantastic in terms of quality and overall experience, but the barriers to entry are significant, and you obviously can’t establish a video call (multi-party or not) at a moment’s notice with someone new. It seems to me that some kind of open standard that is embraced by the various vendors is required here, so that the question of which application/solution to use is removed from the equation.

    1. ShanaC

      Most video conferencing that I have seen is on H.264 (dad is in the business, it is all he talks about). Most systems are set up so you can call any other system (you call an IP number). Really scary telepresence has a harder time doing this (see Magor fabulous technology, I haven’t heard of a way for them to intercall yet, though I understand they use SVC++, a codec they wrote to leverage H.264. Then again it has very few installs because it is extremely expensive, even if it is somewhat cheaper than say Cisco telepresence) The real reason is there is less software available to leverage the strengths of H.264- a really bandwidth intense encoding mechanism. Skype doesn’t use it because of bandwidth issues (though Netflix I believe does, and look what is happening to the internet! People who use H.264 tend to want visually crisp experiences- and most of them have to pay to get it (on top of bandwidth costs). That’s probably the biggest barrier if I had to guess

  7. Jtruelove

    I use AIM through iChat and it works pretty well for this sort of thing for me and is free.

    1. fredwilson

      We tried that too yesterday.

  8. Cqb


    1. m_shark

      wanted to offer it but the service seems down. At least the site doesn’t open. For good?

  9. RichardF

    I think Skype is more likely to charge the conference call organiser rather than the individual participant.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      I was just gonna say that. In fact I think that’s ooVoo’s approach (they only offer 2 way video calls for free, if you want more you have to pay).I don’t know some of the other competitors out there, but I guess that it’s difficult to offer that kind of service for free in a sustaible way. If you don’t charge for this… what are you gonna charge for in any communication related company? With minutes to land lines thin margins you need huge volume, so you better make people pay for something else…I can imagine a few VCs with big investments in this field hoping that someone wil pay for this. Fred, save a VC today! 🙂

      1. Kaj Kandler

        Well, knowing something about Skype might help answer “I don’t know some of the other competitors out there, but I guess that it’s difficult to offer that kind of service for free in a sustaible way.”Skype at least the Client to Client VOIP service uses the resources of its users. So it doe snto operate a large number of central servers that have to bear the load of the millions of communications. it works like P2P. Hence they offer a free service there. Where it starts to cost is the gateway to POTS and that is where they charge.Assumign the video service also works in a P2P fashion, I see no reason why they’d need to charge for this on a sustaiability ground. Profit is another matter though 😉

    2. fredwilson

      That’s a good modelThat’s how my conference bridge works

  10. JLM

    oovoo is your boy

    1. William Mougayar

      Impressed by Oovoo. Skype should have similar features or buy them, then we’ll have comprehensive Unified Communications for all.This market segment has far too many companies in it that are bloodbathing each other- MeetCast, NetViewer,Adobe, DimDim, OoVoo, MightyMeeting, SelectConference, VuRoom, TokBox, Sightspeed, VSee,Mebeam, Flashmeeting,EyeJot, and I’m leaving out many.

    2. ShanaC

      It’s pretty good, but not the most impressive thing I have ever seen.

      1. JLM

        Do tell, I am all ears. Thanks.

        1. ShanaC

          Depends on what you spend- Magor’s box for tv/projectors are supposed to be incredibly lifelike

  11. ccarella

    I have had success with Tinychat before. It’s web-based and no download is required.

  12. Aron

    Basic iChat works well for up to 4 participants. I’ve done 3-way video from Russia to USA without problems

  13. William Mougayar

    Pitching over video instead of a phone call with slides elevates it to a new dimension. Much more effective.btw- dimdim was just acquired by It tells you a bit where this is going. Integrated video inside a sales CRM makes a lot of sense.

  14. William Mougayar

    On that topic, have you tried Kik? Zero to 1 million users in 15 days. (Fred, I bet you’ll love it for your family communications)It’s IM on steroids. It finds from your contacts who’s on it and connects you.(Canadian company)

    1. Harryg

      Kik looks promising, I hope to try it out. However I just came across some security concerns about Kik on Hacker News.… it could reveal your password potentially. Once they fix that I hope to try it.

  15. Denis

    What you need is BigBlueButton –…. It’s an open source web conferencing solution. You can have as many video and audio users as you want, and they can all connect through voip or through a regular phone. Oh, and it all works in the browser, so there’s no installation needed. You can start a meeting with anybody in about 5 seconds.

