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Skype's persistent group chats as a technical support vehicle

Forget email, post your support questions to a group chat! Continuing my experimentation with Skype 3.0, I have to say that the persistent group chats are an intriguing aspect of the product.  Back when the 3.0 beta was announced last fall, I joined the "Skype English Blog Chat" and the interesting fact is... I'm still in there a couple of months later.   Now, the reason that I am still in there is because I never went to the top of the chat window (pictured on the right - click for a larger view) and clicked the "Leave" button.  Because I haven't pressed "Leave", I will stay in this group chat indefinitely (or until a Host kicks me out, as Jaanus has indicated he is now doing to inactive members).  This group chat membership survives through shutting down Skype, power cycling your computer, etc.  In fact, it becomes part of your Skype configuration, so even if you login to Skype on a different PC, the group chat is available to you. 

Two other interesting aspects.  First, when you return to the group chat, the history of the chat is available to you. So you might be gone from it for several days, but when you return you can browse through the history to catch up on what occurred.  When you request the history, it gives it to you in batches, i.e. you see the first X amount of time and then you can get more of the history. 

Second, if you don't want to receive an alert every time a message is posted, you can type "/alertson <text>" as in "/alertson dan" and you'll only get an alert when that text is typed in a message.

So what does this have to do with product support?  Well, the folks at Skype have been using this particular group chat as a vehicle for people to communicate issues with first the Skype 3.0 beta and now the released Skype 3.0.  Several of their developers and/or support people lurk in the forum and answer people's questions.  It's been interesting because I've learned a good bit about Skype simply by reading the Q&A that go by.  If you read the image in this post, you'll see that I posted there about an issue where Skype was advertising it's Unlimited Calling for $14.95 but when you went to buy it, they were going to charge you the full price of $29.95. I sent an email in to Skype support and was told I would get a response in 72 hours. I also posted to the group chat and received an answer back there about 12 hours later (I still haven't received an email back As I hit Publish I flipped to check my email and there was a response).

Now obviously Skype can't use this for all their product support.  It's not scalable and besides the group chat feature only supports 100 users.  But it's an interesting use for the tool.  It also has to be interesting for the Skype developers and product managers to see how people are actually using their product.  FYI, if you have Skype 3.0, you can join the chat still.

(And yes, using a group chat for technical support is hardly unique or new... people have been doing that IRC, Jabber and more for years... yes, I know that.  But it's interesting to me to see Skype now offer that.)

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