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Posts from August 2011

Happy Birthday, Skype! Celebrating 8 Years of Disruption

skypelogo-shadow.pngIt was 8 years ago today that the first public beta version of Skype was released... and so began the amazing journey of a product/service that has truly disrupted the telecommunications industry. The Wikipedia page on Skype has a good record of the history, which is interesting to look back upon now.

I started using Skype sometime in early 2005 or so... working in Mitel's Office of the CTO charged with evaluating new technology - and seeking to understand what Skype was all about. I started writing about Skype then... and still continue writing a good bit about Skype as it is certainly one of the more disruptive players in the industry. Skype today is a HUGE part of my daily life and truly is one service that is integral to my daily workflow and life online.

Skype's blog post today, of course, focuses on their current fixation on video calls... even including the strange text (my emphasis added):

What started off as a little idea to connect the world over video calls has turned into something so much more, and we believe this is making a huge difference in making the world feel smaller and a lot more connected.

I don't actually know the ideas of the original founders of Skype, but I do know that in the actual early days of Skype it was all about audio versus video. Perhaps they had the grand dream then of video and had to focus on the reality of audio... or perhaps this is just the current Skype marketing trying to focus on their current messaging around video.

From my perspective, the 8 years of Skype thus far have:

  • completely destroyed the expensive costs of international telephony;
  • provided people a real viable option to use video telephony;
  • introduced people to the idea that you could have audio calls that sounded FAR better than the PSTN via wideband audio codecs;
  • gave people a true multi-modal "unified communications" experience with the ability to easily migrate between chat, audio, video, file sharing and screen sharing;
  • provided the industry with a solid example of secure communications using SRTP (while the carriers were whining about how they couldn't use SRTP because it would be too demanding on their infrastructure);
  • provided an incredible example of the power of persistent group chats;
  • provided an example of what a simple and easy user experience could be in a world of cluttered interfaces; (although some may argue that ended with Skype 5.x)
  • gave we who are fascinated by networks and amazing example of a peer-to-peer communications system; and
  • provided an example of a product that can "just work" from behind pretty much any network configuration including layers of NAT, firewalls, etc., etc.

... and so much more. It's been a fascinating service and company to watch, write about and use their products.

Oh, it hasn't all be great, of course... the business side of Skype has been all over the place. The partner/developer programs are on their 7th or 8th iteration. Various other programs have come and gone (SkypeCasts? Extras?). Skype has pursued it's incredibly fractured product management strategy across the multiple different operating systems.

But all in all it has certainly been fun to have Skype around ... and it sure has disrupted the industry!

What lies ahead now that Skype is slated to become part of Microsoft? Much remains to be seen... but odds that when their 9th birthday rolls around they won't be quite the same disruptive troublemakers that they are today. We'll see.

Meanwhile... Happy Birthday, Skype!

And two other friends have shared their thoughts today:

And here is Skype's birthday video... slickly produced with a message that does indeed celebrate the communications power that Skype has brought to our world:

I'm looking forward to seeing where the next 8 years of Skype takes us...

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Video: How to Communicate at Burning Man using OpenBTS and Tropo

Heading to Burning Man this coming week? Would you like to use your mobile phone to connect up with others on the playa in Black Rock City?

If so, check out this video from Chris Pirillo about the work being done by a team of folks to supply local cell phone coverage... the vans with satellite and cell hookups are already enroute... it uses software from OpenBTS and to let burners leave each other voice messages, exchange SMS messages and more. Here's the video:

And here are some blog posts that provide more information:

I'm not personally going to be at Burning Man, but this does sound very cool!

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Adhearsion (and AdhearsionConf) On Tomorrow's VUC Call - Telephony Via Ruby

Adhearsionconf2011Want to learn more about the Adhearsion framework that lets you easily create telephony and other communication apps using the Ruby language? On tomorrow's VoIP Users Conference (VUC) call at 12 noon US Eastern, Ben Klang from the Adhearsion project will be talking about all that's new in Adhearsion-land, including the upcoming AdhearsionConf 2011 in October in San Francisco.

I've written about Adhearsion before and while I don't do much with Ruby myself, the power of Adhearsion to create powerful telephony apps in a few lines of code is pretty amazing.

If you'd like to join the VUC call live tomorrow, the info is:

There's also a very active IRC backchannel (#vuc on free node) that provides another way to communicate during the call.

Google Chrome Rolls Out Web Audio API Support: Audio Processing in JavaScript

GooglechromeblogFascinating news out of the Google Chrome team yesterday: the latest developer build of Google Chrome now supports audio signal processing directly in JavaScript!

To say that more simply… right now to do good audio communication on the web, you have to use plugins built in Flash, QuickTime or Java. This Web Audio API aims to let you do much of that audio control via JavaScript and HTML5. From the specification intro:

Audio on the web has been fairly primitive up to this point and until very recently has had to be delivered through plugins such as Flash and QuickTime. The introduction of the audio element in HTML5 is very important, allowing for basic streaming audio playback. But, it is not powerful enough to handle more complex audio applications. For sophisticated web-based games or interactive applications, another solution is required. It is a goal of this specification to include the capabilities found in modern game audio engines as well as some of the mixing, processing, and filtering tasks that are found in modern desktop audio production applications.

