I have found an online voice chat service that would be great for holding training sessions, genealogy meetings, chat rooms, talking with relatives, online games, or even for general chit-chat. Voxli is an application designed to allow groups to hold a voice chat over the Internet without running up huge phone bills.
Voxli is an easy way to hold online voice conference calls. It can be used on any Windows or Macintosh computer as long as you have a broadband Internet connection, microphone, and speakers. Headsets are optional. Chat rooms can hold up to 200 people at a time.
You do not need to download any large files, there is no software to install, and there is no configuration required. Voxli runs in your normal web browser. The organizer of the voice chat does first have to go to http://www.voxli.com to register and create the chat room. There is no registration or other preparation required for anyone else. The organizer then invites friends by sending them the URL of the voice conference through email or instant messenger. When they show up, start talking.
I wish that Voxli had been available a couple of years ago when this newsletter sponsored "Skype chats." We held frequent online voice conversations on Skype that sometimes attracted 20 or 25 simultaneous users. The Skype voice chats worked well with one exception: we sometimes attracted participants who wanted to disrupt things.
The problem apparently was caused by Skype's public directory of voice chats. Every chat scheduled on Skype is publicly listed for everyone to see. As a result, a number of non-genealogists who were simply looking for an online chat to join would chime in. Some of these non-genealogists would listen for a minute or two, then leave. Others would try to "take over" the chat session to fit their own agenda. A few were simply mischief makers who seemed to enjoy disrupting things.
Voxli apparently will solve that problem. Online voice chats on Voxli are not publicized anyplace online, unless the participants write about it in their own web sites or blogs. Voxli does not post its own list of upcoming chat conferences. Voxli voice chats can be secret or not, depending upon the publicity generated by the organizer of the chat. They also can be password protected, to keep out uninvited guests.
Voxli is super easy to use. To join a voice chat in progress, simply go to the URL of the chat room. For instance, to join a chat that I might start, go to http://www.voxli.com/dickeastman. I gave the chat room a name of "dickeastman" and that name is appended onto the www.voxli.com URL. Once in the chat room, you will be asked for your name. Then you click on ACTIVATE MICROPHONE to allow the microphone you are using to be accessed by Voxli. You are then in the chat. No software downloads are required.
From then on, Voxli works like a 2-way radio or a walkie-talkie. You hear all the conversations in your computer's speakers or headphones. To speak, you click on PUSH TO TALK and you hold the mouse button down for as long as you are speaking. Most of the time that will be two to perhaps ten seconds. When finished, release the mouse button. If you have ever used a 2-way radio, you already know how it works. Voxli emulates most 2-way radios.
Your voice will be sent (with a slight delay) to every other participant in the chat room. The use of "push-to-talk" solves another problem experienced with Skype chats. With Skype, every user's microphone is live by default. In past Skype voice chats, we suffered from background noises, such as ringing telephones, dogs barking, television sets blaring, the clickity-clack of people typing on keyboards, and other unwanted sounds. Skype has an option to mute the microphones but we had to keep reminding people to click on MUTE. In contrast, Voxli is muted by default. The only method of turning the microphone on is to click on the PUSH-TO-TALK icon and hold it on until you are finished talking. Once the icon is released, the microphone automatically is muted again. Ambient background noises are not a problem with Voxli.
When finished, simply click on SIGN OUT and everything returns to normal.
Voxli is also a great addition for any text-based chat room. For instance, this newsletter hosts online keyboard-to-keyboard chats every Tuesday evening at 10 PM Eastern time. If we add in the use of Voxli, we can hold SIMULTANEOUS voice chats as well. There is no need to replace the existing keyboard-to-keyboard chats; we can keep typing to each other and then simply add in voice chats on top of any other existing application by opening another web browser window and going to http://www.voxli.com/dickeastman. Those participating in the voice chat can also watch and participate in the keyboard-to-keyboard chats at the same time by using two different windows in their web browsers.
Participants can also open new tabs if they’d like to participate in multiple voice chats at the same time. However, the additional chats are not hidden from the other participants. Everyone in the voice chat room can see all the tabs, can click on any of them, and therefore can join in the additional chats.
Voxli works with users anywhere in the world. All that is needed is a broadband Internet connection. You simply create a single url to be sent by email or instant messaging to everyone and they can then join your conference call. There are no phone calls, no time limits, and no need to dial international numbers just to connect to a conference call.
Voxli has a number of competitors, including Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, and Mumble, but those services are more complex to install and configure. They require manual entry of port numbers and server addresses, which can be confusing. Voxli is unique in its simplicity.
Voxli supports both Windows and Macintosh systems. Internet Explorer and Firefox are the recommended web browsers. It may or may not work on other web browsers. Voice chat rooms may also be (optionally) password protected. If password protection is invoked, all participants must enter the room's password to enter.
Voxli is available free of charge at this time. It also contains no advertising. Voxli presently is in public beta and is expected to remain that way for some months. When it is eventually released to production, the company will start charging for the services offered on the site. Voxli's management team says that the company's reduced infrastructure costs (they use services like Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing, or EC2) will allow it to charge about half of what its competitors cost. Until then, everything is free.
I can envision businesses using free or low-cost Voxli in place of the expensive conference call services.
I have used Voxli briefly and it seemed to work well. I'd suggest you try it and then post comments below of your experiences to let the rest of us know how well it worked for you.
To try Voxli for yourself at any time, go to http://www.voxli.com
I will host a Voxli voice chat session on Tuesday evening, November 9, beginning at 10 PM Eastern time, 7 PM Pacific. That will be 3:00 AM Wednesday November 10, 2010 in GMT. If you would like to experiment and see how Voxli works, please feel free to join in at that time. Simply point your web browser to http://www.voxli.com/dickeastman
We will simultaneously be using a keyboard-to-keyboard text chat room at http://www.eogn.com/chat. You can open two windows in your web browser and join both chats at the same time.
There is no scheduled agenda for Tuesday's online voice and keyboard chat session, other than "let's see if this works."