  16. Eduardo Di Santi

    We do multiparty video call all the timeWrite to me on [email protected] and i’ll be more than happy to assist you.Eduardo

  17. Anne Johnson

    Here’s the link to the DEMO video from Sococo, who are about to launch TeamSpace for this kind of collaborative working ..… .. currently available in beta as a free trial

  18. daryn

    dim dim and tokbox are the best known alternatives if you need more than two parties. I’ve actually had great luck with gtalk’s video chat straight from the browser. Regarding firewalls, btw, I went to a fascinating tech talk at google about gtalk’s video support, the various techniques they use to work around just about any combination of firewalls, and the optimizations they are leveraging with their specific video codec/format to deliver the best performance.

  19. ddrake

    A few months back we were looking at licensing cost effective and scalable video conferencing solutions into emerging markets and there were two products that stood out which you might like to explore: and Both are using pretty innovative technology – in fact I think Google has very quietly integrated Vidyo technology into gtalk. Hope this helps.

  20. tehdik

    tokbox.comSeems like it’s working now.

  21. tehdik

    tokbox.comSeems like it’s working now.

  22. Jesse Middleton

    I know many others have said it but has been the best one so far for our needs. We had tested it out at LivePerson and the quality was great and we never had firewall issues. It’s also the same tech that power’s Google’s video chat.

  23. andrewgjohnson

    Fred, you should try I think they may be what you’re looking for — bonus: it’s a web app so no installation hassles if you need a non-tech saavy person to be on the call

  24. Alex

    It looks like Google Chrome just recently broke the video chat aspect of flash. It works in every other browser we tried, but Google Chrome appears to be broken. Try TokBox in another browser.

  25. sirsean

    I just switched from Skype to iChat/GTalk for video, for video chats with my family — and the reason was that we wanted to do multi-party calling.We struggled to get it to work because of a firewall issue at my parents’ house, but once we got it resolved it works great; much better than Skype ever was.And after getting the firewall issue resolved the first time, it never cropped up again. For what it’s worth.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s great feedbackSeems like what we are facing

      1. harpos_blues

        Fred,I’ve used iChat for group video conference for a few years now. You may need adjustments to firewall/NAT routers, but Apple’s recommendations are well-documented and easy to follow:Using iChat with a Firewall or Nat router…It’s a one-time fix, and safe/secure for non-apple users. You may have to temporarily disable Internet Sharing on the Mac side.IMPORTANT: All participants need to use the *same* underlying service/protocol: AIM, Jabber, MobileMe, GoogleTalk. It’s gotta be: AIM/AIM, Jabber/Jabber, etc.Hope this helps,Here’s an in-depth tutorial for iChat-to-AIM (PC), including router/firewall configs on both sides:

  26. perfy

    Hi Fred,If you are on the Mac platform you might have more success with the Facetime beta than with iChat when it comes to firewall issues. It current’y only does one on one video chat, but it is entirely free for all parties.

  27. Jakesmith

    Hi Fred– try:Meet.Webex.comIt’s free for 4 people with screen sharing

  28. ShanaC

    Talk to my dad ([email protected]) after shabbos. This is his speciality area- and he has a number of customers with a variety of special needs (from a tech company based in NY who wants to link offices together, to factories that need to examine different materials cross country-I’m not allowed to say who though) From what I can tell from my inner 13 year old spy self- there are a number of issues affecting both software and hardware implementations of video conferencing (down to how you set up your router and how much bandwidth you have- I’ve heard of people custom writing scripts for the routers). It’s a very needs dependent system, videoconferencing and video chatting, which is why there are specialized hardware and (I think, It’s not my business) software systems out there.And FYI- my family has used Oovoo with my brother for a few special occasions* (he’s in Pittsburg for college) The free version has some functionality cut off and has a huge bar ad in the bottom third of the page. And while the full screen is definitely better than skype- there are limitations if I am not mistaken on file and desktop sharing.*this is the kind of thing that happens when your parents both do technology for a living.

  29. kenberger

    we’ve been using skype video chat with multiple parties on multiple continents, and it’s been fantastic. Clients are raving about it, and it really helps our [very international, high-touch] business.I’d advocate using skype for now, and then down the road if/when they start charging, have this discussion then. Who knows when that will be, It’s highly unlikely they’re going to flip the pay switch overnight, and this kind of stuff evolves so quickly and new players emerge so often that having this approach seems wise to me.

