The startup Spreecast is taking intimate video chats and making them public by default, so that a small number of participants can broadcast their audio-visual conversation to an audience of thousands.
Spreecast allows two to four people to converse at one time, while a much larger audience can watch and listen.
The medium of video chat is getting renewed attention with the advent of Google+ Hangouts, which accommodates up to 10 simultaneous participants. In September, Google introduced Hangouts on Air, which can host large numbers of viewers in addition to the 10 participants. However, Google has only supported the broadcasting of Hangouts in a limited number of cases, treating it as an experimental feature. Individual Hangout organizers who wanted to share with a larger audience have hacked the experience by capturing the video feed to one of the Hangout user accounts. With Spreecast, no special steps are necessary--your chat will be broadcast publicly on the website unless you go out of your way to make it private.
Broadcasts also are archived on the website, allowing participants to go back and review private sessions and anyone to view a replay of a public session.
[Get webcam and microphone tips for better video chat at the Spreecast website.]
"We really want to bring face-to-face interactions across the Internet to life in a more widespread way, a more public way," Spreecast CEO Jeff Fluhr said in an interview. He sees this as a perfect vehicle for a writer or performer, major or minor in celebrity, to engage with fans. It could also be a way for politicians or candidates to talk to voters online. "There are many people out there who have Twitter and Facebook pages, and they want Spreecast to be added to list tools," he said.
Fluhr previously founded the online ticket resale site StubHub.com in 2000 and served as its CEO until its acquisition by eBay in 2007.
Although the initial launch version of Spreecast is limited to four on-screen participants, the broader audience can participate by text chat, or by posting a question. It's also possible to add and drop on-screen participants, bringing in new people as the conversation progresses, Fluhr said. Google+ Hangouts "are probably most similar to what we're doing from a technology perspective," he said, but the one major difference is that the creator of a Spreecast gets producer controls that allow him to control the session. Also, Hangouts are tied to Google+, whereas Spreecast is an independent service that can be promoted through any social network, just by posting a link.
Online apparel retailer Bonobos is exploring using the tool for market research, and you can see an archived Spreecast session of Bonobos founder and CEO Andy Dunn chatting with Colin M. Evans, the founder and managing partner of Sandwith Ventures, LLC, an investor in both companies who made the introduction.
"We're launching a new product line in the month of November, so it was fun to try out a Spreecast channel and generate some enthusiasm for the product launch," Dunn said.
Now that Spreecast has had its official launch, Bonobos will put more planning into the next session and promote it more widely, he said.