Thanks to the World Wide Web, the days of the phrase "look ma, I'm on TV" may be numbered. Not only has the Web created new ways for people to communicate and make new friends, but it also breaks down walls surrounding well-established industries like publishing and broadcasting. Before the Web, getting on camera usually required a lot of luck -- either the good or the bad variety. Today, anyone with a webcam and high-speed Internet access can create video content on the Web.
Sites like YouTube and Vimeo host pre-recorded video files. Users can shoot their footage, edit it, upload it and sit back as the world watches their work. While that was a huge leap forward, there was still one mountain to conquer: live streaming.
At first, streaming live video over the Web required extensive and expensive resources. But enterprising Internet business professionals saw the potential for a new service. Originally, the goal was to build a video Web conferencing system. But gradually, entrepreneurs saw the potential of building an online social network around the capability to stream live video.
Stickam.com is one of the sites that emerged from this concept -- other sites like blog.tv, Justin.tv and Ustream.tv offer similar services. All of these sites combine live video and social networking to some degree. All of them allow members to create programming and shows if they desire. Some people take this opportunity to extremes and broadcast nearly everything they do all day -- a practice known as lifestreaming.
But it's not just average people who use Stickam to connect with an audience. Schools and universities have used the service to broadcast press conferences to students. Bands like MxPx have performed concerts to audiences tuned in through Stickam. With Stickam, people, bands and organizations have the chance to reach a wide audience without breaking the bank.
The Stickam Account
You can view some Stickam live feeds without creating an account. Just visit the Web site and you can browse all the public live feeds. But Stickam users can choose to restrict who can see their video feeds. To increase your access you'll need to generate your own account.
To create a new account from scratch, you'll need to provide a username, valid e-mail address and password. You'll also need to indicate your gender and enter your birthday. Stickam members must be at least 14 years old. You'll want to double-check your information before you move on -- Stickam doesn't let you change your gender or birthday information once you've created your account. Finally, you'll be asked to fill in a CAPTCHA test to prove you're not an automatic script -- also known as a bot -- flooding the site with spam.
After creating your account, Stickam will send a message to the e-mail address you used during registration. You'll need to click on the link inside the message or paste it into your Web browser to confirm your account. If you don't confirm, Stickam will void your new account after seven days. Confirming your account will also prompt Stickam to ask you if you want to invite friends to the service.
Once you create your account, Stickam will present several options to you. If you have a working webcam ready to go, you can start streaming live video right away. You can also browse other video feeds or upload pre-recorded media. Other options include joining group discussions focused on a particular topic or inviting your friends to join Stickam. Or you can choose to fill out your profile information.
Your Stickam profile will look familiar to you if you've used other social networking sites. You can fill out information about yourself, upload a profile picture and make changes to your account settings.
That's enough talk about user accounts -- let's get to the streaming video!
Live Streaming Video
Sites like Stickam make broadcasting with your webcam simple. But the process is actually complicated. Here's a bird's-eye view of how Stickam delivers live streaming video.
First, you start with the video source. Let's say you've written a song and you're itching to share it with the world. Begin by setting up your webcam and logging in to Stickam. Next, you choose to go live, activating your camera feed.
At that point, your webcam uploads the video feed data through your Internet connection to Stickam. Stickam encodes the video feed into a streaming format. Stickam's servers send the encoded video feed to anyone viewing your Stickam feed. The video player within each person's Web browser is a decoder -- it accepts the encoded data and converts it back into a video format.
Of course, you can adjust your video settings when you go live to suit your connection speeds. If your video seems to lag or has other problems, you can choose a lower-quality setting. This will decrease the size of the video player on your account and reduce the frame rate.
If the people viewing your video have their own cameras active, you'll be able to see their video in your profile window, too. They'll also be able to see one another within the chat environment. As the moderator, you can choose to mute users or allow them to talk. If you want to be the center of attention you can opt to mute everyone and deliver a lecture. Or you can create a group conversation around a topic and host a free for all.
Most of Stickam's features center around streaming live video. You can use Stickam to broadcast video over the Web the same way a television studio sends content to televisions. But you can also engage in an interactive experience with other users, pushing Stickam beyond the limitations of your average television set.
Stickam users can create chat or debate rooms and invite others to join. The person who creates the room becomes the administrator and has control over the room's settings. The administrator can create an open chat room where any other Stickam member can join or restrict the room with a password.
Chat rooms can hold more than 100 members at a time. Up to 12 Stickam members can display video in the browser window. The window also has a chat client that allows people who aren't in the top 12 -- or those who don't have microphones or cameras -- to participate by typing their comments.
The administrator can choose who's allowed to speak and can even boot people from the room if necessary. Stickam also allows the administrator to appoint moderators. That can come in handy if the room is popular.
