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Friday, August 29, 2008

Alternatives to Skypecasts

While there has been lots of dismay about the discontinuation of Skypecasts (Skype's blog posts: here and here), it had appeared for the past several months that the service just did not have the robustness to provide the reliability and quality of service that users would expect. Being a free service, it was obviously placing resource demands with zero revenue potential on Skype developer and support personnel that hopefully can be diverted to bringing feature equality to Skype's basic service, whether on Windows, Mac or Linux.

There are alternatives; in fact, this decision provides a unique opportunity for two third party conference calling services:

1. Skype Multi-Party Calling:

For up to 25 participants on a call, Skype has recently expanded its multi-party calling capacity. The caveat here is that the host must use a multi-core Windows PC and a reliable broadband internet connection (preferably cable). Participants can be on any version of Skype or be accessed via SkypeOut. In this case the host must set up the call and call out to all the participants. More details here. A unique feature of Skype's multi-party calling is its ability to show which participant is actually speaking at any given time. But keep in mind Skype really offers multi-party calling, not a full conferencing service.

2. iotum CalliFlower

iotum's CalliFlower has the benefit of no charge other than whatever it costs to make the connection to one of their access points. I often participate in their daily SquawkBox call via my SkypeOut account; the recent availability of SkypeOut CallerID, displaying my mobile phone number when I make a SkypeOut call, has allowed me to participate in these calls within my SkypeOut subscription without even using the provided password for each call. In fact, there are four options for accessing these calls:
  1. Truphone VoIP: A PC, a headset and an internet connection puts you one click away from your conference call.
  2. Phone: Dial from anywhere in the world to one of our U.S. or French dial-in numbers to get connected.
  3. Skype: Call our U.S. dial-in number from within the Skype network, and get high quality audio.
  4. Sitofono call back: Enter your phone number and get called back for free in more than 12 countries
SquawkBox participants regularly call in from the U.S., Canada and U.K. but there is really no country-specific limitation The real gem of CalliFlower is the web-based user interface where participants can see who is on the call, raise a hand, enter text on a "wall". The host can record the call for later playback, mute/unmute participants as well as set up the call, invite participants via email and SMS, and put up the subsequent recording.

As an example of building communities, iotum has worked with Alan Hunkin to provide a weekly interview session, CalliFlower Communiques, with notable personalities such as William Shatner. Immediate future guests include Ken Blanchard, author of "Being a One Minute Entrepreneur" and actor Alan Alda discussions his recent memoir "Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself." Recordings of previous sessions are available at the page linked above.

3. HiDef Conferencing

Vapps' HiDef Conferencing (formerly HiSpeedConferencing) provides high definition (HD) voice quality calls for participants accessing via Skype. Their business grade service involves fixed rate monthly hosting subscriptions involving unlimited Skype access, dial-in to specific numbers in several countries and toll-free numbers. Obviously this involves some ongoing expense to the host but their infrastructure supports providing the best possible voice quality, depending on access mode. The host uses their web controls to set up calls, manage call participants as well as record and archive calls.

Looking at the options it appears the best conference experience comes when:

  • hosts are able to setup and fully manage the calls, including an open access invitation;
  • users can participate through a web-based experience not only via voice but also via chat.
The good news is that Skype provides either free or low cost unlimited access to any of these services. What will be most interesting is to see if iotum and/or Vapps rise to the opportunity here and and is able to provide encouragement to the many communities that were supported by Skypecasts.

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1 Comments:

At September 9, 2008 at 3:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the only long-term reliable "skypecast"-replacement will be based on open source "skypecast"-servers like Murmur and the Mumble-client (or commercial but free for non-business, Teamspeak) . With increasing amounts of private persons having 100Mb fiber connection, it is easy to set up a server accessed by an open source client like Ekiga or Mumble. The "skypecast"-homepage will just be a portal, where you announce your cast with a SIP-link or Mumble-link. Clicking will open Ekiga or similar client or Mumble, automatically connecting to the voice mixer server that the host runs on his home computer. The limiting factor is not so much the computer these days but the bandwidth.

 

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