The Web Audio API specification, which is a proposal for a standard being discussed in the W3C's Audio Working Group includes a set of example applications, including multi-player games like Quake, musical examples and more.

If you want to live on the edge with the "Beta Channel" of Google Chrome builds (I do), you can even go over to Google's page of Web Audio examples to try it out yourself.

It's great to see this support in Google Chrome as it can help us continue the move away from proprietary browser plugins to more standards-based solutions - and through that to a more open Internet. Kudos to the Google team for rolling out the support - I'm looking forward to seeing what people build with it!

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13 Great Tips And Tricks for Skype 5.2 for the Mac

SkypeformacAre you a Mac OS X user trying to learn to live with the new Skype 5.x user interface? Would you like to learn some great shortcuts for working faster with Skype 5?

While the Skype 5.x interface has certainly come under fire from many folks (including me), the reality is that it is the direction Skype is going forward with and so to a certain degree we who want to continue to use Skype have to either learn to live with the new UI - or revert back to Skype 2.8 while realizing we won't get any new features.

Recently my corporate laptop was upgraded to a brand new MacBook Pro and in the process I decided to finally make the jump over to Skype 5.2. In doing so, I started hunting around for ways to work even faster with the user interface. Thankfully, the folks at Skype came out with this great list of 12 tips:

Skype 5.2 tricks and tips

It turned out I knew most of them (or other ways to do them), but the one I have found very useful was the three-finger swipe on the trackpad to move up or down between conversations.

And the 13th tip?

That would be my own that isn't on that page. Being a huge Skype chat user, I like to quickly be able to find and jump into various chats. While in the Skype UI, hold down:

Option + Command + f

Your focus will jump up to the search box in the upper right corner and you can type in the name of someone or some text that is in a chat name. You should see the search results start to appear below. Hit the tab key to move down to the list of search results and then the arrow keys to move up and down in the list. Hit Enter to go into the chat ... and there you are.

Simple way to find chats... without having to use the trackpad. It's a shortcut that I use pretty much every day!

Are any of these tips major time savers for you? Have you found other tips or tricks that help make the Skype 5.2 UI work better for you?

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Google's "Calling From Gmail" Aims to Disrupt International Calling - 38 countries, 4 currencies

Fascinating move by Google... they've now expanded "Calling from Gmail" to 38 countries, opened up payment into 4 currencies (US Dollars, Canadian Dollars, Euros or British Pounds), and lowered their calling rates to over 150 "destinations" around the world. If you aren't familiar with "Calling from GMail", it's the green phone icon you may have inside your Gmail inbox:


I'm showing the phone "popped out" of the browser window, but normally it just appears inside your browser window and lets you search your contacts or dial new numbers.

Personally, I find that most of my international calling (and actually most of my calling, period) is done via Skype... but for those who want to reach people internationally on regular mobile phones (or (GASP!) landlines) this could offer another cheap option.

Similarly, if you live in Google products (something more people are exploring now that Google+ is here), this provides a great way to stay within Google-land and make your phone calls. While I am a Gmail user, I read all my email offline so I never use the web interface... so I don't see me using this, but many will, I'm sure.

Sadly, there seems to be no way to call SIP addresses, so for those of us who want to break the shackles of all the legacy PSTN limitations and, for instance, have calls in rich wideband/HD audio, "calling from Gmail" still won't cut it.

Google provides a simple rate chart (click "show all rates" to see the full list) and says in their blog post:

For example, it’s now only $0.10 (or €0.08) per minute to call mobile phones in the U.K., France or Germany (landlines are $0.02/min), $0.15/minute to call mobile phones in Mexico and $0.02/min to call any phone number in China and India.

They also note:

Calls to the U.S. or Canada placed within those countries will continue to be free at least for the rest of 2011. Calls to the U.S. or Canada placed from outside these countries will be charged $0.01 per minute (or €0.01, £0.01, C$0.01 per minute).

Google being Google they also provide a nice happy video:

All in all it looks like an interesting offering for people who live in the Google web interface. And it all continues to add pressure to that international dialing market...

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Video Interview: What Is The Future of Real-Time Communications?

As I posted over on the Voxeo Talks blog recently, über-geek Chris Pirillo recently interviewed VoIP industry veteran Jeff Pulver and Voxeo CEO Jonathan Taylor on the topic of the future of real-time communications. It was a wide ranging interview talking about the history of communication apps, how VoIP has evolved, the role of standards, issues around bandwidth caps, the role of individuals and so much more. Chris explained a bit more on his site.. The video is now available on YouTube:

As a producer of video interviews, I was personally intrigued by Chris' use of a Google+ "Hangout" to conduct the interview. I'm going to have to try it at some point.

Enjoy the video!

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