Skype – A phenomenal tool for communication

One of the most popular instant messaging systems over the last couple of years has been Skype. In fact, it became so popular that eBay purchased them last year trying to get in on the ground floor of this product which was revolutionising internet communications.

I hadn’t heard of the program until 2005 when I got heavily involved in the scam baiting community and signed up for an account (it would be a couple of more months before I would get into the business of calling scammers, but that’s a subject for another day 😉 ). Part of what makes Skype so great is that it is really simple to use – provided you know a bit about the folks you want to reach out and contact.

What I’ll be showing you today is how to get yourself set up with an account, find a friend to chat with, and tweak the privacy settings so that you don’t get random people calling you and sending you chat messages at all hours of the night. I’ll also show you the basics of setting up a group chat and a conference call.

Screenshots used here are from version 3.0.something, which is not the latest version, so your screens may be quite different to mine.

But I don’t have Skype

Not a problem at all. If you’ve never used Skype before and don’t have their software, you can download it from Skype’s website. You can also take a mini screenshot tour of the program there.

When you download the program, it will save as just SkypeSetup.exe; I’m a pedant, however, and have all of my skype downloads labelled by version number. Please don’t ask why. I don’t know. I just think that calling your download a generic name with no version number on the end is a bit shortsighted, but who am I to whinge about it? 😉

Anyway, when it’s finished downloading (which may take a while since it’s around 20MB for the program), you can install it. It has been a while since I’ve done an install that I’m not sure what all they install now with the program. Make sure that you check out the Options section, which is hidden away in the bottom left of the install dialog box, and uncheck things like Google Toolbar and Skype extras, unless you really want to use them.

The Extras functions are mostly useless because you have to buy almost everything on the screen there, except for maybe backgammon and Chinese checkers. Anyway, if you want to play games online with your friends, might I recommend Yahoo games, or some other place.

As always, be sure to read the End User License Agreement and Privacy Policy, and then click install to run through the process.

Where do I sign up?

You don’t sign up for Skype until the first time you start the program. When you start it up, you will be presented with this screen; to sign up for a new account, simply click on the Don’t have a Skype Name? link below the Skype Name line:

First Skype Startup

That will bring up the Create a new Skype Account dialog. You can enter anything in the Full Name field – if you choose to use that, your friends will see that instead of your username; if you put nothing there, they’ll just see your Skype Name, which is the next field, followed by the password twice and another chance to read the EULA, TOS and the Privacy Statement. Note: your Skype Name must start with a letter

Create Skype Account Step 1

Click Next to continue to the second part of signup – your email address. There is a bit of an interesting bug with this one that I have found. If you have a number in your email address, it will not accept it and keep the Sign In button blank. You can use any other punctuation, but numbers are, for some strange reason, not allowed. You can enter your location if you wish, and use the other pre-checked items if you would like as well. Then click Sign In to finish.

Create Skype Account Step 2

If someone has already signed up with the Skype Name you wanted, you will be presented a series of options to use in place of your original, or simply put in a different name.

That’s all you need to do to sign up for a Skype account. There’s a little tutorial about how to use the software – you can have a look through of that right away.

I want to Phone-A-Friend

Well, we could go straight into finding your friends and calling them, but first let’s make sure that our microphone settings are right.

What? You don’t have a microphone – do yourself and your friends you call a big favor – get a headset; I use the Plantronics .Audio 350 Ultimate Performance Headset – it’s a really good headset and one that goes over the ear. It’s also good for listening to music or a video, and generally is loud enough even when it’s at the minimum volume. I just found this out – if you buy it directly from Skype, it’s only $21.99 (plus $9 shipping)

I also really like models like the Logitech Internet Chat Headset which is a behind the ears version; I’d still be using it, but nobody could hear me when I did 😥 . However, I will, from time to time, still plug it in if I want to take advantage of the longer cord that it has.

Now that you have a headset (or are using a microphone with the intention of getting a headset), the next thing you will want to do is verify that your settings are correct. Skype make this really easy by giving you a friend to play with from the get go. In fact, the first time you sign into Skype, this is what the screen looks like –

Skype window on first startup

To test out your audio settings, simply double click on Skype Test Call, and you’ll be connected to the Automated service, which will ask you to do a sample of talking and then play it back to you. If you hear it, you’re good, if not, change your settings and try again.

Never fear though, if your settings don’t work or you don’t have the necessary equipment for calls, you can still use the chat function of Skype. There’ll be more on that later. However, now, you’ve probably figured out what I’m going to say to do next – add a friend to your Skype. To get started, simply click on either the Add Contact or Search for Skype Users buttons in the Contacts tab.

Both options do the same thing – find you Skype users, but one is more advanced than the other. The Add a Contact option will bring up this window, where you can search by Skype Name, Full name or email address only.

Add Contact dialog

If you Search for Skype Users, you can search using the options from the Add Contact dialog, or you can search by location, age, sex, and/or language. You can also search for only people who are wanting to be contacted by anyone checking the Search for people who are in ‘Skype Me’ mode.

