Skype has just launched a new beta release (ver. 2.5) of its popular instant messenger cum integrated VoIP and video while also opening up a new service called Skypecasting, which allows anyone to run one-to-many Skype audio conferences with up to 100 simultaneous attendees.
The new version of Skype offers quite a few interesting new features including easier dialing out to land lines, integrated credit-payment inside Skype (with no need to be sent to a browser web page to add some extra credit to your SkypeOut account), the ability to call directly anyone of your Outlook contacts and a sharing functionality that facilitates sharing of contact details.
The new Skype 2.5 throws in a much-awaited send SMS capability along with a support for creating social spaces for different groups with integrated conference calling and group chat features.
But the real showtaker from Skype is a new free feature that makes it possible for Skype users to go beyond their present limitation of five people maximum in a conference while adding the ability to moderate such "presentations" in a way that mutes all participants' audio microphones and leaves the stage all for you.
With Skypecasting in fact, up to 100 attendees can participate in a free Skypecast and you, the presenter, can allow when you want to give speaking rights to anyone of the attendees.
To set up a Skypecasting session you can now take advantage of a new dedicated site area on the Skype web site, to name, describe, tag and organize your upcoming Skype-based event.
For each new Skypecast event you need to provide a full title, a description, duration and date/time of the event along with an identification image
The duration of a Skypecast can be set to be a few minutes or up to two hours. During this time anyone can join in your audio conference without you needing to take no action.
Skypecasts are all listed and promoted inside a public Skypecasts Directory that lists recently passed and all upcoming presentations. A simple click on anyone allows easy access to that specific Skypecast.
Once a new Skypecast has been created it is immediately listed in the Directory in chronological event order, and it is for anyone to sign-up for it.
As Skypecast will likely become very popular in no-time at all, it will soon be more difficult to find the Skypecast you are looking for. No problem. Skype is already providing multiple means to ease access to the contents of the Skypecasts Directory by integrating a handy search feature alongside a tag cloud showing the most popular topics covered by upcoming Skypecasts.
You can also subscribe to a standard RSS feed that will keep you up-to-date on all new and upcoming Skypecasts.
Last but not least, while logged in at Skypecasts.Skype.com, a handy set of tabs makes it truly easy to view and edit any of the information for your own planned skypecasts and to rapidly access screens providing info on other Skypecasts being aired now, next, or that are "featured".
Time zone references can be set to your own standard reference (GMT or whatever else appropriate), while others will see the time of your Skypecasts translated into times that are relevant to their own time zone.
One of the first things you will notice when you click to join a Skypecast is the Skype dialog box alerting you that you are just about to make a SkypeOut call to a clearly listed landline phone number. It is also pretty obvious that if that phone number uses some kind of scheme to charge extra money for the time of the call, this is going to be a money-making machine for those delivering the presentation, while posing several threats to the credibility, accessibility and trustworthiness of the service.
All the Skypecast sessions I have tried to connect to informed me that a SkypeOut call (a payed for call from Skype to a traditional landline or mobile phone) needed to be made in order to connect to that Skypecast.
Once joined one Skypecast, I was also prompted to invite the Skypecast host to adopt Skype, as in that case, the call would have been completely free. I later realized, that this message, which appears in the Skype traditional interface, toward the bottom part of the screen, must be an early bug that hasn't been cleared out yet. The message in fact appeared uselessly also when I was communicating with other existing Skype users.
Upon closer inspection I saw that the international code being used +99 refers to Finland. So, in principle this should be a paid-for call.
Surprisingly, after having joined a few Skypecasts and having run a test for over 45 minutes, I have not been billed any one cent to either join in or host any of these Skypecasts.
That left me a bit confused as I couldn't make sense of these guys offering Skypecasts that were clearly tests run by other Skype users, interested like me to try the new service (which by the way is still in "Preview" mode), but which appeared as hosts you had to reach via a call to a dedicated number.
While in a Skypecast, all Skype users are listed with their own nickname, and two buttons next to each attendee allows to get profile information or to initiate a direct text chat session.
To host a session after you have created it, you need only to come back to the Skypecasts Directory page and "join" your own Skypecast at the right time. The system itself will recognize you and set you as the session official moderator.
Contrary to what I expected, as soon as you enter a Skypecasting session that you host, all attendees are able to talk back freely with anyone else attending. Happily, a small "Mute everyone" button allows instantaneous muting of all participants, and individual text chat buttons next to each participant allow for direct text exchange with anyone.
If you mute all attendees, participants can still individually request to be given the microphone by clicking on a small button that says "Ask for microphone". When a user does so, on the presenter screen a flashing hornet icon, next to his name, start to animate itself in orange color, allowing the presenter to immediately spot attendees who want to get the microphone.
It is also possible for the presenter to individually mute or unmute anyone of the attendees present during a Skypecast.
To be improved or not working:
The SkypeOut dialing needed to run a Skypecast conference scares lots of new users as they are all afraid of being taken advantage by unscrupulous marketers, an unclear Skype charging scheme or something yet unclear to them. I have had this reported by a number of users I tested Skypecasts with and this was my personal impression at first too. After extended testing I can confirm that no charge is applied to your account no matter how many Skypecasting sessions you join or host.
You may be accessing Skypecasts in which the host may have already left the session. This is probably the case only during this early preview period as sessions become closed only after the total time originally set by the host has fully expired. In any case it would be nice to see a feature allowing the quitting of the Skypecast session in one unambiguous way.
Indeed, one can terminate the session as a host by simply closing the Skype Out call that is started as soon as one joins a Skypecast. On the other hand this closing of the call, should not be matched automatically with a request to terminate a Skypecast, as it may be possible that one has a connectivity problem, a crash on her computer or another reason that forces the host to log off and back on after a few minutes.
It would be nice to see how many attendees are already in a Skypecast before joining in.
This is a true disruptive entry in the marketplace as audio conferencing services will now find it even more difficult to compete in this space.
I think this is a great new facility that given enough time to mature, will provide a tremendous number of new opportunities to independent online publishers and for anyone who wants to leverage Internet reach to get his action, education, marketing or business message to a wider audience.
I look forward to record, integrate video of the presenter and charge for access as the next three items I would appreciate the most.[ Read more ]