It may have an awful logo, but Zorap, a video conference and media sharing startup, has developed a browser plugin that makes sharing movies and pictures both simple and surprisingly fun. The Windows-only plugin is currently working on Ning and MySpace, with support for more social networks (and Macs) coming soon. If you’d like to try it out, head over to this Ning page.
Zorap is basically an elaborate video chat for multiple users that integrates media sharing options. Users can drag and drop images, movies, and audio files into a group chat window. Each file is then streamed live from your hard drive, so everyone can watch or listen to the same thing simultaneously (you can also simultaneously watched streamed YouTube videos).
The technology is impressive: sharing pictures, dragging each video chat window around, and streaming movies in real time all seem to work seamlessly. Unfortunately, the majority of these functions require a plugin (or Firefox extension), which could well be the service’s undoing. Zorap is quick to point out that some other communication services, like Skype, have done extraordinarily well despite requiring separate software. But these companies have succeed in spite of, not because of, their required downloads.
Besides the plugin issue, Zorap’s integration into social networks may have a hard time catching on. Unlike a chat service like Skype or AIM, Zorap has people meeting up in rooms that are linked from their social network profiles. If you have a lot of people constantly checking your profile then this might lead to some impromptu meetings, but it seems like the buddy-list model is better suited for conferencing than social network apps.
Once you’ve got the plugin installed and friends in your meeting, Zorap works well and is a lot of fun to use. But the company still has a long way to go – finding your friends can be tricky, and the company’s website is pretty amateurish. Zorap will also see competition with a number of other services that allow you to simultaneously enjoy media with your friends using Flash, which most people already have.