Is Group Video The Next Big Thing? Zorap CEO Jim Behrens Says Yes. [Interview]

What if you could sit in a "virtual" room, video chatting with loads of friends, watching videos together, listening to music, sharing pictures and slideshows, watching sports and more, as if you were actually sitting with all of your buddies in a real live environment? This is what Zorap is offering its users, and CEO Jim Behrens is calling it "The Next Level Of Social."

When you think about the future of social media, what comes to mind? Sure, you can already chat with friends, share pictures, music and videos, play games and more on the web. But what if you could sit in a “virtual” room, video chatting with loads of friends, watching videos together, listening to music, sharing pictures and slideshows, watching sports and more, as if you were actually sitting with all of your buddies in a real live environment? This is what Zorap is offering its users, and CEO Jim Behrens is calling it “The Next Level Of Social.”

I had the opportunity to chat with Jim about Zorap, on Zorap. He gave me a demo of the platform, as well as answered some of my questions about the inspiration behind Zorap, how Zorap differs from similar products and services, and the future that lies ahead for Zorap and the online social experience.

To give you a little bit of an idea about how Zorap works you can check out the video demo here. I’d like to point out that the video is a bit dated and the interface has been updated and improved, which you can see from the screenshot here. In the screenshot, notice that a group of people are all sitting in a single room, watching a live X-Games feed together. They can chat via their web cams and microphones, or write comments in the chat box on the right. Aside from watching live web video feeds together, users can share pictures, watch YouTube and Hulu videos, share pictures, files and more with one another.

There are, of course, other companies that are offering similar services. In fact, we just wrote a post about 5 fun new ways you can watch YouTube videos with your friends. I asked Jim to explain how Zorap differs from these other services and he provided a few main differences. For starters, Zorap is not Flash-based, while many of these other services are. This gives Zorap an advantage, as they are able to prioritize media (i.e. Audio over Video). Zorap is also able to dynamically scale media in real-time to fit available bandwidth, as well as increase or decrease bandwidth itself depending on availability, for a higher quality experience. The way that Zorap is designed also allows them to accommodate a much larger number of users at once. While many similar services are designed for one-on-one communication, Zorap can comfortable host 25 or even more guests in a single room at once. Jim told me that he doesn’t know of any other company that is doing something quite as elaborate as what Zorap is doing.

I asked Jim if he could provide me with any statistics about the user base and growth of Zorap. He told me that the site has just finished development and has not even begun marketing yet. However, they currently have about 30,000 rooms being used actively per month, usually with more than 3 people in them. The site hosted 60 million minutes of video conferencing during their Alpha phase. This is pretty remarkable, considering that Zorap has not yet spent a single dollar on marketing, and it shows that there is a strong desire for a service like this.

So how did Zorap come to be? Jim told me that the company was founded by Barry Spencer, an innovator who has been working on group video since the 1990s. Barry believed that the future was not group video alone. Rather, the future was group video that incorporated users social graph and allowed friends to share any kind of media in a room where everybody could talk about it and laugh together.

The future of the social web is looking more and more towards connecting people in ways that make it seem as though they are sitting in the same room, even though they may be in different countries (as Jim and I were when we chatted, with Jim in California and me in Israel). Currently users are able to sit on their computers and chat with groups of friends from around the globe and with the launch of Google TV, Apple TV, the Boxee Box and similar platforms, social media and video conferencing is taking the leap from our computers to our living rooms. It will be interesting to see just how connected we will become as services like Zorap let us communicate, share and watch virtually anything with our friends on the web. We will definitely be keeping an eye on this arena to see how things pan out.

Do you see yourself laughing, sharing and chatting with friends online, having a beer while watching your favorite sporting events with your buddies from around the globe, and discussing your favorite movies, songs and pictures with friends from all corners of the world? What do you think about Zorap and the future of social?