A "Skypecast" is a computer-to-computer voice conference call. It works in more or less the same manner as a telephone conference call with one major exception: we did not use telephones. Instead, we used our computers to talk with each other. Each participant used a microphone and a headset or loudspeakers connected to their computers. We all talked into the microphones and listened by using headphones or loudspeakers in essentially the same manner as any regular telephone. This week we had about fifteen participants in four different countries and at least six different time zones. Unlike telephones, there were no toll charges involved.
The conference call was held on Skype, a free Internet service that allows voice conversations to be held over the Internet, using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology. Voice calls made from one computer to another computer are always free of charge on Skype, even if the computers are thousands of miles apart. For our group call we used Skype's conferencing product, called "Skypecast." This service allows up to 100 people to simultaneously join the same conversation. I haven't heard anything like it since the party line we had on the farm when I was a child!
You can read more about last week's Skypecast at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2006/08/first_genealogy.html.
This week's event had almost as many attendees as the first one although only four countries were represented: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Several lessons learned last week were repeated, plus a few new discoveries were made:
1. The background noise problems of last week were reduced about 90% once we all learned to click on "Mute." The Skype software allows each person to mute his or her own microphone. When we all did that, the background noise dropped to almost zero. When you want to say something, you simply un-mute your microphone before talking. This can be done with one mouseclick. Once you have finished your piece of the conversation, you should mute your microphone again with one more mouseclick. Keeping your own microphone muted whenever appropriate improves the listening experience for everyone else. (Thank you Kent Riggins for that suggestion.)
2. The Windows and Macintosh versions of Skype's software are different! It was a bit humorous a couple of times when someone would say, "click on that red-colored icon in the upper right corner." We soon discovered that the icons and colors are different on the two different operating systems.
3. Having voice contact is great, but sometimes you really need to pass textual information. For instance, dictating a web URL or a postal address can be tedious and confusing in a voice conversation but is easy in an old-fashioned text-based chat room. This was solved this week when several participants in the voice conversation opened a second window and went to the chat room at http://www.eogn.com/chat. There they exchanged Web and postal addresses with ease. Several of us were involved in simultaneous voice and text chats. That isn't as confusing as it sounds. Actually, it simplified some things.
We had some conversation concerning future Skypecasts. The group generally agreed on the following:
Timing is an issue. The time of 10:00 PM Eastern (2:00 AM Greenwich Mean Time) is very convenient for all those who participated this week. Of course, those who were unable to attend couldn't voice their opinions! We tried to define a mutually convenient time for people all over the world, but that turned out to be impossible.
As a solution, we decided to hold more Skypecasts in the future, but at different times of the day. Holding such events on weekends was also discussed, and I suspect we will see Saturday or Sunday events before long.
Skypecasts are a great platform for classes and seminars. We hope to use the medium for training purposes in the near future. However, we do not yet have lecturers and handouts prepared. There will not be any such seminars held in the immediate future, but many of us are hopeful to see such uses before long.
Audio chats can be very useful for "birds of a feather" meetings. This happened informally a couple of times during this week's Skypecast. There was a side conversation about genealogy research in Nova Scotia and another one about Australia. However, these specific interest conversations do not seem appropriate for the larger audience in Thursday's Skypecasts. The consensus reached was to hold separate Skypecasts dedicated to specific topics.
Here are some of the possible topics suggested for future Skypecast conference calls:
West Virginia genealogy
Nova Scotia genealogy
Almost any other location-specific genealogy topic
Users of The Master Genealogist
Users of RootsMagic
Users of other specific genealogy programs
Macintosh for Genealogists
Genealogy uses of handheld computers
What you can find at your local Family History Center
Black American genealogy
Almost anything else you would care to suggest
The topic-specific conference calls will probably each attract a smaller group of participants, making for a more focused session. Small sessions should also be easier to manage than larger conversations.
We also need a designated moderator for each Skypecast. This is the person who creates the conference room on Skype, shows up at the beginning of the conference call, and generally runs the session. He or she can mute and un-mute everyone's microphones. If needed, the moderator can even eject unruly participants from the chat room although that is not a frequent problem with genealogists. I will volunteer to be the moderator for the first few weeks, but we need other volunteers if the Genealogy Skypecasts are to succeed.
Note that the moderator is not the same as a teacher or instructor. The moderator's role is to run the software "behind the scenes." It is expected that the "birds of a feather" sessions will be group conversations without the need for any specific leader or instructor in charge.
We agreed that I would write this article as a report of this week's call and that I would post it on http://www.eogn.com. Anyone with a suggested topic and time is invited to post suggestions at the end of this article for all to see and discuss. If there is enough interest in your suggested topic, and if we can find enough people to serve as moderators, we will have multiple Skypecasts, each devoted to a different topic.
Finally, I am going to suggest that we hold at least one more "open topic" Skypecast session. It will be held this week at the same time as the past two: 10:00 PM (Eastern Daylight time) on Thursday, August 24. That will be 7:00 PM Pacific time. It is also 12 noon (Friday) in Melbourne, Australia. To see the time in your local time zone, go to http://tinyurl.com/qmovc. I have also created an online Skypecast room at https://skypecasts.skype.com/skypecasts/skypecast/detailed.html?id_talk=27770 in preparation for next Thursday's conference call.
While the conversations in the next Genealogy Skypecast will be about anything that you care to discuss, I expect to bring up the topic of future online conference calls. Specifically, I would like to see conversation about the suggestions submitted so far and the naming of dates and times for future topic-specific Skypecast conference calls.
You are invited to join us in the online conversation this week. You are also invited to submit suggestions for the topics of future Skypecasts. You might also offer a suggested time of day (please note the time zone that you are referring to so that the rest of us can translate to our own timezones.)
Finally, any other comments or suggestions are appreciated.
Please enter your comments and suggestions below.