FaceTime and the Need for Mobile Video Chat Etiquette

Since Apple (AAPL ) introduced the iPhone 4 and its new FaceTime video chat application, users are slowly getting used to the idea of being able to video chat in real time no matter where they go (as long as they're within range of a Wi-Fi connection).

But while there's great opportunity in the freedom of always having a live video chat outlet available, users are still adjusting to the idea that they're always carrying around portable video chat devices. People use their phones differently than laptops, desktops, and other devices that currently offer video chat. In most cases, when it's time to video chat, they're sitting at a desk or have situated themselves in front of a camera.

Things are different when your phone is your camera. Video chat becomes more impromptu, and smartphone users interact with their phones in different ways than they would a video-enabled laptop. Users sleep next to their mobile devices, and if some studies (and anecdotal evidence) are to be believed, most smartphone users take their phones into the bathroom with them. In other words, not every mobile-phone situation is a good FaceTime situation.

Perhaps more important, people have grown used to using their phones differently; as phones have become more mobile, so have users while they're on the phone. It's not unusual for them to be chatting in the midst of sporting events, grocery shopping, driving, or even just walking from place to place—none of which makes a good video chat experience.

First Steps

With that in mind, here are a few simple guidelines for entering the brave new world of mobile video chat.

1. Ask if your partner is ready before sending a video chat request. This should go without saying, but you should know that whoever you're planning to talk to is ready and in a place where they can comfortably chat.

2. Maintain eye contact. This goes for all video chat, but is especially true when you're face-to-face with a mobile handset at arm's length. It's a lot more intimate. No one likes to think that there's something in the corner of your eye that's more interesting than the chat at hand, no pun intended. So unless you plan on sharing what you're looking at—and conveniently enough, you can do so by pointing your camera in that direction—keep a steady gaze on your chat partner.

3. Sit still. Most mobile-phone users are used to carrying on conversations while walking around. Don't. That is, unless you plan on giving your FaceTime friend vertigo.

4. Stay away from crowds. Just because you can video chat using the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks (SBUX) doesn't mean you should. The only thing more obnoxious than someone carrying on a loud phone conversation in the local caf é is someone carrying on a video chat at the local caf é. On the flip side, many bars now offer free Wi-Fi as well. Resist the temptation of allowing your chat partner to peek in on the regulars at your local watering hole.

5. Wear pants. There's an old joke that folks in corporate teleconferences never wear pants. But unless you are intimately familiar with your FaceTime partner, you should always be decent before accepting a video chat request.

This list is just a start. Do you have other suggestions for etiquette while video chatting on a mobile device?

Related content on GigaOM Pro: Report: The Consumer Video Chat Market, 2010-2015 (subscription required)

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