Thursday, 27 November 2008

27. Talking for free - Skype and Google Talk

Google Talk is the latest free service from Google, launched last week. (N.B. The business model says there will be a commercial version at some later date. I cannot see this to be a loss leader. But hopefully it will be free for personal use.)

The questions to ask are why should you use it, and does it rival Skype?

The mixed reviews mean that I mention it here, but I will not rush to download and try it. However, I will say that there are two important issues to consider: 1) ease of use, and 2) quality.

If you are very familiar with Skype, then it may be better to stick with what you know rather than try to master a new system. This is particularly so when a new system is being developed. There will be occasions when some functionality does not work. It may be better to wait for a friend to try it, and then ask them to instruct you how to use it.

There is also the question of quality. When I used to log in a year ago, Skype would tell me were six million users online. Now the number is normally over 12 million. I am not the only person to have noted the drop in quality, that is both sound quality and the frequency of loosing connection.

Thus Google may gain "customers" due to the apparent falling quality of Skype, rather simply because it is better.

As to why use Skype/Google Talk, it is more than just a cheap way to call friend. It can be a bridge between direct face-to-face contact, and the isolated feeling that the technology can produce. I find Skype a good way to provide "distance support" (as opposed to "distance learning"). That support can be about how to use the technology, or how to structure an essay. It can also become part of a remote tutoring system for individuals of all ages. Internet voice and video cannot rival somebody sitting beside you. But it can lessen the isolation.

Google Talk

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