What is Skype? Is it Free? And Why You Might Care

 What is Skype?  Is it really free? Pros and Cons of Skype


For a person interested in controlling costs or streamlining their communications, Skype has potential. In a nutshell Skype turns your computer into your phone.


All you need is a microphone and speakers or a simple plug-in headset, microphone combo.  You might care about Skype because of the potential to cut communication costs and increase your choices in making contact with your business and personal connections.   With a free trial offering you may find Skype, to be a cost saving champion compared to the traditional phone choices.  However, you could find Skype’s many ways to “make you pay to play” and the privacy flaws to be off putting.


Save on Long Distance Calls: Skype to Skype


The biggest benefit is free calls if you are both talking via Skype. The same benefit applies for instant messaging or texting via Skype and video chats.  The cost of international calls really adds up. Calling anyone, anywhere on Skype is free when they are using the Skype interface too.


A friend’s daughter was out of the country for several months going to school.  Their regular Saturday morning video chat via Skype provided mother and daughter with  the physical reassurance that both were doing well. 


Skype Starter Steps


Here's how.
Step 1 Download program and select Install
You will see options for PC, Mac and others. Go here to begin http://skype.com/download/


Step 2 Complete your Profile
Similar to all social media type tools, Skype wants you to talk all about yourself.  Keeping your privacy in mind, you may want to select some graphic to represent you during communications.
The most time consuming step for me was finding a screen name that I liked and had not been taken.


Step 3 Add or import your contacts
Contact list works as you would expect. You can import phone numbers and Skype names, type them in or do some form of copy and paste.


Step 4: Place your first Skype to Skype Call. 
To connect, enter or select the fellow Skype users’ phone number and click the big green button with a phone on it.


No Camera Required


Don’t have a web cam? Some people are pleased to learn that webcams and face to face conversations are not a Skype requirement. Voice-to-voice services and messages work well and no camera is required.

These Potential Cons Could Cause You Concerns

Before you rush to cut the cord, emergency call issues, privacy risks and add on costs should be weighed, too.

No emergency calls with Skype
Should you consider “cutting the phone line” in favor of Skype, be aware there is no 911 or emergency service available with Skype.

Pay-to-Talk Services Can Add Up


Skype could help you save on calls to “out of Skype network” calls. “Out of network” means you are calling via the Skype interface and the person you are calling is not using the Skype interface.  In this situation, you will pay for having the conversation.
Skype offers a range of per minute charges depending upon where you are calling and if you are paying Skype a monthly fee.  I found it most economical to pre-pay for a block of minutes because this qualified me for a discount.   Carefully check all fees and rates before taking action beyond their advertising message “Skype to Skype” is free.
Example of Skype Pay Per-per Minute Plan: The Skype website reports that a call from USA to Mexico starts “as low as 2.3 cents per minute”. However, a call from the USA to a mobile phone in Mexico is posted as 33.6 cents per minute*
Think of Skype’s paid services as an Al la carte menu with each side dish having an additional cost.


Potential Privacy Risks: Computer Camera Controls

Some issues have been reported regarding Skype’s privacy settings not keeping the view from your webcam private.   The fastest solution might be very low tech. You place a sticky note or a bit of masking take over your computer’s camera.

A more elegant solution might be technology based. If your computer is camera equipped, you can choose to control who sees your smiling face with several programs.  One is - webcam lock www.webcamlock.net .   This program enables you to control what applications can or cannot use your webcam. If your computer is shared by family members or office mates, I suggest using a password to protect webcam access.  It’s best to keep the view into your room within your control at all times. We’ve all seen enough police dramas with the criminal using an unguarded webcam to stalk a potential victim to merit a little extra webcam privacy considerations.

To recap, Skype is a messaging, voice, and video program. The clear benefit is free calls within its network and being able to stay in touch face-to-face, if and when you want to. The potential communication cons are as follows: no emergency call via 911 service, camera privacy risks and the add on costs can really add up.

The secret to making the most of Skype is  knowing your options and their costs.  You might care about Skype and other similar programs because they have potential to trim costs and keep you more connected and communicating.

© 2012 VisibleStrategeis Communications, All rights reserved

 

A business marketing consultant and digital media evangelistMargaret Ross is president of Visible Strategies Communications a Business Marketing Consultancy and contributor to the Resources Center leading site Margaret Ross are available from Amazon and on Kindle.


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