Skype me!

Tons of stuff showing up these days about Skype, a free VOIP service, such as a ZDnet article, “Skype goes for the gold”, discussing how the newly-developing paid add-ons will eventually allow Skype to become profitable while remaining a free service for computer-to-computer calls. The longest-standing paid service is SkypeOut, which allows you to call any landline at greatly reduced rates, presumably because it makes the connection from your computer to the target country via IP, then bridges to a landline for a local call. New services coming out are Skype Voicemail and SkypeIn, the latter being a phone number for your Skype identity that allows a landline user to call you. For example, if you live in South Africa but do a lot of calling with the UK, you can get a UK phone number that, when called, will ring through to your Skype session on your computer, no matter where you’re located at the time.

I’ve been using Skype for a number of months now, for both voice and text (IM). Although I primarily use it to talk to other computer-based users in Australia and North America, I also use SkypeOut for making overseas calls, and for making calls when I’m travelling in order to avoid mobile roaming charges. If my hotel doesn’t have broadband (a rarity these days), I can just find a wireless hotspot, connect my laptop, plug in my headset and make calls on Skype while I download my email. Okay, I look a bit geeky doing that, but it’s worth it.

My only problem is that at my current rate, I won’t use up my €10 SkypeOut credit before I’m 90: I made a four-minute call to the UK earlier this week that cost me less than €0.07.

Networking games

I recently started using LinkedIn, a very cool professional networking site that allows you to establish a network of trusted references, then link to other people through your connections on the assumption that they’d be willing to pass along your request for contact to someone that they know. You can search for people based on a number of criteria such as location and market segment, with the search results being all the people who are connected to you by four or less degrees of separation (plus people like me who allow you to request a connection directly without going through an intermediary). I’ve built up a list of 35 people in the last two weeks, which links me to 220,000 people through these connections up to four degrees away. A drop in the bucket compared to one LinkedIn member with over 6,000 people on his immediate connections list, and probably about a gazillion people that he’s linked to, but enough to have me test this out as a networking method. So far, it’s working well enough that every time I meet someone in business now, I search for them on LinkedIn, and either get connected or invite them to join.

Like most other cool things on the web, there’s a game to be had with this. Remember the Googlewhack craze of ’02, where you tried to find a combination of two search words that yielded a single result? LinkedIn lends itself to similar games. Our latest one (thanks Damir) is to find how many people you are connected to in any random country, only counting the connections up to four degrees and not the ones that allow themselves to be contacted without a connection (who will also show up in any search). For example, I’m connected to two people in Gibraltar, even though I’ve never been there, both of them with four degrees of separation. (I also see four others in my search results, but they aren’t connected to me so don’t count according to the strict rules of our game.) The really cool thing is that when I select one of them to see which of my direct connections through which they are connected to me, the first one is connected to me through seven of my direct connections, and I’m pretty sure that four of these seven connections have never met each other. So far, I haven’t found a country where I’m not connected to at least one person, which definitely says something about the power of networking.

Professional networking: a necessity for business? Of course. A fun weekend activity? You bet.