Search for Skype Users

When you put a name into the field, you are presented with a number of results (if you’ve put in a common name, there is a limit of anywhere between 30 and 200 results; it doesn’t seem to have any consistency at all). Then you can scroll through until you find someone who might match the person you’re looking for (in this case, I’m just looking for my main Skype profile since I am using a fresh account for this tutorial).

Skype Search results

You can view anyone’s public profile by clicking on the little blue i which appears after you select a row from the results. This is what my profile looks like; the numbers are in Barbados and no, I’m obviously not on Christmas Island. 😉

My Skype Profile

If you want to add the person as a contact, then you just click on the Add Contact button on the bottom. Now, you will have an opportunity to send that person a message. Here’s a tip – don’t leave the default message in there. Put something in that will let the person have an idea of who you are, and possibly how you came upon their contact.

Say Hello to a friend!

The recipient will receive something that looks like this. I’m using this example because it says the same thing that the message above does, just in German. I don’t know this person, so I’ll either send them a message asking who they are, or just decline their request out of hand.

Geben Sie eine Nachricht. That tells me nothing!

In this shot, I’ve expanded the extra options – the bottom 4 bits about sharing contact details and adding the person to your contacts. Generally, if you know the person, you’ll simply add them to your contact list and share your details.

Now, you should be able to talk to this person both by voice and by text.

So, how do I do that?

If you are using the default settings for the software, then when you double click one of your contacts, it will call them. Generally, this is frowned upon since your friend might not be ready for a call, or they might not want to talk. One of the first things that I changes was the option for double-clicking. You can find that under Tools -> Options -> General. To change it to bring up a chat window whenever you double click, simply change the option there.

Double Click to start a chat. Don’t call unexpectedly.

Otherwise, if you leave it on calling for the default, you can bring up a chat window by right clicking on the contact’s name and selecting Start Chat… You can also use the blue button when a contact is expanded.

Start Chat…

When you start a chat, this is what the window looks like. I’ve sent a couple of messages across to show you what they look like in traditional mode. I’ll be honest – I don’t like all the big icons on the right side, so I just turn them off by going into Options -> View Participants -> Hidden. If I’m in a group chat, I’ll either use Compact or Hidden, depending on how many are in the chat.

Skype Chat window

One last little feature about Skype’s chats – there are a lot of emoticons, and I have to say that I love them; for a long time I had the animated icons off, but I now have them on. You definitely should experiment with them. Also, the ones in the list aren’t all of them; try this one once – (tmi), or if the person ticks you off royally, (finger) 😉

I have an important project. Don’t bug me!

Ah yes, the old familiar problem. You’re trying to focus on that important article or job, and you’re getting requests left, right and centre to chat, and you can’t focus. You’d go offline, but you’re waiting for a collaborator to come online so you can work on the project. What are you to do?

Well, the most obvious thing would be to send an email to the collaborator and tell them you’re going off of Skype and to let you know when they’re around, then go offline on Skype. However, there is the Do Not Disturb mode on Skype.

When you’re in DND, all events are still sent to you, but you’ll only find out that there are new events waiting for you by seeing the little flag waving in the corner. Another option is to use the Invisible setting – you know, online, but telling people you’re offline.

These methods work great when it’s people who are on your contact list bugging you for stuff. However, when it’s total strangers contacting you, then you need to look at strengthening your privacy settings for Skype. You can find the Privacy Settings under Tools -> Options -> Privacy.

Default Privacy settings are not good

The default settings for privacy are to allow everyone call you and chat with you. I’m not sure why they do it that way, but this is another of those things that should be changed right away. You’ll also notice the line about chat history. If you would rather that your chats not be saved, or be cleared after a certain amount of time, you’re free to change that. You also have an option to allow your status to be seen on the web. This is handy for folks who want to display a Skype badge on their site with their current status on it.

Back to the privacy settings, here are my settings for privacy. I have a SkypeIn number, which is why that extra section shows up on my panel:

These settings are much better…

Let’s have a party!

So, you’ve got a few friends on Skype and you want to have a bit of a chat with them, but don’t want to resort to IRC or another chat program to do it. Luckily, you can do that in Skype. However, unlike IRC and similar programs, you only have control over who you add to the chat – anyone can add their friends to the group, and you can’t kick misbehaving people out of the room. However, trolling shouldn’t be a problem since people can’t join a group chat unless it is specifically started as a public chat.

There are a couple of ways to start a group chat. The first one is to select the people you want to chat with by control-clicking on each name, right clicking and selecting Start Chat… The method that I prefer to use is a simpler one – start a chat with one person, then drag other contacts from the main window into the chat window. The last option is to use the “Add” button in the chat window, which will bring up a dialog box with your contact list on the left and the chat participants on the right.

