Deaf-Friendly Showcase: How Glide’s #VIDEOTEXTING Revolution Won the Deaf Community Over

Posted by: Staff Writer on Feb. 10, 2015

To a nation of textaholics, LOLs and emojis seems like a 21st Century fixture that’s here to stay. But hold on to your hats, because an upstart startup is changing how we stay connected: Glide’s video-texting application.

If Glide has its way, limiting oneself to plain ol’ word-based texting will be so 2011. Since its product release in May 2013, over 10 million U.S. users have sent over 500 million videos using the Glide app – and the Deaf Community is a particularly fast-growing user demographic.

To get the lowdown, we interviewed Sarah Snow, Glide’s Community Manager. Her topaz-blue eyes and #VIDEOTEXTING beret have made her a quickly recognizable face to the Deaf Community. So have her relentless efforts to advocate for our rights to a more accessible user experience.

A happy niche accident

The microwave, the Slinky, Super Glue, and the pacemaker are all venerable products invented by accident. Glide's video-messaging app, while overtly designed for the mainstream hearing user, ended up being an incredibly useful “niche” tool for the Deaf Community.

Glide's founders, a trio of Israeli-based entrepreneurs set out to create a product that would revolutionize texting. The world’s first and only live video messaging app quickly rose to the ranks: Glide for Android has a 4.5 star rating in the Google Play store, and is a Top 100 application as well as a Top 10 app in Messaging. Glide for iPhone has maintained a 4.5 star rating in the iTunes App Store and has become a Top 25 app in Photo/Video. 

What founders Ari Roisman, Jonathan Caras, and Adam Korbi likely didn’t foresee is how the Deaf Community would react. “We first started noticing enthusiastic reviews from the deaf and hard of hearing community in the app stores,” said Snow. “Then, we saw comments on our YouTube videos letting us know that they loved the app, but couldn’t understand our “hearing” videos.”

Deaf Culture wasn’t written in her original job description – and prior to this role, she had not had opportunities to interact with anyone from the Deaf or Hard of Hearing community.

"To better communicate with our users from the deaf and hard of hearing community, I decided to take ASL lessons with a teacher locally who had studied at CSUN. And I made my videos together with an interpreter who studied at Gallaudet," said Snow, who goes by the alias "Sarah Glide".

Her favorite sign?  "The Glide sign, of course!"

Crowdsourced by many deaf and hard of hearing fans through Glide’s social media channels, the #GlideSign has become a part of the always-evolving American Sign Language.

Snow’s job has already taken her across the ocean to Gallaudet University's campus (where a large crowded quickly snatched up 150 Glide hats and 50 hoodies). She’s received many invitations to visit Cal State University at Northridge (CSUN) and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to visit the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), and expects to tour Texas, California, Arizona and Illinois during the first half of this year.

Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth

Data usage can make or break any iOS or Android app. In the real estate of apps offered free of cost, a nimble footprint is a critical feature for bandwidth-conscious users. 

Video communication is “the logical next step beyond the delivery of voice, text messages, and photos over cellular data networks," said Snow. But applications like Skype or FaceTime consume “significant bandwidth” and often have strict performance requirements: Initially limited to Wi-Fi only, they slowly became available only to subscribers of tiered data plans, and only recently have been available to anyone with an LTE-enabled device.

By contrast, Snow says the Glide app has been designed from the beginning to work on WiFi, 3G, 4G, or LTE networks.

Bandwidth can be especially challenging for the Deaf Community, which relies on adequate data to conduct daily tasks – from ordering pizza through relay services, to discussing sensitive medical issues via video remote interpreting (VRI). Beyond cat videos, sufficient data truly is a requirement to function in the hearing world.

Case in point: In 2012, a petition asked cell phone service providers to allow unlimited data access for Deaf/HOH customers. The old standby, unlimited data plans, is increasingly reliant on grandfathered plans and susceptible to throttling after 3GB or 5GB of consumption, which is one reason why Glide's proprietary, patent-pending technology is as effective as it is popular: 

"A handful (from the Deaf Community) have even told us that Glide, which uses half the data of video calls, has helped them reduce the amount of data they use monthly as part of their cell phone plans," said Snow.

