Tag Archives: Skype

Building a family network

If you’re like us, you’ve got family spread across the country and maybe even overseas. Although the costs to travel mean we don’t get together as often as we would like, that doesn’t mean we haven’t found creative ways to stay involved with far-away family and friends. Facebook has revolutionized how we can “keep up” with each other, but it does have serious privacy and security issues. I’m not about to share vacation photos on Facebook because that sends an open invitation to crooks that my house is just waiting for them to help themselves to my stuff. Personal news like new babies and deaths in the family can alert con artists of potential marks. I still enjoy Facebook. I’m just not putting much personal stuff out there.

Our family has been building its own family communications network. Some of it was intentionally set up, but a lot of it has just happened. For example, we have used Skype – a lot – to make video calls. It’s great to visually participate in birthday parties and other special events even when we can’t be there. Today, there are a growing number of web-enabled televisions offering both a high-def webcam add-on and Skype access. Imagine that same birthday party on a big screen tv! Skype supports free group calls too. Up to ten users can participate in a group call – audio or video. Skype’s text messenger component can be used in conjunction with an audio or video call to share photos or files while you’re talking.

FaceTime image courtesy Apple.com

As more and more in our family have moved to iThings, Skype is being augmented with FaceTime. We can even FaceTime directly to the grandkids through their iPod Touches. Although FaceTime doesn’t support group calls, the combination of FaceTime and Messages – sort of SMS and IM on steroids – make it easy get “status updates” just about any time. And, while nothing’s totally secure or private, it’s a much better option than Facebook.

We also use Posthaven to maintain a family news service [see article]. It functions as both a mailing list and a family journal and is so easy even the most digitally-challenged can participate. Here’s where birth announcements, family news and vacation pics are shared. Because posting is done via email, it’s a mobile-friendly platform that works well for posting vacation updates. Posthaven will cost $5.00 a month to use, but each account supports up to ten blogs.

For our photo archive, we use Flickr. You can define who can see your photos and Flickr has a group feature that lets a group of Flickr users share selected photos to one or more groups. Flickr supports private groups which are only visible to group members. One of the nice things about using a group is that group members can see all the photos shared to their group regardless of the privacy settings the owner set for them. This means I can post my current vacation photos privately, yet members of our Flickr family group will be able to see any of them that I share with the group. Yahoo has increased the storage limit for free accounts to 1 terabyte (the equivalent of approximately 560,000 photos) making it a good off-site storage option for our photo collection as well.

Our network combines easy apps and platforms with a comfortable level of privacy and security. It allows everyone to participate regardless of their digital skills. Best of all, it allows us to stay involved with our families both near and far. No, there won’t be letters handed down to generations to come, but the family web site, photo archives and other cloud-based services will take their place to provide a rich record of our lives.

Ain’t technology great!

Can We Talk?

Microsoft just announced that it was making group video calls free to all Skype users. That’s great news for all of us! Right now, it’s only available on the desktop versions of Skype, but they’re working to make it happen on mobile devices too.

Now, we have several options for getting a group of people together for a video chat. In addition to Skype, there’s also Google Hangouts and ooVoo. I’ve been a Skype premium user for several years and have found its video and screen-sharing features quite useful. The text messaging element can be up and running while you’re chatting (audio or video) to send files back and forth – making it a great meeting platform.

iOS users, did you know that Face Time also does voice calls? Why is this interesting? Because Face Time calls are made over wi-fi or data plan services and don’t use any of your plan’s “talk” minutes. The catch is, you can only call other Face Time users.

Tech Notes – 29 June 2012

Tropical storm Debby kept things wet and blustery much of the week, and while the rain has helped ease our drought problems we are glad to say goodbye to her. There’s still lots of interesting tech news to report so let’s get started.

Apple has finally released a podcast app [iOS – free] although Lifehacker prefers Downcast [iOS – $1.99] and I can see why. Kindle Fire and other Android devices can take advantage of BeyondPod [Android – free and $6.99] which supports both audio and video podcasts and integrates Google Reader as well. TuneIn Radio fans [iOS, Android, Blackberry & Windows Phone – free and $.99] know that it supports podcasts as well as radio. Did you know that TuneIn Radio is also available on your Roku box? Love it!

More ebook-building goodness with the addition of Folium Studio. You can build beautiful ebooks yourself or let them do it – all at a very reasonable price. It’s an online platform so this solution works for all users.

While we’re discussing book projects . . . Lynn Palermo, the Armchair Genealogist, has produced a great video as part of her Blog to Book project that shows how to structure your blog to support the book.

