“Snowed In – Can’t Make It To London”

I recently ran a workshop in London on “Institutional and Social Web Services: Evidence for Their Value“. Although the event went well, the day before I was somewhat apprehensive as Ranji Sidu, one of the speakers, was snowed in in Scotland and thought it unlikely that he would be able to travel.

Not a problem“, I said to Ranjit. “As long as you can create a video recording of your talk we’ll be able to play that locally. And if you have network access we’ll try some form of communication technology in order that you can participate remotely.

Having sounded so confident in our email discussions I was slightly apprehensive on the morning of the workshop, especially when I discovered that the PC we would be using didn’t have Skype or AV capabilities.  I was prepared to use a streaming video application on my mobile phone and even explore whether a POTS solution could be used – yes if that was a telephone in the seminar room maybe we could use the Plain Old Telephone System.

In the event I had no need to be concerned.  Skype was installed on the local PC and a Webcam and microphone worked a well – in a room containing over 20 people the microphone could pick up questions provided people spoke clearly.

Note Just Telephony: Application Sharing and Ubiquity Too!

I had envisaged using Skype to allow Ranjit to respond to questions after his talk.  In fact we used the application-sharing feature of Skype to share the slides used by other speakers at the event.  So Ranjit, the remote participant snowed in in Scotland, benefited from being able to listen to the speakers and view their slides as they were being presented.   The only time this didn’t work was when one of the speakers used their iPad to give a presentation – if we do this again we’ll need to have contingency plans for when other devices are being used.

For me Skype’s ease-of-use, ubiquity and rich functionality (it’s more than a just a phone system) make Skype part of the infrastructure which one might reasonably expect to be able to use – I personally have used Skype clients on desktop PCs, laptops, netbooks as well as on the Apple Mac, Android Phone and iPod Touch so it seems to have escaped from the MS Windows-only barrier which has hindered take-up of other potentially useful collaborative tools.

But Skype’s Proprietary!

But Skype’s proprietary, the argument went back in 2007, we should be using an open standards solution. But those arguments seem to have gone quiet.  There appear to be occassions when the simplicity of proprietary solutions win over enough users to make the deployment of standards-based solutions difficult.  Recognising when this will happen will be the difficult thing, though, as Nick Skelton pointed out in a post which asked “Why did JANET Talk fail?