    1. andyidsinga

      I agree – use skype for now if it works.Fred, influence skype to implement a “host pays for the conference” feature – then you can pay the nominal charge for the conferences (subscription or per conf.) and the entrepreneur doesn’t have to.

    2. joeagliozzo

      You can’t use skype multi video on a mac. They keep saying they’re going to release a mac client for multi, but that message is 6 or more months old.Never mind – I see skype finally released the beta mac client.

  30. ShanaC

    I lie, it may be H.323- I would have to ask questions that would turn into a large lecture…

    1. Scott Wharton

      Hi Shana,Magor does not use H.323 but SIP as the standard signaling protocol and H.264 for the video codec

      1. ShanaC

        More standard polycom/tandberg stuff I think- I don’t really think about this much

  31. Melvin Ram

    You might want to look at Adobe Connect Pro. It does what you want it to do.

    1. Denis

      Adobe Connect is Flash-based and is hungry for local machine resources.

      1. Melvin Ram

        But it works

        1. Denis

          Only when computers meet the requirements. I have had outrages experience with several flash-based video chat solutions on older computers. Skype & Jabber (GTalk) work everywhere.

  32. Scott Wharton

    Fred,The problem with all of these solutions (and video conferencing in general) is that they are nearly all proprietary and closed systems. You have to force everyone to use the same solution and revert to the lowest common denominator. If we had to do this in the audio/voice space, people would either revolt or laugh at the silliness of this.Our company, Vidtel, has an any-to-any video conferencing solution where you can use high end solutions like conference rooms systems, video phone devices, or leading PC and mobile solutions like Skype, Google Gtalk etc. can all participate in a video call. Either direct or multiparty.We support nearly all of the standards-based solutions today (e.g., Polycom, LifeSize, Cisco/Tandberg) and have the proprietary consumer solutions in beta (e.g., Skype).If anyone here wants to try this approach, let me know.

  33. Shoni has had multi-party video conferencing for years, and it’s free! No software download either.

  34. paramendra

    Looks to me like you are warming up for your Wednesday event.

  35. Prokofy

    I have two words for you, Fred: Second Life!It’s free, it’s easier than you may remember it, it has voice and media sharing now, tell me when you’re ready for the tour.

  36. Tom Perrine

    Playstation3 offers multi-point video conferencing. It’s built in at no cost beyond adding a USB camera.

  37. CliffElam

    Seriously you think someone shouldn’t be willing to pay a few bucks to avoid an airplane flight?Is it that they want the great food?_XC

  38. Kevink

    I’d check out Tokbox ( if you haven’t already. There’s a premium version that has more features, but the free version can handle multi-party conferences of up to 20 people. I’ve had success using it as a back up when Skype is having problems.Hope this helps.

  39. richardyan

    try Oovoo? it allows for multi-party video conference/chatting

  40. calabs

    4 tabs loaded with chatroulette, and a lot of luck?

    1. johnmccarthy


      1. calabs

        Heh, thanks. It would be a nice little stats problem to calculate the odds of getting the right set of people out of a larger population. (Answer: it’s roughly 1 chance in (population) to the power of (the number of people in your group). With only a 100 users your odds are basically one in a million of getting a particular set of 4 people.Interestingly, this process has to happen for each of the participants, so the actual odds of the entire system is (odds of one person being correct) to the power of (number of people in the group). The odds of everyone getting setup correctly is more like 1 in (10^6)^4, or 1 in 10^24.That’s a LOT of luck.

  41. cr

    Elluminate has a vroom that is “three for free” if it’s a small group.That gives you webcam/audio capability andthensome

  42. Scott Uhrig

    Fred – although is not free, you can invite guests to join you on a multiparty conference for FREE. For example, I have a Vidyo account, so I could invite you (and others) to join me on a videoconference. I would email you an invitation which would allow you to download and install the client, and then you would join the call. You could use this with your entrepreneurs, and they would not have to pay. Let me know if you want to try it.

  43. OurielOhayon

    Fred, which is web based is surprisingly good and free

  44. bijan

    based on this thread, i think we should try tokbox next time!

  45. rebeccastees

    Which one of these services best captures the chat for video?I’d love to see the experiment here on video — plus it would be fun to see the faces of some of the regulars.