TextExpander [Mac – $34.99]  has upgraded their desktop edition with tons of new features. Unfortunately, Apple’s new restrictions has forced them out of the Mac App Store. The update from version 3 to version 4 is $15. The iOS version of TextExpander [$4.99] is still available in the app store.

Mac|Life has a great article on how to create a journal using iPhoto on the iPad/iPhone. This is my favorite feature on iPhoto and this article is a great overview on how the journal works. Unfortunately, this feature isn’t available on the desktop version.

Here’s a hands-on look at the new Facebook plugin for WordPress (self-hosted) sites via @DearMYRTLE.

Skype users should find these Mashable tips useful.

Save A Grave sends us to a very special National Geographic program on Arlington at Netflix

While you’ll always find the best genealogy reads at Moultrie Creek Books, you might also find Caroline Pointer’s Family History Book Club a fun way to find interesting books and share your thoughts on them with others.

You may already be aware that I am a big Twitter fan. I think Twitter a fabulous news source and the growing number of apps that turn tweets into gorgeous reading experiences all agree with me too. The Twitter posts you see here are totally functional. If you are a Twitter user, you can follow, retweet or respond to any of the tweets included in this post. If you’re not a Twitter user, grab a copy of The Twitter Book and go sign up today. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Keep the people of Colorado in your prayers as they battle these awful fires. A donation to The Salvation Army or Red Cross will help assist the tens of thousands who have been forced from their homes.



A Skype Workshop

At work, I’ve found instant messaging a much simpler way to work with a group of people than either email or the phone. I create a private chat room and invite my co-workers. Once set up, it’s an on-going conversation right at our fingertips.

Have you finished those updates?
They’ll be done before lunch. 

We’re pushing patches this weekend.

Have you fixed the style sheet yet?
Does that look okay?Perfect! 

How do I . . .

Our IM system is pretty primitive compared to Skype. I can’t share files, let alone share my screen. Even so, it’s still a more relaxed, yet quite productive way to work together across distances. The chat window stays open all day and messages flow as needed. On my desktop it sits at the bottom corner of my screen so it’s always visible. I don’t have to stop and check my email just to see if something’s happening. And, I don’t have a collection of email messages to dispose of either.

At home I’m buried in round-robin emails from this group or that association trying to get work done. Often it takes days for decisions to get made because the email conversation frequently dies when it gets lost in someone’s inbox. Think how much easier it would be if the question was put out via Skype text message and the conversation was in real time? With Skype available on most mobile devices, it’s easy to connect no matter where you are. Instead of trying to get everyone at the same physical location at the same time (The scheduling alone can take more time and effort than the meeting itself.), how about a Skype workshop? It works more like an open house where you set the available time period and people wander in and out as their schedule permits. Announce the workshop ahead of time with agenda and expected results.

Here’s how to start your workshop in Skype:

  1. Once logged in, select File > New Conversation then click the Add People button and start selecting the people you want to attend your workshop.
    Skype Screen
  2. Once you’ve selected the participants, type and send your first message. It will be sent to everyone you invited to the workshop.
  3. Begin the workshop by presenting the agenda and either forwarding any related documents or, better yet, linking to them at your favorite doc-sharing location. All of the conversation appears in the message log so anyone arriving later can quickly catch up.
  4. Each individual checks in, performs their required task(s) and reports via text message.
  5. If a vote is necessary, post the motion, give everyone an opportunity to comment, then ask them to post their vote.

The workshop won’t interfere with any other Skype conversations going on at the same time. You can have separate chat windows to text with others and even pop in/out of voice or video calls too. Any workshop attendee can have a private conversation – text, voice or video – just by clicking on a contact and starting a new session.

If your workshop will be a recurring event, you can save it by right-clicking on the icon in the sidebar and choosing Add to Favorites. You can also rename it by right-clicking on it in the sidebar, choosing Set Topic . . . and entering your new name (Board Meeting in the above example). The next time you want to have a workshop, just click on the item in your sidebar and type your first message.

You can also use the chat history as a record of your workshop’s accomplishment. Check your Skype Preferences to set how long your chat history is kept. Unfortunately, there’s no longer a facility to export that history, but you can have your preferences set to keep your history forever and you can copy/paste specific chat text to a text editor. There are Skype plugins available for recording voice and video calls.

Skype offers many easy and affordable ways to work together. And, thanks to the growing number of systems and devices that are Skype-enabled, you don’t have to “be there” to participate. Starting with a group text chat as the foundation of your workshop, members can take advantage of voice, video, file sharing and even screen sharing to accomplish the goal. Start small – maybe with a workshop just to experiment with Skype – and let your members get comfortable with the various features. You’ll find it quickly becomes second nature to have multiple text conversations going on with a voice conversation on the side. As the comfort zone increases, so does you potential for getting work done online.