Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Free Conference Calls, Voice Messaging And Call Recording Right From Your Browser: YackPack

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If you're looking for a free, totally web-based solution for conference calls, live and asynchronous voice messaging, group-authored podcasts and easily embeddable voice-powered discussion forums, I have something that is really going to interest you today.


Okay, a lot of us have used Skype to talk to our friends, family and even to create live 'Skypecasts' with multiple participants. But the technology still depends on everyone involved having downloaded the software, and if you want to record the proceedings, you are going to have to find a third-party solution.

Furthermore, while Skype can be great if you want to create conference calls with everybody chatting in real-time, it isn't always convenient to get all of your contacts together at a single point in time, especially if you are in different parts of the country or even spread around the world in different time-zones.

So what if you could run a conversation spread out over time, just like you can on a message board, with participants answering one another in their own time, creating an ongoing conversation outside of the confines of a live event? Now you can.

YackPack is a very nicely featured set of free online solutions for creating synchronous or asynchronous voice messaging sessions, whether you want to talk to one person, or one hundred. Among the capabilities that YackPack offers are:

  • Live conference calling for up to one hundred participants, based totally in your web browser
  • Embeddable group voice conversations that can be contributed to live or asynchronously through an incredibly easy-to-use visual interface
  • A simple widget that you can plug into your blog or website with a full recording of one of your online conversations
  • A further widget that allows you to create a walkie-talkie like voice messaging service right within your own website, so that you can speak in real-time to your site visitors, whether for feedback or customer support

The range of possible applications for this service are huge, whether you want to create group-podcasts right from your blog, to hold focus group or debate sessions, deliver customer service and tech support, or simply get your friends and family together for a chat.

YackPack - Overview


YackPack is an easy-to-use audio platform that offers you an intuitive way to communicate with your clients, colleagues, customers and friends in both synchronous live chat, and through recorded, archived voice messaging.

The service is totally browser-based and doesn't require you to download anything to get up and running, which will come as a welcome relief to anyone already fighting for desktop space under the onslaught of communication tools.

With a visually-driven, intuitive interface designed with simplicity and usability in mind, it's a very simple prospect to get up and running in the space of a minute or so, inviting friends, starting up conversations and recording them for later playback. Whether you want to speak off-the-cuff, by using a 'live' button to deliver your message to the rest of your group, or to deliver voice-mail-like messages to everyone, or particular individuals, both features are there and ready to go from the word go.

Creating YackPacks

The first thing you are going to want to do is to set up your 'pack' or 'packs'. A pack is made up of a group of individuals invited to a private, password-protected communication space. When you create a pack, by sending out email invitations directly from the YackPack interface, you are given the chance to arrange their avatars in any way you like in a simple visual space.

Each pack can consist of up to one hundred participants, and it is possible to create up to 45 packs from a single, free account. As such, teachers will be able to assign different classes to different packs, marketers will be able to assign different customers to a variety of focus groups, and individuals will be able to set up packs for their clients, colleagues, friends and family, or any other groups that they might belong to.


The first thing you will need to do is to gather the members of your pack together. This is very simple, and the whole process takes a very short time thanks to the use of a wizard-like system. The first thing you will be asked to do is to send out invitations to potential members of the group.

Adding contacts is as simple as tapping their name into a list, along with their email and then, after advancing to the next screen, writing a short message to let them know about the pack your are inviting them to join.


You then give your pack a name and description, record an optional welcome message, and you are good to go.

Once users have joined the pack, they will appear in the main display, and you, as the administrator can position their avatar wherever you think most appropriate within a large circle that dominates the screen. Let's take a closer look at the interface:

The Main Interface


The main interface is an exercise in usability, and I found the large buttons, minimal layout and avatar-driven central space a pleasure to use. To the left, and taking up the majority of the screen, you have a large circle within which the avatars of the pack members are displayed. In a small group these avatars display at a reasonably large size, and should you add a significant amount of members, these images will scale to fit the same space.

Essentially, messages are sent by clicking on the different members of the group, which will then be highlighted, and then selecting either the record button, or the live chat button. The former will let you record a voice-mail like message, which you can then preview before deciding whether to send it to your chosen recipients. As you would expect, the alternative live chat button will broadcast your voice immediately, rather than recording it.


