Genealogy chat sessions have been popular for years. These "chats" have always been conducted keyboard-to-keyboard. That is, participants type on their own keyboards and then look at their computer screens to read the text entered by other chat room participants. I would like to propose something different: voice chats.
The voice chats will operate in a manner quite similar to telephone conference calls. These will be free calls, however. Windows, Macintosh, and Linux users alike may participate.
I am not certain if there is any interest in voice chats within the genealogy community. The only method of measuring interest is to hold a few chat sessions and see how popular they become.
I am suggesting that the first few voice chats be "open chat sessions" where we can talk about almost anything. I suspect one popular topic will be, "How do I use this thing?" If enough genealogists join in, the agendas can be expanded. We could eventually have live genealogy lectures or classes, conducted by experts in some different genealogy-related topics. It doesn't make sense to hold such live chats, however, until the amount of interest can be measured.
While the chats will be free and the required software is free, you may have to obtain just a bit of hardware. In order to speak, you will need a microphone that plugs into your computer's sound card. To listen, you will need either speakers or headphones that plug into the same sound card. Most people use headsets - headphones that have an attached microphone. Computer headsets are somewhat similar in appearance to those worn by telephone operators.
The use of headphones or a headset in lieu of speakers eliminates problems with echoes or unwanted "feedback." Have you ever heard the squeal of a public address system when a microphone is too close to the loudspeaker? Using headphones or a headset eliminates that problem in computer chat sessions.
The voice chat sessions will be held on Skype, a free service that allows anyone with a computer, microphone and headphones (or headset) to make free telephone calls over the Internet. The Skype service includes "SkypeCasts," a new way to have telephone-like conversations with multiple people across the world who share your interests. A SkypeCast allows for up to 100 people to be connected together in a single conference call at no charge to the participants. All that is required is a computer with an Internet connection and the free Skype software, microphone, headphones or speakers (or headset). Dial-up connections will work although audio quality will be significantly better on broadband connections.
I am suggesting that we first try this on Thursday, August 10 at 10:00 PM Eastern U.S. Time, 7:00 PM Pacific. International participants may find it easier to calculate time zones if I mention that it will be held at 02:00 Universal Time (GMT) on August 11. I would especially invite participants from Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. Would-be participants in the British Isles and Europe may not find this time to be very convenient. If enough interest is generated, we could hold future SkypeCasts at other times of the day as well.
To participate in a Genealogy SkypeCast, you must first download and install the free Skype software onto your Windows, Macintosh, or Linux system. If you already have Skype installed, please note that SkypeCasts require the latest version of Skype. I would suggest that you install Skype a few days in advance so that you have time to check out the software and your microphone and headphones or headset. You can make a test phone call at any time to Skype:echo123. Once connected, echo123 allows you to record up to ten seconds of audio, and then you listen as the audio is immediately played back to you. This is a great way to test your microphone and headphones/headset. Full instructions for use of the Skype echo test are included when you download and install the Skype software.
To obtain the free Skype software, go to http://www.skype.com. You will have to create a free account on Skype. There is no charge for Skype basic service, and that is sufficient for participating in the SkypeCast "conference calls." Extra-cost options are available, but I would suggest that you ignore them until you become familiar with the basic service.
Once you have Skype installed and configured, place a call to echo123 to test your hardware and software. You can also call anyone else who has Skype installed and running in their computer. All computer-to-computer voice calls among Skype users are free of charge, anywhere in the world. You can call your next-door neighbor's computer or the computer of someone in Nairobi. Both are toll-free. You do have to know the other person's Skype user name, and that person must have his or her computer turned on with Skype running and waiting for a call.
Once everything is tested, wait until Thursday, August 10 at 10:00 PM Eastern U.S. Time, 7:00 PM Pacific (02:00 Universal Time/GMT on August 11). Open a web browser and go to the SkypeCast Directory at http://skypecasts.skype.com. Once there, you will find the EOGN Genealogy SkypeCast listed as being in operation. Double-click on the link and you will then gain entrance to the voice chat session.
Will this first genealogy voice chat session be perfect and error free? Probably not. One of the primary reasons for holding the first voice chat is to serve as a "debug session" for everyone. Together, we can work out any bugs and help you become accustomed to voice chat procedures. Once we all gain a bit of experience, we can expand our horizons and look for new ideas and topics.
I think it sounds like fun. Will I see... uh, hear you there?