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Live video-streaming site Qik has garnered a lot of buzz for its alpha release. This is no doubt thanks to prominent bloggers and tech elites that use the service including Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis and Kevin Rose. But now comes the first big test for the service: the masses. Qik launches the public beta version of its site today and with it comes several improvements.

The most prominent new feature is that anyone can now sign up for an account. This includes those who don’t have the necessary video-streaming phones or cellular data plans. Anyone can make an account simply to do things like comment on videos now. You will need to provide a phone number to sign up, but this means spam shouldn’t be an issue for the site.

The number of phones and cellular networks that can utilize Qik is expanding as well. You can now use Samsung Blackjack-II, Motorola Q, Samsung SHG-i600, Samsung SGH-i450, Samsung SGH-i550, Samsung SGH-i560 and the Nokia N78 (find a full list of the over 30 Qik-compatible phones here). The service can now also broadcast over Verizon and Sprint networks using their high-speed data offerings. Qik previously worked with only AT&T or T-Mobile.

Also new is a grouping feature for videos. This functionality will allow users to create areas for videos about certain topics. These areas can be public, private or restricted. An example of why you might want to do a private or restricted one is if you were going to Qik a birth. Yes, this has been done.

Qik users can also now create events pages for things such as family reunions or corporate events.

I sat down with Qik co-founder Bhaskar Roy as well as the director of marketing, Jackie Danicki, to go over some of the new features. It was clear that they were most proud that the service has gotten latency down to between a half-second and 3 seconds. Latency is the time delay between when something is initiated (in this case, a Qik video) and when it will appear (when the Qik video will start to go live on the Internet).

They said this makes Qik the fastest of the online video streaming sites and thus, the most live. No other competitor is below the one second mark they claim. A half-second latency is extremely fast. “If we figure out to break the speed of light we’ll let you,” Danicki joked.

A new Qik embeddable video player has also been created. Not only does the new one look nicer, it offers features such as the ability to chat right from within the embed as well as view thumbnails of other Qik videos. Users of YouTube embeds will recognize this latter functionality.

Roy made it clear that Qik does not want to be a destination site, but rather be the conduit people use to stream their live videos online. He noted that 57 percent of views are coming from other sites.

We used the service to cover much of the iPhone 3G launch live. The video at the bottom of the page got over 16,000 views alone. Knowing that, I asked if the main focus leading up to the public beta launch had been on the site’s infrastructure. Roy laughed and assured me that maintaining a site that is usable for the entire public is the main priority. The Qik team says it is confident they have done what is needed to to be able to scale appropriately.

The service is still limited to the Symbian and Windows Mobile operating systems, though an alpha version of the service is working on jailbroken first-generation iPhones. Roy told me that Qik is very interested in getting its software on the new iPhone 3G, but as of right now the phone has no video encoder necessary for video capture. Qik is working on building one but still has to be accepted into the App Store unless it plans to work on only jailbroken iPhones again.

Google’s Android platform also interests Qik but Roy said it was too early in the game to think much about it yet. Expect more on that front in the fall.

In terms of monetization, Qik will always have a version that is free however it is thinking about a version for commercial use that would require businesses pay a subscription fee to use it. Another possibility is to form partnerships with cellular carriers and/or handset manufacturers, Roy said. He made it clear that advertising on videos was not an avenue the company was looking at.

Live video streaming is a hot field right now. The two most prominent competitors to Qik are Flixwagon and Kyte. There is also Justin.tv, Ustream.tv and Yahoo Live, but those are all confined to computers for the time being while the rest work on mobile devices.

Qik currently has 30 employees, 15 in the United States and 15 based in Russia. The company raised a $3 million second round back in April.

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