Posts categorized "IM"

Joining ooVoo for video... are you an ooVoo user?

oovoodisplay.jpgI gave in today and installed ooVoo on my Mac. I'd resisted because I'm a wee bit swamped right now, but with friends talking about "My ooVoo Day" starting on Monday I finally succumbed and installed it. I admit to being a skeptic... but I'm also open to being surprised. My skepticism is mainly because I already have a zillion ways for people to contact me and I already run several IM/voice/video clients... so it's really NOT clear to me that I need another one. Still, the interface looks interesting and they've incorporated many of the features you would see in Skype and other clients... presence, status messages, etc. Many of the features are intriguing, such as the ability to do video conferencing with up to six people.

So as the admitted chaser of bright shiny objects that I am, and since they do have a Mac version - and my Mac has a webcam, I've installed it. Of course, given that sites like this don't yet support what DataPortability.org is aiming to do, I have no contacts, so it's rather useless to me right now. Yes, I can use the "Find Friends" feature to import contacts from email programs... but... maybe it's just that I'm a "security guy", but I'm still leery of letting programs I don't really know have access to my email directory.

So if you are a reader of this blog and an ooVoo user (or install it now), feel free to add me as a contact. I'm using the incredibly creative username of "danyork".

Then we can see what this ooVoo thing is all about. :-)

P.S. Kudos to CRAYON for their blogger outreach program and their "My ooVoo Day" initiative... well done!

Technorati Tags: , ,


Returning (at least for a moment) to the tried and true for group chat.... IRC

image In the beginning, there was IRC. 

Well, okay, not exactly... BITNET Relay was around before that and there were other multi-chat environments in some of the walled garden services (CompuServe, GENIE, etc.) and BBSs... but for most of us who were online from the late 1980s onward, IRC was the place to be for "chat" and realtime IM communication.  Of course, it lived primarily in the geekier side of the Internet.  The "real" Net users used IRC and looked down upon all the "newbies" who were drawn to these new IM services from ICQ, AOL and later MSN and a zillion others.  Sure, they were pretty and had cute emoticons.  Yeah, okay, so they could include videos and knew when other people were typing and had little "toast" popups... all that would just be added to IRC clients at some point.  And, oh yes, I said "clientS" because of course we had many different clients that you could use for IRC from all different platforms.    We had our bots and our "/me". Clients had nick completion and a ton of other features.  We were IRC users and we were vastly superior.

But over the last five years or so I noticed that more and more of the folks with whom I had been communicating on IRC... stopped... using... it.

Myself included.  The last time I seriously used IRC was probably 4 or 5 years ago.

I would put a large part of the blame on corporate firewalls.  Somewhere along the way IRC got the stamp of being a waste of time and a productivity drain (which, like any technology, can be true if mis-used).  It was way too easy to simply block port 6667 on the corporate firewall (and/or the IRC protocol).  As botnets proliferated and used IRC as a control channel, there became a security reason to block the protocol as well.

Many IRC users continued, of course, but to do so from behind a corporate firewall usually meant creating a VPN or ssh tunnel to an external server and running the IRC client there.  Easy enough to do (I did it myself for a while), but not quite as easy as all those consumer IM products that just sat down in your Windows systray and gave you a toast message when someone was contacting you.  Plus, while it was easy for the tech-savvy of us to ssh or VPN out to an external server, many of our less-tech-literate colleagues didn't know how to do that.  So they didn't - but they were the ones with whom we often wanted to communicate.

So over time, we gave in.... and fired up AIM and ICQ and MSN/WLM and Jabber and Skype and.... 

Skype, especially, seemed to have caught on for group chats.  In part perhaps because of the ability to create "public group chats" that were persistent (i.e. they survived logout/login and in fact you basically stay in them forever until you click "Leave").  I've often thought, though, that part of it was also that Skype groupchat is the closest that I've seen to replicating what is in IRC.  It is basically "IRC with a prettier face".  It has "/me" (admittedly a favorite of mine) and many of the other "/" commands.  For IRC users, it is a very easy and seductive change.

