>The other day, I was thinking about the idea of a “videophone” and I had to laugh. Back in the day, we would watch movies like BladeRunner and think “Yeah. Won’t that be cool when we have video phones.” It never occurred to us that a video “call” would be made through any sort of device other than a special phone.
Twice a week, I log into a conference call with participants in Seattle, Minneapolis, New York, Boston, and London. We regularly talk for over an hour while also exhanging text messages and files over an encrypted connection. The brilliant bit is that these sessions don’t cost us anything. That’s right. It’s completely free because we all log in through Skype. In addition to being free, it’s also completely portable as long as we can get to a laptop with a broadband internet connection. Once, I dialed in from a coffee shop. Rather than disturbing my fellow coffee drinkers, I wrote my comments into an IM session while listening to everyone else via headphones.
We don’t even have to worry about OS interoperability. Half of us use Macs, half are running Windows XP. It’s never caused a problem, even when we pass files back and forth through the Skype session.
Even when I need to get ahold of someone who’s offline, I get to do it for cheap using SkypeOut. I just spent 31 minutes on a call to a land line in London. It cost me €0.544. That’s €0.017 per minute. In January, it cost me less than €3.00 to talk for an hour with my friend Raj in his hotel room in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Our team of collaborators started using Skype to communicate across the Atlantic about a year ago. At that point, it was terribly unstable. SkypeOut was useless because it introduced a painful lag. It made me feel like the person on the other end was mad at me (because there were lots of awkward pauses after I said anything). At the time, Skype also didn’t support conference calling on Macs. I was cautiously skeptical of the tool, waiting for it to be proven before singing any praises. Since then, they have really gotten their stuff together. The fact that now you can call any US phone for free makes it indispensable.
That’s all well and nice, but I want (group) video chat. Now.
In true American form, I can’t be satisfied with a wonderful thing. Instead, I turn my head and look for more. I don’t want to just have a file-sharing audio conference every Wednesday. I want to see the people I’m talking to, and I want to do it for free. This is where the technology just hasn’t caught up with us, but it’s close. If we were all on Macs running OS X, we could use iChat AV to have videoconferences with up to 10 people, passing the info over the Jabber Protocol. Sadly, to date nobody has released a Jabber client on Windows that can handle group video chat sessions. The solution is a-brewing though.
My only question is who will get it done first.