The fact that Skype is free makes it effective for users who normally would not spend money for broadband phone services. Provided that one has a webcam, this service includes the possibility to make video calls in addition to instant messaging, group chats and conference calls. It can be used on the computer, cordless phones and WiFi. From what I have gathered, voice quality is better than regular phone lines. The only way for Skype to have a higher encryption code for its connections is to move to a restricted military telcom hardware, a feature which some say will make law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security a little nervous when they realize how many people throughout the world are using Skype.
My principal and her husband use Skype on a regular basis. He is an airline pilot and flies all over the world, every week. They use the audio-visual feature.
Skype is completely proprietary, which means that connections cannot be made without both users installing Skype on their own computer. A product that can be used to call to and from other SIP (Session Intiation Protocol – used for, among other things, internet telephone calls) networks is Gizmo Project. Gizmo is a peer-to-peer network like Skype and offers free phone calling software and it uses open standards so that nearly any client and /or service can be used for communication.
I found blogs giving opinons about Skype and Gizmo Project. Some say Gizmo gives more distinguishable voice quality over dial-up connections than does Skype, but by and large Skype has better voice quality. Gizmo also offers its customers built-in recording and free voicemail unlike Skype which charges for these services.
IM with video provided by a webcam or video camera and voice has enormous possibilities. One that comes to mind first is that families living substantial distances from each other can use the service to stay in touch and actually see each other when communicating – all done in real time.
Then there is videoconferencing which is like IM for a longer period of time) used by groups to share information or have a meeting with users at distant sites all brought together in a medium that allows them to see and hear each other. It can also be used to share documents, computer-displayed information, and whiteboards. Once again, this is done in real time.
A downside that I read about regarding the use of video in instant messaging and videoconferences is that some users may be uneasy with the thought that a camera is focusing on them and possibly being recorded. This factor may inhibit effective communication. Another problem concerns the fact that eye contact is not necessarily perceived by users in the same manner as face-to-face communication. Camera angles and body posture may give the impression that the interlocutor is trying to avoid eye contact. Interestingly enough, research is being conducted on this issue with a gaze correction system that uses only a single camera.
Before and when in use, one needs to be aware of what is going on in their backgrounds and especially while in view of the camera because the visual factor decreases the privacy factor.