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Innovation

Skype Roundup - Heart Warming, Heart Breaking

The Skype Cheerleading Sqaud has been soliciting contributions on the subject of "What Skype Means To Me". Skype's Director of Windows Product Management, Michael Bartlett, submitted a heart-warming story about his girlfriend's family having a video chat between England and Australia.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor on

The Skype Cheerleading Sqaud has been soliciting contributions on the subject of "What Skype Means To Me". Skype's Director of Windows Product Management, Michael Bartlett, submitted a heart-warming story about his girlfriend's family having a video chat between England and Australia. I have a couple of similar stories, with a different outcome, that I would like Mr. Bartlett (or anyone else at Skype) to consider and respond to...although I am very well aware that they will not do so.

The first concerns a man who was a missionary, and went to Africa. His wife and their children were in Spain, and both his and his wife's parents were in America. They all wanted desperately to video chat with each other, and they had been told of this program called "Skype" which they could use to do that. Unfortunately, Skype video wouldn't work on the wife's computer, and her repeated attempts to contact Skype "Support" for assistance were never answered, and she finally gave up in disgust and depression.

The second concerns an American student who was going to study in Asia. This one did all his homework and preparation, got Skype installed and tested on his computer so that he could use it to stay in contact with his family as he traveled. On the second day of his trip, Skype blocked his account, so he could not make any SkypeOut calls or receive any SkypeIn calls, effectively cutting him off from his family. Despite repeated pleas for assistance, or even an explanation of what had been done and why, he never even got an answer from Skype for the rest of his trip.

Like Mr. Bartlett's story, both of these situations ended up with the participants in tears. But these were not tears of joy, and there was no "laughter, the giggling and the excitement". There was anguish, and despair, and isolation, because Skype doesn't even care enough about their "beloved users" to put a support organization in place.

Ironically, this weekend my partner tried to talk to one of her best friends, who recently had a baby. Those friends still had Skype installed, so that was what she used... the call came in, the audio came up, and the video froze. Several tries, adjusting various things, didn't help. So she had to settle for seeing pictures of the mother and baby. I can offer two bits of advice and assistance to those who have this problem with Skype: first, the "take a video picture" function still works, even when the video is frozen, and you get an updated picture each time, so you can at least see still shots of those on the other end; second, as soon as the call is finished, THROW SKYPE IN THE TRASH WHERE IT BELONGS, and install ooVoo, or SightSpeed, or TokBox. They work, as do various other alternatives, they don't freeze up, and they ALL have serious Customer Support groups to help their users when things go awry.

Other topics, carried over from the past few weeks:

- Skype Account Hijackings: There has been absolutely no comment or explanation from Skype about this (of course). Apparently the Skype Cheerleading Squad's "Asking Skype PR to comment" didn't produce any results either, what a surprise! The comments posted to the original Register article make for an interesting read.

- Skype Back Door: Likewise no comment from Skype, in more than a month since this article and a variety of follow-ups have been posted. Is there a back door for monitoring Skype calls or not? If there is, who are they giving the keys to? Does the back door have anything to do with the apparently inexplicable compromising of Skype accounts in the previous article?

- VoIP Watch by Andy Abramson tries to diplomatically say that a company doesn't descend to where Skype is now without serious management problems. In my opinion, any talented technical or management people who were originally at Skype have long since left, and what is left today are those who were forced to go there by eBay, and are simply trying to "serve their time and get out", and the "mercenaries" who hoped to jump onto one of the rapidly rising stars of the internet and get rich quick. They are now starting to realize their mistake, having seen the company from the inside, and they will be abandoning ship as soon as possible.

Last, but certainly not least, the subject of Skype SuperNodes has started popping up more frequently. The problem is that when you install Skype, you are automatically volunteering to be chosen as a Skype "SuperNode", thus donating part of your internet bandwidth and processing power to Skype and other Skype users. Skype tries to down-play this, saying that it rarely happens to ordinary users, but I have seen it happen to my laptop, and there is certainly nothing special about it, so I'm convinced it could happen to anyone. The XML Networking Blog says that there is a way to prevent this from happening with a registry switch, If you are brave enough, and determined enough, to get into registry editing just so that you can install Skype and not have it "appropriate" your network connection... well, good luck to you.

jw 8/9/2008

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