Making Exchanges more Personal – Hanging out Online

January 30, 2005

in Skype Journal

In the last few days I’ve found myself thinking about the exchanges we have and what facilitates them. As coincidence would have it, I also blogged Barlow’s post on The Intimate Planet. I’ve had some similar experiences recently. I created a monocast radio using my iPodRadio and Skype. From a personal point of view this seems pretty pointless at first. One does lose their iPod! However, the calls have kept coming in, regularly round the clock. For the most part it delivers something close to FM quality, although when many programs are running or I’m on the other Skype I have had the odd complaint.

I’ve had about 200 people experimenting and now have a long list of “buddy” requests and had repeat callers. Some callers have listened for an hour, and even those that have been back many times. It is more calls than I can count or evalute easily. I’ve had lots from Italy, and Asia, all over the globe really. As a few have returned a couple of times I’ve made contact with a chat message. These connections have been fun, like many I’ve made on Skype. I’ve had positive comments and users saying it is neat to hear music chosen by other people that is not commerical. In some of the youthful responses, I feel the curiosity about what others listen to, as a way to transport themselves to think about another place or land. I’ve not really uncovered how they found it, via Skype Forum posts or via my blog. For the most part it appears to be word of mouth.

Then there is another aspect that I’m only just beginning to think about. I’ve been online in various forms for a long time. However, I’ve never had on online music personality before. I sort of cheated setting up the iPod. I just instructed it to play all songs with the “Genre Rock”. That captured 900 tracks and it just keeps playing. So today, I thought I’d shift the music genre to Jazz. It’s not an intentional move to upset listeners just pointing out that I listen to more than “Rock”.

Via the Skype forums I was also pointed to Peercast and Mercora as peer based radio sharing systems. I’ll take a deeper look at them later. Still they miss the part that my callers seem to want to know. That there is a real person playing the music. Playing music in social groups is probably more interesting than just tuning in to the net. And that brings me to the other part of my learning.

Try making calls while music is playing. It changes the whole dimension of the call. I’ve had some very good quality music calls running iPodRadio in conference mode and it simply changes the shared space. The music brings the callers closer together. I know people spend hours listening to music together. Even Yahoo Messenger added a radio feature to their latest version. However it doesn’t enable you to synch the music and you can’t listen while in a lower quality yahoo call. More importantly you can’t listen collectively to a personal collection of songs.

I have a sense that the more I get the feel for this “radio” thing the more I believe that there is social potential behind it. It’s a great way to get the kids to adopt. Imagine just 3-4 kids hooked via Skype with Bluetooth Stereo Headset and they are set. Music synched, text enabled and still minimal talking required. Yet now the space they share is closer to hanging out. The music player doesn’t have to be on anyone’s PC, or even their own. It can be like mine, an extra somewhere that they find interesting. It does have to be part of the “connection”, thus talking and listening to the same radio station is not the same. In that example it doesn’t provide the same sense of proximity.

So what may seem really silly, plugging an iPod into Skype may actually have more impact. There’s also one other benefit. It fits in with what I’ve observed my young teenage daughter doing. Skype is looking for a hook for the “youth”. Letting them connect their mp3’s to Skype would create quite a stir. Then there will be other groups that just form. These groups will determine what they want to listen to.

Then on the intimacy gradient, we will see Skype Video introduced. Having combined Skype with iPod Radio and “Yahoo Video” (sucky slow)… I think adding in the music will create even more powerful shared experiences. That’s where I think all the phone plays have it wrong. From picture phones to handhelds they remain locked in a watching game. It’s like looking though a window, it is somehow disconnnected. We’ve learned with Skype that a better audio platform significally improves presence and a sense of presence makes for better shared moments.

When Barlow talked about the intimate planet, he explained it in terms of sharing and conversation. When I think about it tomorrow, all it may be missing is touch.

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