A recent column about paying for online content has prompted a reply from Lance Walley, co-founder of a company called FaceBridge Research.
“I’m amazed at how many people think anything should be free,” Walley writes. “Nothing is produced for free, at least not with any regularity.”
FaceBridge is pushing technology that promises to let anyone easily charge a per-minute fee for one-to-one, voice and video access to themselves over a VoIP or instant-messaging network. The first iteration runs atop Apple’s iChat AV, with plans afoot to support Skype and Windows AIM. One-to-many capabilities are also on the drawing board.
“We see our technology as a natural for almost any professional who’s paid by time but who has to invoice separately today,” Walley says, citing lawyers, computer technicians and “life coaches” as examples. “Automatic record-keeping, billing and payment for that 12-minute phone call has to be better and more efficient than current systems.”
The concept sounds enticing, but it’s the potential of extending the model from one-to-one to one-to-many communications that has Walley most excited.
“Pay Per View is something everyone understands, but it’s currently reserved for the special and the rich,” Walley says. “If you’re a garage band with 500 fans, you can’t possibly do a PPV via Comcast. But what if you could set up your Webcam and broadcast over an IM or VoIP network and charge your fans? Now, before you think this particular app is oddball, just ponder the following words: iTunes, iPod, MySpace, Murdoch. Music grabs people.”
The FaceBridge concept is by no means fully baked. First of all, the initial focus on Macintosh does prevent a sizable portion of the company’s potential audience from participating in the test drive. The founders promise that the version for Skype and Windows AIM will not be far behind.
Potentially more problematic is processing credit-card payments on the back end, an expensive proposition for a fledgling company. To recoup those costs, FaceBridge takes a 25 per cent cut of the fees paid to those offering services on flavorsofa.com. The goal is to knock that down to five per cent or replace the cut with a nominal connection fee.
Finally, there’s the question about a certain kind of service that might find its way onto a one-on-one video network. “Everybody immediately associates us with porn,” acknowledges Tom Mornini, co-founder of FaceBridge.
While FaceBridge has no desire to referee what happens in the privacy of its customers’ Web browsers, it’s clear the company has a larger purpose in mind for its patents. And besides, the porn industry has done quite well billing customers without the help of these guys.
–Sending e-mail to me remains free. Same goes for my replies. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.