I've noticed an explosion of services around what is called the "live web". This is about synchronous communication (e.g. chat vs email which is asynchronous) and live events. This is happening more now because the web is more social, input devices are more common (webcams, microphones), communicating via IP is cheaper than using old telecom networks, broadband enables a better user experience with less latency, and the growing demand for the long tail of content. Aside from these drivers, I think a key desire being fulfilled is the social nature of viewing a live event together. This is why chat is integrated into many of these apps (MMOs, live video broadcasts) and has high usage. It's not just the viewing of the event but the excitement of seeing it unfold live with other people - that can't be replaced by a PVR or on demand web video.
This has been tried in the past but web-focused solutions seem to have caused a swell in usage - with low friction and an easy UI (e.g. meebo, tokbox). Several companies are breaking new ground in this area:
- Meebo, Userplane, FB Chat - enabling live text communication (e.g. chat) embedded in websites
- Skype, Jaxtr, Rebtel, Jajah - enabling live voice communications on the web or via phone - cost is a big driver here.
-Ustream, Mogulus, Justin.tv - enabling live video broadcasting - whether you are a guy in a closet or a big broadcaster trying to reach a new internet audience. This is enabling everyone to have their own broadcast channel - allowing the long tail to broadcast as spectrum is no longer a constraint.
- Tokbox, Woome - live video communications ranging from plain old video conferencing to video introductions (Woome's video speed dating)
- MMOGslike World of Warcraft, 2Moons (acclaim), etc - live massively multiplayer gameplay
Each of these areas has its own challenges. For example, while phone calls and chatting are relatively ubiquitous (which is why those services can have broad reach), how broad based will video broadcasting and video communication become? Not everyone wants to be seen or see the other person when communicating...another challenge is monetization vs the cost of delivery - without fancy technologies like multicasting (which never took off), live requires lots of bandwidth and is harder to use cost saving measures like p2p distribution.
That said, this is a fertile area for investment - send me your ideas!