As I said, the buttons are nice and chunky, and the process of clicking record, play and send soon becomes second nature. In some ways it's nice to be able to listen back to your comment before sending it to the recipients, and the experience is rather like being able to preview a comment you make to a blog before choosing to rewrite or publish it.

When you receive a recorded message from another member of the group, their avatar is surrounded by a green-line to let you know that you have a message waiting. Clicking on that individual will then give you the chance to listen to their latest message, or indeed any of their other archived messages, which are all kept for your later reference.


It's very simple to scroll through these messages, which are dated and time-stamped. Furthermore, should the sender have added text-based information at the time of sending - a totally optional extra - this information will also be displayed with their message.

From here you can browse your messages, listen to them as many times as you like, and hit the 'reply' button to respond to a particular point.


You can select as many or few of the group members to message at once as you like, so it is very simple to send out group messages, just as it is to address a particular individual. Should you wish to speak to everyone in the group at the same time, there is a 'select all' button which you can press to do so:


In the right-hand bottom-corner of the screen you have the option to start a new pack, or to skip through your existing packs using abbreviated pack names. As such, it's incredibly simple to skip from one pack to another, holding multiple conversations almost simultaneously. I can see this as being of great advantage to anyone managing a number of group sessions taking place at the same time - participants can be briefed and set going, and then checked-in on at appropriate intervals.


If a YackPack is a private group, its public equivalent is called a YackCast.

Yackcasts use an almost identical interface to YackPacks, with the only difference being the inclusion of an extra avatar named 'public', which can be clicked on to address everyone present. This makes it possible to take part in a public discussion, but also to make private asides to certain members within the group.

YackCasts are open to anyone who wishes to attend them, and should you wish to provide the option, you can provide a link for interested listeners to come and join in with the conversation. This will take them to a simple sign-up screen, after which they will appear as one of the pack attendees.

To create a YackCast, you simply have to check the appropriate box when you are creating a new pack from the YackPack interface, like so:


One of the things I really like about YackCasts is that they can be embedded directly into your website or blog, so should you wish to create an open voice-comments forum, or a live discussion you are not limited to doing so from the YackCast website.

Live Voice

Live Voice is a more recent addition to the YackPack feature-list, and brings with it the ability to chat in real-time with other users. The implementation has been well thought through here, so that participants in a voice session can simultaneously access recorded messages and transmit their thoughts directly within the same session.

When you click on the 'live' button to speak, only the attendees currently logged in will appear on screen, with all other avatars temporarily disappearing. As you speak, other logged-in members of the group will see an enlarged version of your avatar, with a green fill, like so:


This gives a strong visual cue as to which group member currently has the mic. As you have to hold the 'live' button down to speak, this works rather like a walkie-talkie, and only one member can speak at a time. While this feels a little unusual at first for those used to the more telephone-like experience of Skype, it actually makes a lot of sense for larger meetings. Having attended large Skypecasts, it can sometimes become slightly chaotic as different speakers attempt to make a point simultaneously.

What's great is that you can record your session by first selecting the members you wish to choose, setting the recorder going, and then using the 'live' button to carry out your conversation. This is a very effective way to record group discussions, and you can get some great pointers on how to go about it via this post at Always Learning.

The one major thing lacking at the time of writing is the ability to download an mp3 or other audio file of the meeting afterwards. While you can listen to your meeting in the Yackpack player, and even embed it into your website, there is as yet no way to get a downloaded file out of the system, which is a shame. The YackPack team suggest a workaround involving recording your system audio, but this is not yet a feature included in what is an otherwise well-rounded platform.

Embedding and Widgets

I'm glad that YackPack decided to make their technology embeddable, as this opens up the possibilities for its uses significantly. There are actually a number of different elements that you can plug into your website. In short, they are:

  • YackCasts


    You can host your public YackCast right from your own website by simply copy-pasting a few lines of code into your blog or the HTML of your website. This is a very welcome feature that will allow you to create both live and recorded sessions open for your readers to listen in on, or even participate in should you decide to open up the gates

  • YackPack Player


    If you're not so interested in taking your discussion live so much as you are in sharing the end results, you can copy a few lines of code right from the main interface and publish your conversations in a small, good looking audio player.