But now, with the continued Skype outage, those of us who have come to rely on Skype groupchats as a component of our daily communication are suddenly left without an easy vehicle for the group communication to which we are accustomed.

Jabber, of course, is one option.  Like IRC, it's all about open standards, there are many Jabber servers and a ton of Jabber clients.  But I personally never saw it take off for larger groupchats to the degree that Skype did (or IRC).

So in the end this morning, I dusted off an IRC client I had installed (Miranda) and connected in to good old freenode, where some people with whom I communicate indicated they would be, talking, predictably, about the Skype outage (in "#skype"). 

Will I return to using the Skype groupchats when Skype comes back up?  Probably.  It's way too simple and easy.  Plus, part of what I do is analyze Skype and you can't really do that without participating in it.  But for now... for this moment anyway... I'll return to an old friend.

/me stops reminiscing and returns to work


UPDATE: For those not familiar with IRC, you may want to visit IRC.org and particularly the history page.


Mashable: "Instant Messaging Toolbox: 90+ IM Tools"

image Okay, so how many IM clients are you now running? Looking down at my laptop, I see 5 at the moment: MSN/WLM, Skype, GoogleTalk, Psi(Jabber) plus Mitel's own product.  I also sometimes have Gizmo and FWD running and use Miranda from time to time as well.  I do have Yahoo!Messenger and AIM accounts, although I don't honestly use them all that often. On my Blackberry I have IM+ and iSkoot...  let's call it 11or 12 of the consumer products that I normally have available.  Per the list of 90+ IM tools out from Mashable yesterday, that still leaves me with around 80 or so to try. :-)

What's your count?

Technorati tags:

New version of IM+ out that lets you do Skype from your Blackberry...

image About a month ago, I wrote about the "IM+ for Skype" client that let you use Skype on your Blackberry. Well, a new version 2.5 is out now and Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal has a review.  Jim is quite enthusiastic about a new feature that lets you specify the number at which IM+ will call you back (rather than only calling you back on your mobile).  I also found this interesting:

As an added benefit, IM+ 2.5 will not only make calls to those in my Skype Contacts but also my Blackberry address book. In summary IM+ provides a very versatile way of combining access to both Skype and Blackberry resources.

Interesting to see the merger of Skype and Blackberry directories.  I've not yet played with it and don't see myself having the time to do so in the next bit, but Jim says he'll be writing more in the time ahead about it.


iSkoot - cool idea for a Skype client for Blackberry, but I don't see me using it much because...

Last week I wrote some first impressions of iSkoot, a new Skype client for Blackberry, and while I still think it's a very cool idea, I don't see myself using it all that much.  Why not?  Very simply...

Battery life!

Or the lack thereof.  Yes, indeed, it all does seem to come down to batteries, and iSkoot seems to certainly consume its share of power.  Now granted, my Blackberry 7290 is an older model and for all I know could probably use a new battery, but in "normal" operation, I can charge it up and then have it run for a good 3 or 4 days before it needs a recharge.  However, start up iSkoot and I found I suddenly needed a recharge by the end of the day!

In fairness, iSkoot is not alone in this... the other Blackberry IM clients I've used, both the Windows Messenger client and also most recently the IM+ client for Skype also have this same problem.  I'm assuming it has something to do with the need to regularly use the data connection for updates to status and to update chat messages.

I can see this actually being most useful to me when I'm traveling and need to quickly reach someone from within an airport or something like that. Of course, that's also when I want the longest battery life, too!  I think I'll keep it installed on my BB, but I don't think I'll have it running except for those times when I'm somewhere and I want a quick way to do IM via Skype.

Too bad, really, because one of the fun aspects of it was that I had a very easy way to read Twitter updates and Facebook updates on my BB (since I have both Twitter and Facebook status streams piped into a Skype chat).

Ah, the joy of batteries...

