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Many to Many Gripes on Skype

Danah, I really enjoy your blogs ConnectedSelves and Zephoria, and your latest entry on Many to Many. I can’t find you on Skype which is a minor gripe. Thus I have no way on knowing how “DEEP” your “Skype” experience is.   However I do like the challenge you have framed:

" What is it about Skype that motivates you?  Do you think its popularity will be limited to specific communities? 

To pick up on what I've said before re better platform I’ve posted 10 points below where I think Skype may redefine some behaviors.  I don’t see why it should be limited to a specific community.  For a long time we operated with the postal system.  Then we got the telephone.  Much later we got e-mail on computers and then IM instant messenger came along.  Along the way we have had a few forums, wiki’s blogs etc.  Yet even e-mail isn’t everywhere. We all still know people that may never be on it in their lifetimes. I’m hypothesizing that Skype may enable technology to reach back and suck a new group into the computing generation.

Examples where Skype has the potential to redefine behavior. Are we seeing anything emerging? From changes in mindset to intimacy and gossip. It's not yet a case, here are some thoughts:

1.Mindset:  While Skype is connecting (I’m hearing ringing) my mind is running a thousand silent scenarios, I’m preparing to tune in to you.  This is fundamentally different from Chat.  If I send a chat note – I’m framing something you may not want, or may not provide the same meaning it does for me.  It may well fall in a lower priority.  Voice…. I know I get no answer either not there, leave a message or call later.  Compared the alternatives with the chat initiation.  It may have just been the wrong moment and yet it frames an experience, one that is more sensually deprived.  Thus we don’t use chat for things that are important unless we know the other party very very well. That may be changing in corporate environments, particularly where “knowledge” of each other already exists.  Hi Danah…(chat screen): I have the document you want.  Let me send it through. Alternatively with Skype (presume we will get the functionality) now in voice while you are waiting to receive the file I could have added a couple of comment re amendments, additional thoughts or next steps. I can add more than you can type in that same time.  When the send file is completed I know the call may also be finished.   This adds an immediacy and action to what is being done.  From my perspective this makes the exchange or transaction more personal, more social. 

2. Intimacy and Intensity: I have an IM address for you.  We have never spoken before.  I like your blog.  I can IM “I like your blog” or I can phone and your can hear my enthusiasm and interest.  I can hear whether you have time now or whether we are even likely to connect at another time.  What’s this saying?  I believe I can make a better assessment of the value of the interaction using voice. It’s more likely to create a sense of intimacy and sharing.  Potentially it’s much more intense.  That may just be why, we can handle multiple chats, but sense when someone in a voice call is “doing other things”.  Similarly if I’d like to send you an e-mail with a document attachment that I’m not 100% satisfied with.  I want to personalize my discomfort and not commit it to text.  How much time is wasted when you are striving for perfection when a quick look by another will just move it forward.  So I Skype and send the file though concurrently when I know you are online.

3. . Managing Synchronicity - Availability Management: If you are willing to make your availability known to me I may well be able to share my messages and manage my contacts with you more appropriately using both text and voice.   Good time management suggests scheduling time for calls. Similarly, a call made at the wrong moment can be equally embarrassing to the caller.  (I need my cell on for an emergency call from my kids, but I really don’t want to be disturbed by anyone else.  Whether on your cell-phone or landline I can’t currently tell if this would be a problem.  Unless the
cell-phone is turned off or the plug pulled.  So if Skype availability followed you around and you managed your family, business and personal connections, I’d stand a better chance of getting it right.  Skype is already close.  The semi-synchronous aspect already appliers to Skype. When someone is on “away” or “do not disturb” I can still send them the message.  I can currently phone them, but I usually wouldn’t.  Set some more granularities and I may know whether they will accept messages from me at certain times.   For example, I’m a member of a club; I may not want inquiries to the treasurer during my work hours.  Yet I’d be informing them… with an auto response.  Thanks for your message; it’s been delivered to my message center and I’ll take care of it before x.. 