  46. Keith Teare

    FredWhat appears to you as a firewall issue is really more fundamental. The SIP based services use UDP and RTP (real time protocols) for video and audio. These protocols require holes in the firewall, but even then are very spotty when it comes to quality, particularly multi-party video. the reason is that there is no signalling layer allowing varied bit rates on different bandwidth and enabling real-time response to bandwidth change.Skype uses TCP on port 80 and sends redundant packets. It also ignores the “ack” that TCP builds in for quality. this gives it firewall traversal with no issues as well as quality of service. Add to that a signaling layer monitoring bandwidth changes and a great codec and you have great service.So far, the attachment to “standards” (UDP and RTP) prevents most others from having as good a service offering.I recommend staying with Skype and biting what would be a small cost.If you want something a bit different (multi-party with moderation and interactive apps) try Vokle (

  47. MissTrade works great for up to six

  48. greg

    Check out a new startup company in Boston called OpenExchange.http://www.openexchangenetw…They are launching a social collaboration/meeting service for the Financial Services vertical,the buy side, sell side, and companies that includes multi party HD video over the net, software solution.I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your funds LP’s are getting on its network.

  49. dhauser

    There are a number of Flash based solutions (Tokbox, TinyChat, etc) but the way video is routed if anyone has a lower or bad internet connection the entire conference suffers and in general I have never found these reliable for real meetings. As you start to go up market ooVoo is pretty good but is not free and should not be free.With the more recent release of Skype for Mac that has this, PC has been in beta for a few months I think that will be a good solution but people need to be willing to pay for it.I just do not understand the view “I’m looking for a free service”. You are looking for a service that provides you true value, connecting with a group of people you would not be able to otherwise as well as a true cost savings, you do not have to travel. Those are some pretty strong reasons why you SHOULD pay for this service and be happy to do so.

    1. Jonathan Crawford

      I completely see your point, David. As you said, you are providing value, so you should absolutely be compensated for this. But I just don’t think that matters to 2010 Internet consumers.We live in a world where there IS such a thing as a “free lunch” and it’s only going to get worse. Free email, free IM, free web hosting, free conference calling, etc. Consumers are being trained to expect free alternatives to almost everything on the web.To be clear, I’m not advocating for the “gimme free stuff” mindset. I’m just saying that business owners need to be aware of the shifting economics of the digital era and perhaps come up with innovate revenue models that take advantage the new economics of the web instead of trying to resist it. Instead of trying to make consumers think about value and price the we do, it’s usually easier and more beneficial to start thinking about it the way our customers do. In a lot of cases resisting freemium is just postponing the inevitable. Unfortunately, it will eventually mean “evolve or die”. 🙂

      1. dhauser

        I think you could have said that 12 months ago but things are changing to the pay side as businesses are finding that to be successful and profitable customers need to pay. Sure Google is underwriting a number of business units with cash made from a highly paid and profitable offering.Look at all the buzz around Freemium in the past, once the book came out and there were a few failures it really started to fade away. Sure there will always be someone trying to offer something for free, but it will not be the norm.Lastly, who cares about the “2010 Internet consumers”, they will fade away as businesses no longer support them and good consumers that pay for what they want are what people focus on.

    2. J.D. Falk

      The other problem with Tokbox and other Flash-based sites, at least on the Mac, is that Flash’s access to cameras and microphones simply isn’t consistent. Sometimes it can see all of my devices, sometimes only a few…and sometimes it can see them but refuses to switch away from the defaults.(And with Flash running on so many web sites, I’d vastly prefer to disallow it from accessing my cameras and microphones at all.)

  50. sweller


  51. Braydon

    If you’re actually interested in seeing the participants’ faces clearly and reading their facial reactions, you’re going to need to increase the quality over Skype or tinychat – if not, those seem to be good solutions.We’ve ( been supplying browser based multi-party high-quality video chat for about a year now. Some of the “least common denominator” comments resonated with our clients, so we built our service to have variable quality settings on a per-user basis to mitigate that problem while allowing for close to HD video experience.It is flash based, and we also put it inside Adobe Connect (for those PPTs that people need to display), but it works well on Macs and PCs and our customers love it. The host pays by the hour and can require users to authenticate for access. Hundreds of viewers can watch, and up to around 10 camera participants can join.In addition to our solution, the other one to consider is ooVoo (for quality), although they are limited to 6 participants.

  52. Zvandoren

    There is a new site called which just released on beta. I’ve been trying it out for a few weeks and works great. Total browser based. Not free though.

  53. Missy

    Hi Fred – Missy from here. I’m especially interested in this topic as we try to hold as many meetings at over video as well given that 20+ team members are remote. We’ve utilized DimDim and Oovoo but are currently using Tobkbox. I’m going to check out some of the other recommendations from your readers as well. Look forward to hearing what product(s) you utilize and with what success.