Video chat has been tried countless times on the Web and mostly failed, but a new startup called SocialEyes is giving it another shot. Backed by $5.1 million from RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser and Ignition Partners, SocialEyes is a group video chat service that hooks into your Facebook social graph. SocialEyes is Chatroulette + Facebook, with a little bit of the old video Seesmic thrown in. As soon as I logged on this morning, I was invited into a group chat with CEO Rob Williams and marketing VP Joel Andren (those lurkers!), who are preparing to launch the service today at DEMO.
SocialEyes gets around the Chatroulette problem of creepy guys everywhere by requiring you to sign in with your real identity via Facebook. As soon as you sign in, you see your other Facebook friends who are also members, and whether or not they are online. You can also join groups where you can meet new people. SocialEyes allows you to have multiple video chats the same time, or bring people into a conference call type of situation.
If someone is not online you can leave them a recorded video message (kind of like what Seesmic used to do, except it is one to one or you can leave it to the group). You can also pull in links, photos, and videos to have a discussion around through the text chat feature at the bottom of the page. (SocialEyes uses Embed.ly to embed content from around the Web). The whole thing actually feels more like a Web version of Skype video chat than anything else, but it can support many more simultaneous video streams.
Williams used to work for Glaser at RealNetworks, and before that was a manager of NetMeeting at Microsoft. He believes that the time is finally ripe for massive video chat on the Web simply because of the coming ubiquity of front-facing cameras on most new laptops and tablets. The interface is pretty clean, and SocialEyes does the job out of the gate. The real question remains: do people really want to waste more time on the Web in endless video chat rooms? Wait, don’t answer that.
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Rob Glaser is a venture partner at Accel Ventures. He is the founder of RealNetworks which produced RealAudio, RealVideo, RealPlayer, and Helix, among other products and services. Before founding RealNetworks worked for Microsoft for ten years. Glaser is a graduate of Yale University with an MA degree in Economics and a BS degree in Computer Science.