4. Quality & Mobility:  I think your perspective and usage is tied to the current form of mobile cellular telephony.  I’ve had Skype conversations from WiFi hotspots to all over the world.  The quality has been better than any cell phone or landline.  As perspective, my cell phone (Verizon) is poor to useless at home.  It usually sucks when I’m on vacation too.  Yes SMS and Messenger services are extending to mobiles.  Skype potentially takes this convergence one step closer to the computer.  Similarly it begins to demonstrate how we can get rid of the numerical key board.  Ultimately what matters is that our communications system is there when we want it.  Personally I’d prefer to know that my Message center is everything.  I’ve also  posted a set of links that suggest hooking Skype to your home phone is not all that difficult.  What’s more this 50-$75 type gadget (currently) means that you are not tied to the computer and the person on the computer can go on working, and even playing their music.  We can expect a lot of innovation in this area

5. Radically Lowered Cost:  Have you even been in an environment where the cost of the call was a barrier?  I’ve effectively lived with it in someway or another since I was a child.  I still remember having to book calls for Christmas to the UK and then only having a very few minutes. Two things.  I expect “voice” to increase the number of inquiries that lead to a successful form of connection.  I also expect as cost goes to zero that calls and inquiries I could have never made will become possible.  For example there are art direct programs from South America – I could order from photos before, now I could actually talk to the local retailer or even the Artist. Alternatively, I could never have afforded to advertise on Craigslist in India and then interview Indian software engineers.  Now I can. The cost to me in time is the same regardless of where they are.  The cost of the call isn’t.    Separately, I’d really like to see that data that proves SMS is popular because it doesn’t disrupt the environment.  I think it more likely that it’s popular because it’s cheap and the “connectivity” quotient for all these teenagers goes up exponentially. 

6.Voice IRC??? Voice may be disruptive in public environments.  We all agree.  There are also times where an always on voice connection could act just like an IRC channel.  Some people may actually enjoy listening to these things.  They exist already in some Yahoo chatrooms, and yet there are also studies where receiver based communications have proven to accelerate the transfer of knowledge.  We still need Skype to provide the conferencing capability. Then we might find it really connects us up.  Now you have a virtual office where you can still here the shouts over the cubicles. Just like the kid studying at home who shuts his brothers and sisters out, to tune it just when important.  It’s another skill.  

7.Changing Desktop: I’ve adopted a second screen.  My screen in front of me is for working.  My right screen is for communications, messenger clients etc.  I’m wondering if my traditional screen is "productivity” and my new screen will emerge as “connectivity”, managing my networks etc.  What intrigues me is my Skype list is now larger / longer than
any IM list I have ever had. (It will need to columize and have alphabetical buttons before long)  Possibly in my “group” we are doing a better job of adopting it than we did with IM. Statistics like those are worth looking at.  Similarly the number of transactions we are all having..  I’d also note that not all are voice initiated.  Many are begun with a text note. 

8. Gossip Coordination: I’ve seen my daughter managing six screens and being on the phone at the same time.  That’s possible without tying up the landline or for many of her friends that are on dial-up connections, with Skype they now have a new opportunity.  Will gossip spread faster or be more accurately I don’t know.  Text helps with one form of negotiation. I also see other aspects in this.  When everyone is texting multiple buddies then no one is left out.  Everyone can be pushing their point of view.  We can listen to more than one at once.  Clearly that’s a benefit when new ideas are emerging.  It’s part of smart mobs.  I can’t see why Skype with better chat functionality can’t provide all of this and enable further enhancements.   

9. Presence Detection:  I think it is a very interesting area.  See AirCQ.  Add to this functionality that enables more detailed profiles to be exchanges and sitting in the café square becomes a whole new experience.  As I’ve written before there are also some dangers in it.  See Trepia. 

10. Oldtimers. Overcoming the PC e-mail chat barrier.  My mother has never worked with e-mail, definitely won’t engage in chat and yet is very comfortable with the telephone.  Skype’s voice centric first experiences provides a better bridge to computing than e-mail or IM for those that never made the transition.  The key here is simplicity.  Separately, I while noting above that one may not need to be tied to the pc for the phone feature  --- add video and taking calls whether with a handset or headset becomes a whole new experience.  From there to playing a song for them or sending to a map or piece of information becomes many times easier. The experienced is enhanced, the capability to interface for learning and sharing is advanced.  This is even truer if you never learned how to type very fast. 