Technorati tags: , , ,

iSkoot provides another Skype client for Blackberry devices... review - and my first reaction is that it has a challenge with the "instant" part of "instant messaging"

NOTE: Please see the updates at the bottom of this post.

imageBack on Monday, Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal IM'd me (on Skype naturally) asking if he could do a test call to me on "another Skype client for the Blackberry". Naturally, I said yes and in a moment or so we were speaking.  It turned out that he was using a new beta application from iSkoot.  From the news release:

The new iSkoot v1.1 delivers a comprehensive mobile Skype experience on BlackBerry: With the click of a button, users can instantly chat with their Skype contacts, make and receive Skype calls, and use SkypeOut™ to inexpensively call regular phone numbers nearly anywhere in the world. iSkoot v1.1 also displays complete Skype contact status information, so BlackBerry users can see which friends, family members and business colleagues are available, as well as manage their own online presence. This latest release features a next generation, easy-to-use interface especially designed for BlackBerry users and will offer additional features soon. iSkoot works without any need for PCs, special hardware, custom phones or Wi-Fi hot spots, and utilizes the existing mobile network infrastructure to route Skype calls through the voice channel.

It sounded interesting and so, of course, I had to try it out as well and finally had a spare moment to do so today.  Now, both Jim and I had commented a month ago about the IM+ Skype client from ShapeServices (my posts first here and then here with a link to Jim's coverage) so that previous experience somewhat colors my own view of the iSkoot application.

The installation was fairly straightforward. I filled out a form on iSkoot's site and was then SMS'd instructions for the download.  I simply opened the link in my Blackberry's browser and proceeded with the install in the normal "over the air" process.  One minor detail was that my Blackberry 7290 was not in the list of supported handsets, but I took a guess that the 7100 binary might work and so I used that (and it seems to work).

Here are some initial positive impressions:

  • Nice user interface - Very nice interface.  Tabs that you can use Alt+wheel to move between for your contacts, online contacts, SkypeOut contacts and chats.
  • Presence worked - I could see the presence of the other Skype users on my contact list.  I didn't try to see what happens when a user changes to see what kind of time delay there may or may not be.
  • Outbound calls worked, although with an annoying step in the process - Move to a Skype contact and push your thumbwheel twice to call.  (Or push it once to see your options.) The call then starts by initiating a regular mobile call from your Blackberry to a phone number in Massachusetts (for me).  It then seems to call the other person on Skype and connect you through the gateway at iSkoot.  The annoying step was that when I first initiate a call, my Blackberry throws up a menu saying that an application is requesting to make a call and do I want to allow it, with the default being No. I therefore have to scroll up and press my thumbwheel again.  It's a pain and I couldn't find a way to remove that request.  I don't remember having to do that step in the IM+ client (and my trial has expired).  In any event, once the calls were connected, the audio quality sounded fine on both ends.
  • Chats worked, and alerted you to new chats - Easy to initiate chats. Nice list of current chats.  If a new chat is opened up with you, you get a notification and can open it up.  If there are new messages in existing chats, you get notified of those as well.
  • No conference call appearance - Unlike the IM+ client, your call just appears as a regular Skype call.  In fact, there was really no way for me to know Jim was not calling me from his regular Skype client.  With the IM+ client, you wound up getting put into a conf call with the other recipient which just seemed a bit strange.

Realizing it is still in beta (like, it seems, most everything on the net these days), here are some negative impressions:

  • No support for groupchats - Using the Skype 3.2/3.5beta clients, I'm accustomed to having several public groupchat windows open.  Unfortunately, groupchats are not supported per the FAQ, and my public groupchats did not appear.  This does work in the IM+ client, so score 1 for IM+.
  • Very slow updates to chats - In our experiment today, Jim Courtney and I both had Skype running on our PCs and so we could see our chat messages in a chat window there as well.  There were times when it took 5-10 minutes for messages typed in the PC chat window to appear in the iSkoot window!  Given that this is supposedly instant messaging, such a delay was hard to fathom.  Now there is a "Refresh Now" choice in the menu which could force a refresh, but the normal process seemed to have some kind of refresh interval.  Not all the time.  Sometimes messages appeared right away... but other times there was as much as a 10-minute delay before seeing the other message.  Hopefully this is just a scaling issue as iSkoot deals with their release!
  • Slow call initiation process - Forgetting about my annoying Blackberry question I had to answer, the whole process of initiating the call seemed to take longer than the IM+ client did.  I'd have to purchase IM+ to actually test the timing, but the iSkoot process just seemed slower.
  • Status did not have DND/Busy - Curiously, you can change your status in the iSkoot client, but you only have the choices of: Online, Away, Not Available and Invisible.  One of the ones I use often is "Do Not Disturb", so that I'm not disturbed.  That choice isn't here.  Perhaps the assumption is that you'll just exit the application.
  • You can't receive Skype calls if you have Skype Voicemail enabled - Per the FAQ.  Not entirely sure why but this seems to be a bit of a headache if you this is not your only Skype client.  I also have Skype on my PC and if I am not there, I'd prefer to have the call go to voicemail.  Since I'm mostly looking to use this for Skype chats and Skype outbound calls, I don't expect it to be a big deal for me (I'll leave voicemail on) but I could see it being a pain if I did want to receive calls.
  • You still have to give over your Skype password - As with IM+, you have to provide iSkoot with your Skype username and password and then they log in as you from their server/gateway.  As a commenter pointed out, there is a basic problem here that with your Skype account being connected to your PayPal account which in turn is connected to your bank account, you are potentially letting someone you don't know have access ultimately to your bank account.  Do you trust iSkoot (or anyone else) enough?  On the other hand, I'm not sure how any of these services can really work if you do not provide that information.  (See update below.)

All in all, it's an interesting entry into the idea of taking Skype onto a mobile phone.  As I have time I'll keep experimenting with it over the next few weeks... I could see it be especially useful if you were travelling (which, for better or worse, I'm not doing).

As I'll write up in another post, the one interesting use for me was that I could see Twitter and Facebook updates appearing in a Skype chat window and could post Twitter updates (without using the SMS interface)... which was an interesting experience.

In the meantime, if you are a Blackberry and Skype user and want to experiment, you can head over to iSkoot.com and try it out.


 

UPDATE #1 - 11 Jul 07: Jim Courtney IM'd me with the following comment on the Skype<->PayPal linkage:

btw, I investigated re the PayPal access issue. To do anything meaningful you need to log into PayPal as well. Also PayPal would not allow a process that was open to abuse. All you can buy automatically are voice mail, SkypeIn, SkypeOut and even there you can put on a daily limit as low as $50. And my PayPal password is definitely not my Skype pwd.

UPDATE #2 - 3 Aug 07: Jacqueline Van Meter with iSkoot Product Management has responded in a comment to my later post about iSkoot, addressing a number of the concerns I raised here. 

Technorati tags: , , ,

Making Skype calls from a Blackberry... (yes, it is true!) And where was the PC making the conf call??

Today I called Alec Saunders via Skype.  Not terribly unusual, really... except that I initiated the Skype call from my Blackberry!  Back on Monday, Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal had posted a teaser about an application for the Blackberry that allowed you to use Skype IM.  Today my curiosity got the better of me and I had to IM Jim to get the info. I downloaded the app and promptly had to try it out... I guess by virtue of Alec being at the top of my contact list, he was my victim (I also know from past experience that he's open to this kind of thing).

image Tonight Jim has spilled the goods for all of us in the post rather dramatically titled "Skype on the Blackberry - A New Era in the AlwaysOn World". It turns out to be an application called "IM+ for Skype" from a company called ShapeServices, which makes a variety of software products for PDAs (and specifically Blackberries).  It turns out there was a news release about this back on May 7th, but I didn't see any coverage of this at all.  The app itself costs $25, but you can also download it and use it for a free 7-day trial.

Blackberry users can even download it directly for Over-The-Air installation from wap.shapeservices.com.

