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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Howard Wolinsky: What Skype means to me

On the occasion of Skype's fifth birthday, Skype Journal will publish a series on "What Skype Means To Me." You are invited to email your essay or short thoughts to  

Howard Wolinsky covered high tech and health care for 26 years from Chicagoland (Barack Obama is his Senator) before writing Skype's U.S. blog.

Back in late 1995, I was new on the tech beat at the Chicago Sun-Times.

I asked to cover the Net because I was tired of the medical beat. My bosses knew I was an early Net adopter so they set me loose to cover the emerging tech. I covered the pre-boom Internet, the dot-com boom and the dot-bomb, and then on to Web 2 and beyond before I left the paper in January.

Voice on the Net was among the technologies that intrigued me back then and does to this day, both personally and as Skype's US blogger.

The problem back in those days was you couldn't easily connect with friends and family. It was a bit like ham radio.

I remember using some early tech and speaking with a guy who claimed to be on a hammock on a Hawaiian beach. Another guy claimed to be in Austria. So they said.

Then, new tech came along, with an interface resembling a cell phone, that enabled you to put your IP address in as a substitute for a phone number.

It was a step in the right direction. But it was hard to get those friends and family on the line unless they were nerds.

There were always problems with sound quality. Echo. Echo. We were still on dial-ups modems in those days.

The big breakthrough came with broadband service. And of course Skype arrived five years ago and changed the game.

Regular audio calling is a great leap forward with Skype, with hi-fi sound quality. You can use cordless Wi-Fi phones so you don't even need your computer on to make a call. And you can make Skype calls over a regular phone; so you don't have to use headsets (though personally I prefer them).

Plus, you can use SkypeOut to connect at reasonable rates with people on old-fashioned phones. Video Calling on Skype will expand horizons further as people become accustomed to seeing the people with whom they are speaking.

Skype, with its low rates, has expanded my world, enabling me to do interviews with sources around the world for international and domestic publications. If I had to pay standard phone rates, I wouldn't be able to afford to do some of the work I do, interviewing people in Europe, Africa, South America, Australia and Asia.

Skype, which on August 29th is five years old, has changed my world — and I hope yours — for the better over the past five years.

The barriers of cost that once made global calling prohibitive are falling in the Skype world.

Thanks to Skype calling and IM, I am in touch with friends and family in Western and Eastern Europe, Australia and the Middle East. While in Peru earlier this summer, I helped new friends call their families back in the US; they were thrilled, grinning ear to ear.

As I rode on a bus to Stonehenge recently, I was chatting on a 3 Skypephone to a friend in Tucson. In London, I talked on the wireless phone to a friend back in Chicago. I hope this will come to the USA, along with other mobile technologies

More changes will be coming as the technology expands and improves.

Happy Fifth Birthday, Skype. Many happy returns.

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