Talking Tech Friday – Skype

Holidays are a time when everyone thinks about keeping in touch with family and friends. Along that theme, I thought I’d review Skype this week.

What is it?

Skype is a web service that uses Voice-Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology (like most technology acronyms, this one is really simple…har har) ((If you didn’t get that, read the RSS presentation page)) to allow users to call one another computer-to-computer, or computer-to-phone for little (or nothing) cost. This is not a new technology, and Skype itself has been around since PW2 (Pre-Web 2.0) – 2004!

How does it work?

As with most online services, you make an account, with some username and password, and download a free client. This client is very similar to most instant messaging clients, so if you’ve used AIM, MSN IM, etc, it should look very familiar.

Once you’ve downloaded the client, you’ll also need to make sure you have either a microphone and speakers, or a headset with a microphone – this probably goes without saying, but in order for people to hear you, you need a mike, and you can’t hear them without speakers or earphones.

Making calls via Skype is totally free Skype-to-Skype, as in from computer to computer. You can import contacts from many email services, and invite contacts to join. However, in order to call a phone number from Skype (SkypeOut), you must pay for an account with Skype – they give you a couple of options which offer different benefits and charges, so you’d need to evaluate what works for your situation. You pretty much set up an account with a certain amount of credit, which will cover the charges incurred by calling outside of Skype.

Some of Skype’s other features include:

Additionally, Skype has a business account, which allows a central IT administrator to manage the account and gives some increased functionality, such as being able to set a SkypeIn number with which to receive calls, conference calls up to 10 people, and shared contacts lists and syncing capabilities with Outlook.

Skype is also compatible with Windows Mobile devices, as well as cordless or wifi phones.

Possible Library Uses

I see a lot of potential for internal use – especially with conference calling and video conferencing.  I’ve used Skype for conference calls with colleagues from across the Valley – I thought it was very helpful for online collaboration. The instant messaging window can work in conjunction with voice chat, so we could share webpage links with one another while we were talking about them. I think the application of video chat as well greatly increases its use as a distance collaboration tool – this could be very useful for library systems with many branches to have virtual meetings for a pretty cheap cost. You wouldn’t need more than the free Skype service, so your cost would merely be for the equipment – and webcams and headsets are pretty cheap these days.

Skype could also be supplemental to, or even replace, chat reference applications. Having the ability to talk to patrons instantly and/or chat with them online is very beneficial.

I can definitely see the potential for SkypeCasting as well-possibly less scary than podcasting, but still enabling you to reach a large number of users. This could be a great marketing tool.

On a personal level, Skype runs well along with other applications, so I’ve often used it to chat with friends while playing a video game – if you’re a gaming librarian, you can increase your street cred with your teen (or adult!) patrons by recommending Skype for gaming chat. You can’t overlook the benefit of being able to make Skype calls anywhere, any time for free. I found out about Skype because a friend who moved to New Zealand used it to keep in touch with her family and friends here in the States – free calling is definitely worth downloading a little client to your computer.

Downloading the client is really the only downside – in order to take advantage of the free calling/video calls, everyone with whom you’d like to interact must also download Skype. For internal use, that is not problematic, but it definitely could be once you try to bring it out to the public. However, the learning curve for using it is not high – Skype is pretty user-friendly and they give lots of instructions on how to set up your equipment and adjust your controls.

Other reviews:

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~ by Anali on December 7, 2007.

 
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