The app itself seemed like other IM programs I've tried for the Blackberry.  Very easy to create chats.  See the chats in progress.  Get a notification vibration/beep when new chats arrive.  You first naturally give it your Skype username and password and it (slowly) loads in your contact list and shows the presence of all of your contacts.  After that, it's rather like a Skype client.  You can scroll through your contact list, open up chats, initiate calls, etc.

The calls are interesting.  I was initially expecting it to be a true VoIP client and initiate the call via Skype over the data connection from the Blackberry.  I wondered how well this would work given the generally limited quality/speed of the data connection.  It turns out that it doesn't work that way.  The data connection is used by the IM+ app to initiate the call, but the actual voice connection occurs over your phone's regular mobile connection. 

So when I called Alec, my phone actually rang and I answered it.  From Alec's perspective using Skype on his PC, he was placed into a conference call with "Dan York" and then a SkypeOut call to my cell phone.  What's curious to me is that I don't quite understand where the other party was that was making the conf call happen.  It wasn't on Skype on my PC.  I can't imagine the Blackberry could actually be doing the conf call... so where was it?  A PC (virtual or otherwise) back at Shape Services?  I don't know... but I will say that it worked.

From a cost perspective, I have the Skype Unlimited calling plan, so the call to my cell phone was free from a Skype point-of-view.  I have an unlimited data plan for my BB so there was no cost there.  Obviously there was an airtime cost for the connection to my BB... but that was it.   Now obviously I could also use it to make SkypeOut calls to other numbers, at which point it is becoming much like one of the call-back services like Jajah.

Interesting app... we'll see if I actually use it much.  My past experience with IM clients on the Blackberry is that if they are left running in the background they tend to eat the battery up very quickly.  Still, I could see me using it when traveling and wanting to IM someone or find out their Skype presence.  Will I make actual Skype calls with it?  I'm not sure.

What do you think?  Would you use it?  For Skype IM?  Calls?  Or both?  Is it a "New Era in the AlwaysOn World"?  (Would you pay the $25?)

Fun stuff...

Technorati tags: , ,

Skype raises public chat limits to 150 - but why do I see 200 in a chat room?

Today Skype announced that you could now have up to 150 people in a public chat session. They had quietly rolled this out a bit ago, but I only noticed then because I monitor and participate in a couple of Skype public chats that focus on new releases/features of Skype and development issues.

imageThere does, though, seem to be a continuing puzzle around discrepancies regarding the actual limits.  Ask any 4 people in a Skype public chat to type "/info" on the command line and relay the result... and you'll probably get four very different answers.  I just did that in one public chat (Update: it was the "Skype Developer community public chat") and, as shown in the graphic, showed a total of 201 people in a chat session... with the limit theoretically being 150!  Someone else in the chat did the same command and showed 122 people.  At various times in the past, we've done similar tests and found that there's a very wide range of numbers.

One has to wonder... is this something about the peer-to-peer "cloud" that makes up the Skype infrastructure?  Is this a convergence issue?  i.e. over time the numbers will converge to a common number as the p2p cloud updates?

Very strange.

Update: A contact at Skype indicates that this is a known bug where the count may not reflect people who have left the chat.

Technorati tags: , ,

Microsoft: When simply having an IM conversation becomes a tool to raise money for nonprofits... is this for real?

We've all undoubtedly seen the chain-letter email messages that circulate around telling you that by forwarding the email you will make money or receive gifts and most people with half a clue understand that this kind of thing is pretty much impossible.  So it was with a whole lot of skepticism that I first greeted Microsoft's "i'm" campaign because the premise is: for every IM conversation you have with Windows Live Messenger, we'll donate some money to the nonprofit of your choice (from among nine choices).  To me, it sounded just a wee bit fishy.   In reading the "About" page you do learn a bit more.  First:

Every time you start a conversation using i’m, Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with some of the world's most effective organizations dedicated to social causes. We've set no cap on the amount we'll donate to each organization. The sky's the limit. There's no charge, so join now and put our money where your mouth is.

and then this:

Once you've signed up, every ad you see in your message window contributes to the grand total we send to the causes.