    All you have to do is click on the 'share this conversation' button when listening back to one of your recorded sessions, and you will be given all the details you need. The result, when embedded in your website, looks like this:


  • Walkie-Talkie Widget

    One final feature is the walkie-talkie widget, which provides you with a very simple, pared-down interface through which your site visitors can contact you directly, in a live conversation. Again, this is created by embedding a small chunk of code into your website:


    Alternatively, if you don't wish to host this simple communication widget on your own website, you can make use of a hosted version, which you will be given a URL for. This allows friends or contacts to speak with you through a walkie-talkie like interface - push and hold the button to talk, and then wait for your response.


    I personally think that the walkie-talkie feature will be of a lot more use to those embedding it in their own websites, where it would make an excellent way to instantly contact a blogger, service provider or tech support team right from the sidebar of their website.

Possible Applications

YackPack is an incredibly versatile tool, and I can see it being applied in a whole range of different circumstances. Among the uses that spring most readily to mind are:

  • E-learning - where students and teachers could work together on projects, group discussions and asynchronous, informal learning. This would be of particular use to those learning or teaching at a distance
  • Meetings - given that up to one hundred colleagues could participate in a live or recorded discussion, and then access the resulting audio file at a later date, this could prove very useful to enterprise users
  • Blog comments - giving readers a chance to interact more directly with bloggers and other readers, without the necessity to do so at a scheduled time
  • Discussions and focus groups - which could be as effective for politicians and debate teams as it could for marketers and small businesses gaining feedback on their product or service
  • Tech support - through which users could get direct advice from a webpage by trained professionals
  • Online FAQs - whereby users and product owners could collaboratively author a FAQ for their product, service or community

This only really touches on the tip of the iceberg, and I'm sure that YackPack is already being put to some imaginative uses out there on the web.

I would personally like to use YackPack for conducting interviews or creating group podcasts on a certain theme. The one drawback as far as podcasts are concerned is the inability to download the audio recorded in a YackPack session. This would make for a great addition, for while at the moment you can create a simple widget-based audio player that will plug into your blog or website, it would be nice if people could grab the file to listen to on their mp3 players.


I found myself left feeling very impressed by what YackPack has to offer, and while I won't be ditching my Skype account just yet, I believe that YackPack is targeting a very different set of functions than that particular VoIP juggernaut.

Certainly, if you want to hold a live session with up to one hundred participants YackPack has the capacity to make it happen, even where Skype falters, and as an added bonus you can even record the proceedings.

But live chat isn't the strongest card YackPack has to play. To speak in such a conversation you have to hold down the live chat button, and let it go before the next person can speak. This doesn't quite have the same natural flow as just chatting away in Skype, although arguably if you are running a conversation with fifty or more participants this may well prove to be a useful function indeed.

Where YackPack really excels though is in providing an incredibly simple visual interface, served up totally in your browser without any downloads, through which you can create asynchronous discussions. Whether you want to get feedback on your latest product release or blog post, to catch up with friends or colleagues around the globe, or even to create a voice-powered user forum for your website, YackPack makes this a very simple prospect.

With an embeddable, visual interface that will make sense to all but the youngest of children you can quickly send messages to an entire group, or individuals, and then play them back in sequence - a conversation that can take place over days, months or years as people add to the mix. The possibilities here alone make YackPack a very valuable tool in my estimation, and one that could be put to a lot of different uses.

Teachers, managers, marketers, bloggers and small business owners will be among the many groups of people that could really benefit from creating an easy-to-add-to, ongoing voice discussion or web broadcast.

As such, if you fit into any of those groups, or just fancy trying out a new way to keep in touch with your online contacts, YackPack is well worth checking out.

Additional Resources

If you would like to learn more about YackPack, you might want to take a look at the following links:

Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: "Free Conference Calls, Voice Messaging And Call Recording Right From Your Browser: YackPack"

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Readers' Comments    
2007-07-04 04:35:43

Henry Brier

Another overengineered solution for a simple problem.

You can just use a combination of a simple voice recorder/file uploader.

Chek out:

posted by Michael Pick on Tuesday, May 15 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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