And one for luck...
11 Quality: To repeat a phase from the comments.  You can hear the difference.  When you start from the ground up you build something that works which may follow different rules.  Microsoft can follow my providing a “voice – centric” option in MSN 7.0  and yet the quality still won’t be as effective, unless they change something in their codec.  Microsoft really can’t afford to say stuff the old regulations.  So they are likely to be stuck with poorer quality and a higher cost structure.  So if it comes to community, the one community that Skype has to really capture is those “texters”.  The way to do that is to provide enough customization, plug-in opportunities etc. so the young programmers make it cooler quicker.  They’ll skin it change icons, create supplemental profiles, new voice aps (sound like…..) etc.  Concurrently, there are business products for companies and new service providers. 

PS: Want to add that SkypeMe button.


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Comments (5)

Stuart - thank you for such a rich response to my half-baked discontent. This is great material for me to chew on. In the meantime, i will provide my immediate reactions.

First, i don't have an account on Skype as it only supports Windows (mmm... Mac user here). I've watched it being used, played with others' accounts, and read through the entire site. I realize that this is not the same as being a regular user, but i also know that i personally would never be a user even if i recognize its advantages for others. (Complicated dislike of audio-only communication.)

Mindset. I think you are totally right that there are a million good scenarios... i just don't see it as a replacement for either the cell or IM and i don't think that it will appeal to all cell/IM groups.

Intimacy. I do realize that most people drastically prefer voice to text (not me). That said, most people recognize that there are times when voice is just not a viable option.

Managing Synchronicity. I totally agree that managing appropriate timing is a totally compelling feature of Skype; i also argued that i think that this will be coming soon on cells. That said, i also know that my body/mind is far more in tune with my availability than what i can articulate. I never remember to turn on "Busy" or return from being "Busy" in direct relation to the actuality. Articulation is hard.

On quality & mobility. You are right in that i did not take into account WiFi. For me, part of the problem concerns form factor. Lugging my computer around to make phone calls is far less appealing than taking out my cell.

Cost. I completely agree on this one; that's why i noted the diaspora example as being a group who would truly value this.

Voice IRC. Have you ever seen Raffi Krikorian's "murmurized" (discussion can be found in his thesis at http://smg.media.mit.edu/papers/ )

Anyhow, there are a few thoughts in response. But again, thanks!!


I am inferring from Zephoria's comments that Skype will soon be available, for example on a Palm Tungsten or the high-end Blackberry.

Is this the case, or for this will I have to wait until hahndhels support Windows 2000 or XP ?

This will really make it a walkie-talkie, combined with the added possibilities you outline, and lead to real and dramatic changes in behaviour over time.

No ?

Danah and Jon, Thanks for your comments. There is recent discussion integrating cellphones and WiFi capability in the same device. Lugging laptops to make phone calls is not ever going to happen. From what I've seen the latest pocket PC's have 400mhz processors. Thus they have the power, they just remain a little expensive. It would be a neat app in a large corporate environment. PDA / Phone office mobility with calendar and buddy integration in one application.

To insure we all understand. Skype is not Audio only. Skype is a voice centric conversation enabler that contains traditional IM options (text - chat screen). You may use it for a traditional IM exchange or use it in place of a telephone call. For IM I'm sure in their next version "hyperlinks" will be activated. I'd also expect them to integrate a "send" file function. Sending files could impact on voice quality on some connections.

Thanks for the link to the paper!

I have not yet skyped very often, but I watched myself and noticed a certain discomfort doing so. Calling someone you knew only by text exchange? How to start, talk about the weather? Talking to people with "deep thoughts" (sorry, I don't find a better expression) can become quite superficial at the skype phone. And: how to end? We're lacking social norms, currently. At least I feel somewhat uncomfortable, possibly due to my visual thinking style.
And yet: we're where the action is. We are just shaping an important aspect of the future. It's so weak yet, what happens here and now will have a huge impact. This is the tipping point.
Thanks, Stuart, Danah, Phil, and all you other activists.


Christian, Thank you for sharing. I understand your reservation, and yet calls that begin "beside the water cooler" or "like a coffee" break can turn into something surprisingly meaningful. My sense is there is greater power in a blogging network that also talks and texts from time to time.

I had one such call today. Surprising revelations came out very quickly. Yes I follow his blog, we've never spoken, and now my ears are more "tuned" to things that might interest him and engage me. It was pretty cool. Total calls to date to different people on Skype probably 50+. My buddy list is now a similar length. Just want some better sorting and managment tools

I've also seen received some interesting comments re introverts and extroverts and texting vs voice.

I'm looking forward to connecting with you. We can always explore "social norms" and skype implications.

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