So it's all about a portion of the advertising revenue that is generated from use of Windows Live Messenger (formerly "MSN Messenger").  But this second piece I find interesting... it sounds like Microsoft must be being paid on a pay-per-view basis versus pay-per-click.  The advertisers pay MS based on the number of times that their ad is displayed.  Ergo... the more IM conversations there are, the more times the ads are displayed... the more money goes to Microsoft.... and the more can be distributed to the nonprofits.  I was a bit surprised as I would have expected it to be more like pay-per-click - and undoubtedly it still is, i.e. for a view an advertiser pays $X and if someone clicks through an advertiser pays $X + $Y.

Digging into the Press area, there was the FAQ that explained a bit more:

Q: How much money goes to the organization from each conversation?
A: Although the donation amount from each user is small, the power of the Windows Live Messenger network makes this donation significant. For competitive reasons, we can’t share the per-conversation amount of advertising revenue that we will contribute, but every new conversation you have will lead to money being donated to the cause you select. Each organization is guaranteed a minimum of $100,000 for its involvement.

So ultimately it will amount to at least $900,000 in money being given out to these nonprofit organizations... certainly nothing to dismiss!  There was also this little piece of curiousity:

Q: Can everyone participate in this initiative?
A: The i’m Initiative is available to everyone in the 50 United States and the District of
Columbia.

Huh?  I first learned of it from a friend in the UK who signed up for the initiative.  How would Microsoft even know, anyway?  Last I knew you didn't really have to divulge geographic details to sign up for WLM... and even if you did those could be bogus... and people move all over the world anyway.  Strikes me as quite odd.

Regardless, kudos to Microsoft for finding a fun way to make donations to some worthy organizations.  I'm not so naive as to think Microsoft is doing this entirely out of the goodness of their hearts - I do realize that they hope to: a) attract more users to WLM; and b) increase the number of views of their advertisers ads.  I assume they hope that it will incent people who use multiple IM services to have more conversations on WLM because those conversations will count for $$$. Probably not a bad idea.  For me, WLM happens to be one of the two primary consumer IM services I use (the other being Skype) and for whatever reason the sets of people I communicate with are pretty separate.  So it won't really change my behavior, but I could see that potential where people have more overlap between their contact/buddy lists.

To go back to the beginning, why is this "real" when the email scams aren't?  Remember that the major consumer IM services (WLM, Yahoo!Messenger, AIM, Skype) are all "walled gardens" and in the server-based services (WLM, AIM, Yahoo) the companies controlling the servers know precisely how many conversations are going on, who is having them (and in fact what is being said).  In contrast, with email the network of servers is completely distributed with no one controlling them all.  As long as the walls remain, the companies controlling the servers have all that data.  (Skype is a wee bit different, being peer-to-peer.)

In any event, it's an interesting initiative and it's great to see companies trying out new things that do benefit nonprofit organizations trying to bring about change in the world.  Kudos to Microsoft - and if you are a WLM user, check out the initiative... it's very simple... if you already have WLM 8.1, just add a text string to your display name.  If you don't have WLM 8.1, you'll need to upgrade. (Hmmm... which might be a third benefit for Microsoft - encourage people to move to the latest version.)

 

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Native (and UNofficial) Blackberry clients for AIM, MSN/WLM and ICQ available (for some networks)

(Continuing my effort to flush my "queue of things I want to blog about"...)

Last week, per Rich Lafferty, I learned that there are now "unofficial" versions of native Blackberry clients available for AIM, MSN/WLM and ICQ.  I used WebMessenger a bit in the past and found it useful, but stopped using it for some reason I can't exactly recall...  in any event, I'll be curious to try out native Blackberry versions.   Of course, I can't right now.  I naturally tried to download the MSN/WLM client and was told that "this messaging service is not supported by your service provider" (Verizon).  Ah, well, I'll just have to wait a while.  I don't really need IM on my blackberry, but every once in a great while there's a time when I'm travelling and IM would be great to have.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,