You can have up to 99 people in a group chat. However, it does tend to get quite hectic after around the first two dozen or so

To start a conference call, you can either select multiple participants and click the green button in the screen (it changes from a receiver to a group icon), or use the Conference Call button, which will appear when you have multiple contacts in your list. This is what it looks like; all the participants in this conference are toll-free numbers –

Let’s call some scammers!

Simply select the contacts you wish to have in the conference call, and click the Add >> button at the bottom. Depending on the system you’re using, you can have up to 10 participants in the conference, including yourself. When you start the conference call (by clicking Start), the call window will come up and it will look like this, with the list of participants in your window. When someone speaks, their icon will start to glow in blue.

Most of these numbers don’t work anymore…

While in a conference call, people can be added to the call, but only by the host of the call. All you have to do is right click on a contact and select Add to Conference Call, and they will be connected to the call. If it’s a Skype contact, then the call is free (like all calls to other Skype contacts), if it is a SkypeOut number, then their standard rates (including a connection charge of 3.9¢) will apply.

Some Odds and Ends

One of the features that Skype has are called Notifications. These are little windows that pop up on your screen – generally in the lower right hand corner, but I have seen them on the lower left in the past – telling you that a person has sent you a chat message, or that someone is calling. I only have the notifications turned on for chat messages, and this is what a couple of notifications look like (the other one is for a call)

Magic! 2 skypes running at the same time? How can that be

Also, yesterday, I spotted an interesting number in my Skype window, they always list the number of users online, which right now is 10,057,350. Yesterday, the number was this –

Wanna try poker with this deck?

Further Reading

I’ve discussed Skype a couple of times before on here. The first was when they introduced the connection charge. They claimed that it would be “disruptive”. It was a complete step backward, if you ask me. In March, they ran a promotion called Skype Casino. I won something called a CrazyTalk Avatar. I’m still not sure how to use it…

These are the Official Skype Blogs. There are quite a few of them, including one where they list all the release notes, which used to be listed right on the download page.

Skype Journal – An unofficial source for pretty much all things Skype.

In the companion post to this, Snoskred shows you how to save money with Skype in All About Skype – Tech Tuesday

Over to you..

Do you use Skype? What’s your favorite feature of it? Would you consider using Skype if something was different?

If you like what you’ve read, be sure to give it a stumble, or use the icons at the end of the post to add it to your favorite Social networking site.

As always, if you have something that you’d like Snoskred and I to cover on a future Tech Tuesday Think Tank, you can send them to me via the contact form

Previously in the Tuesday Think Tank
21st August: RSS
14 Reasons Readers Unsubscribe From Your Blog
Tuesday Think Tank: All About RSS

28th August: Blog Templates
Blog Design – Open Your Eyes.
Demystifying Blogger Template Editing

4th September: Nofollow
Spam, Spiders And Do Follow, Oh My!
Say No! to Nofollow

11th September: Site Meters
Do NOT Rely On Your Site Meter.
Track Your Visitors with Google Analytics

18th September: Technorati
Technorati – Sending Out An SOS
The Ups (and Downs) of Technorati

25th September: Google Reader
Google Reader Can Make Your Life Easier – Here’s How.
Improving your Google Reader Experience

2nd October: HTML
Basic HTML for Bloggers.
Some HTML Tips & Tricks

9th October: Time Management
Time Management – Tuesday Think Tank
Use Google Calendar to organize your life

16th October: One last Blogger Thing…
Move your Blogspot blog to your own Domain with ease

8 thoughts on “Skype – A phenomenal tool for communication

  1. I met my girlfriend last year on a visit from the UK to Montreal.

    We conversed via email and eventually I went back out to see her which is when we become partners.

    Without Skype the relationship would have been hard to keep going through the times when I had to go back to the UK.

    Gladly now I live here in Montreal and all is great!!

  2. Wow, that’s called some effort on an article! Well, I use skype a lot and I’ll say I live with skype now. I’m logged into skype almost at every possible hr. and the best thing is that over seas calls cost less than the local mobile calls 😛

  3. Forest – You should send your story to the folks at Skype; I know that they’ve had those stories listed on their site in the past. 😉

    ReviewSaurus – I really like writing these technical articles. In fact, while it took quite a while to get all the images together, the actual writing only took a couple of hours for me. And I agree that the calls are a lot cheaper on Skype than using a mobile or a landline phone. Heck, if I wanted to, I could harass people on the other side of the world on their dime with the free toll free calling you have on there. 😉

    Aurelius – Great to hear! Good on ya for getting broadband. Now, if only your broadband companies there would get their heads out of their rears and allow y’all to have unlimited data transfer…

    Thanks y’all! 😉

  4. Thats a great post, Sephy! Though I have had Skype installed on my laptop, I have not used it much to its full advantage. I use Gtalk for pc-to-pc calls, but after reading your post and Snoskred’s post, I am going to try again. You (
    with Snoskred) two make a wonderful team. Keep it up!!

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