Following a message overnight from the developers, today I downloaded and tried out VSkype, the video and collaboration plug-in for Skype. Apparently the application is already being used by some VCs in Silicon Valley, and the developers say they see strong demand in settings like online foreign language instruction, political and religious interest salons. I can see applications in the telemedicine and counselling fields, as well e-government scenarios (town meetings) and "lite" applications ("see and chat with Kylie online after tonight's show - limited places available"). VSkype claims to extend video conferencing to an amazing 200 participants, and allows sharing of files, or the entire desktop. Future iterations will include some gaming apps as well.
Notwithstanding the fact that my webcam is shamefully bad (let's just say that I have a good face for blogging!), and the contact I chose to test it with had neither headset nor webcam, I was impressed with what I saw. A couple of caveats are in order for the first time user, however:
- When I installed VSkype, it apparently absorbed my entire contact list and asked who I wanted to invite, by automatically selecting all contacts. I tried to highlight one in particular, but somehow (probably my own stupidity/clumsiness) sent invites to all of my contacts, which resulted in a torrent of response messages at once. So, take it slow when setting it up.
- Secondly, in my test call with my mute and invisible partner, he asked me to share my desktop with him - and this really means "share your desktop." He later told me that he could see all applications that I was running (fine), but could also see the various Skype chat windows I had open (mainly apologizing for pinging all my contacts at once and explaining that I couldn't chat now). So, while this could be a truly great vehicle for holding a company conference call in which true collaboration takes place, I wouldn't try to engage in other subversive Skype chat ("this guy is an idiot - how did he get to be CEO?"), until you're sure about who you're sharing with and what they can see.