Glide's engineers designed the app to also store all video messages in the cloud, eliminating the need to constantly delete older messages. Each Glide message can be recorded for up to 5 minutes, competing in both duration and bandwidth with other video messaging apps (which average 15 seconds): A 5-minute Glide message averages 5-10MBps, whereas a competing app's 15-second HD video message will have already taken up 15MBps.

The average Glide user sends 10 messages daily, benefiting greatly from the bandwidth efficiency.

#WithCaptions aims to educate, sway YouTube content providers 

Snow, who has worked with cancer patients in an Israeli hospital, wants to know what makes others tick. Blending empathy with social media analytics, she’s curated feedback into ideas that can improve experiences for Glide's accessibility-hungry users.

“No more FOMO,” a Glide Facebook post promised, referring to the acronym for Fear Of Missing Out. Because FOMO is particularly strong in the Deaf Community, Glide goes further than simply engineering an app: It is now socially engineering YouTube content providers with its #WithCaptions campaign.

"What I've learned in a short period of time from the amazing people I've met is that everyone should treat deaf people as equals, not like people who need special help," said Snow. "They simply want to enjoy the same things as everyone else and deserve the access they need to do so."

That includes 100% unfettered access to the millions of video content available on the Web. In a #WITHCAPTIONS vlog translated into sign language by over 10 deaf Glide users (including deaf rapper Sean Forbes, and Switched at Birth’s Daniel Durant), Snow narrated the community’s frustration: “I've noticed that a lot of creators on YouTube don't include closed captions in their videos, which makes it not accessible for everyone because, here's the thing: We don't hear you. We see you. We're visual communicators.”

The vlog urged users to tag their favorite creators and ask them if they can upload their next video with closed captions, while using the hashtag #WITHCAPTIONS.

Creating the future: Glide's CES debut

Glide co-founder Ari Roisman has said that smartwatches may be ergonomically better than repeatedly reaching for smartphones. Would they also be a good fit for the nature of one-handed sign language? 

In Vegas' largest-ever CES (Consumer Electronics Show) last month, the Glide team provided demos of a custom version of the Glide app on a pre-release Android smartwatch, complete with a front-facing camera, microphone, speaker and both 3G and WiFi connectivity. 

Among 3,600 exhibitors and 170,000 professional/industry attendees, Glide was voted one of TIME’s 20 most eye-catching booths at CES 2015. They showed how live video messaging on a wrist-worn smartwatch allows users to watch incoming video messages live and effortlessly respond with a single tap on the screen to record or play a video. 

"Once major manufacturers add front-facing cameras to their smartwatches, we see video messaging fundamentally transforming the messaging space,” said Snow.

But will it work for #deaffriendly businesses?

As Glide's brand ambassador positions show, the app has a popular following with the 18-24 age demographic. It remains focused on users who use the app to communicate with friends and family. 

But just as its founders never expected to carve out a deaf niche, businesses are already using this app to communicate with their customers.

We have already heard from some forward-thinking companies about different ways they use Glide, especially the group chat feature, to facilitate communications among their employees or teams of up to 50 people, said Snow. We would not be surprised to find out that some organizations have already started using Glide and its current set of features to enable inbound communications from consumers who are seeking customer support, advice or to conduct business-oriented conversations. 

The Glide blog points out the deaf-friendly perks of videotexting: It's faster than typing. Its asynchronous format makes it impossible to for one signer to interrupt another mid-conversation. 

It can also cut down on playing phone tag and slogging through elevator music to get a busy business owner’s attention: “It’s simply easier to send somebody a video message than to schedule a phone or video call,” said Snow.

Coming soon: Watch for Glide on deaffriendly.com review platform!

If you haven’t already, download Glide for free on Apple Store (for iOS) or Google Play Store (for Android).

Have you already been using the Glide app, and want to tell the world about it? Though Glide is not yet in our database of reviewable U.S.-based businesses, expect that to change soon. Having secured $20M in venture funding late last year, Glide is currently expanding its operations and has plans to open new offices in both Silicon Valley and New York. Soon, you can review Glide through our San Francisco, CA and New York, NY review pages!

 

 

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