Like other social networking sites, you can send friend requests to fellow members. Once your new friend accepts your request, you'll be able to see when he or she is online as you log in to Stickam. Linking Stickam to a Facebook or Twitter account can also keep friends informed when you hit the online airwaves. Stickam supports the integration of these Web services -- you enter your login information for the service at Stickam and an automatic notice will go to your Facebook or Twitter account whenever you go live.
You can also subscribe to someone on Stickam. This gives you the option to have Stickam send you a message via e-mail, SMS or AOL Instant Messenger when that person is broadcasting.
Bands, journalists, writers, actors and artists have all used Stickam to connect and grow a network of fans. The viewers get the chance to interact with some of their favorite personalities.
Stickam Privacy Settings and Terms of Service
According to Web analyst companies like Alexa and Quantcast, most of Stickam's users are between the ages of 13 and 34. Just more than half of the user base is male. The site's demographics have inspired some analysts to claim that Stickam is the live streaming video service for the young crowd looking to socialize online.
By creating an account, a user agrees to obey Stickam's terms of service. These terms establish restrictions on the kind of content users can broadcast. According to the terms, it's against the rules to use Stickam to perpetuate fraud, harass individuals, distribute malware or stream content that is indecent or obscene. The terms don't define what Stickam considers to be indecent or obscene.
The terms also attempt to absolve Stickam of any supervisory capacity. In the section on parental control protections, Stickam notes that "AVC cannot be held responsible for any Content Posted by Stickam users which may be offensive, indecent or objectionable" [source: Stickam]. While Stickam's policy states that such material is against the rules, enforcing the policy is difficult when live streaming is involved.
The AVC mentioned above is Stickam's parent company: Advanced Video Communications. The company also owns and operates a service called PayPerLive. Stickam members with a PayPerLive account can charge other Stickam and PayPerLive members money to view their live streams. While Stickam has an age limit of 14 for members, you must be at least 18 years old to have a PayPerLive account.
It's against Stickam's rules to broadcast any content for which you don't own the rights. In other words, you shouldn't stream movies or music if you don't hold the copyright. Stickam will send messages to anyone who ignores these rules and may even go so far as to delete the user's account. Users also aren't allowed to turn their Stickam accounts into a way to make money, apart from subscribing to the PayPerLive service.
Stickam's terms of service have done little to silence the site's critics. In 2007, The New York Times ran a story about a former executive of the company claiming that the owner of Stickam's parent corporation also managed a company that provides pornographic content on the Web. The executive said that both companies used some of the same office space, equipment and even personnel to run the separate businesses.
Stickam executives have admitted that Japanese businessman Wataru Takashi owns Stickam's parent company, AVC, as well as companies that produce pornographic content for the Web. But they deny any link between the enterprises.
Even if there is no basis for complaint regarding Stickam's owner, users should still be aware that not everything on Stickam may be appropriate for all ages. By its very nature, Stickam provides members with a way to stream unfiltered video to other users. While displaying inappropriate content is against the rules, there's nothing stopping anyone from breaking those rules. And unless someone reports the abuse it will go unpunished.
According to an interview with Beet.TV, Stickam program director Andy Wombwell says that Stickam has more than 4.5 million members. It would be a daunting task for any organization to monitor the activities of that many people. Instead, Stickam relies upon its community of users to monitor the site for abuse.
Despite these controversies, Stickam remains a popular Web destination. And while some users may push the envelope harder than the rules allow, most use the site the way it was intended.
Stickam and similar services have made it easier than ever for people to create content or just hang out on the Web. As more people get access to broadband connections, sites like Stickam will gain more members. Who knows? In a few years you may skip calling your friends on the phone and just meet them face-to-face on the Web.
Learn more about social networking and streaming video on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Alexa. "stickam.com." (July 29, 2009) http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/stickam.com
- Brooks, Jeff. "Live Streaming Stickam has 4.5 Million Users." Beet.TV. July 27, 2009. (July 29, 2009) http://www.beet.tv/2009/07/live-online-events-can-generate-big-bumps-stickam-says.html
- CrunchBase. "stickam.com." (July 29, 2009) http://www.crunchbase.com/company/stickam
- Quantcast. "stickam.com." (July 29, 2009) http://www.quantcast.com/stickam.com
- Stickam. (July 27, 2009) http://www.stickam.com
- Stickam. "Stickam Staff Blog." (July 27, 2009) http://blog.stickam.com/
- Stickam. "Terms of Service." (Aug. 3, 2009)http://www.stickam.com/viewTerms.do
- Stone, Brad. "Accuser Says Web Site for Teenagers Has X-Rated Link." The New York Times. July 11, 2007. (July 28, 2009) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/11/technology/11video.html
- Stone, Brad. "Video sharing sites get more daring." The New York Times. Jan 2, 2007. (July 29, 2009) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/02/technology/02iht-webcam.4077659.html