Skype 2.8 beta Release Proves It's Not Dead Yet

When I was the Director of Technology at b5media, our staple application (outside of WordPress) was Skype. Don’t ask me why. It was just there when I arrived on the scene a few months after the company launched. I think it had to do with three of the founders being in Australia and long distance calls.

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

However, since those early days in 2005, voice chat has become a staple of any notable IM client. AIM and Google Talk, both among the most commonly used IM apps in the internet world, both support VoIP and now both offer video chat as well. Meanwhile, Skype has become increasingly unstable and unreliable, in my estimation. More often than not, a message delivered by Skype is late – sometimes by days or weeks. I’ve had one message delivered a year late.

When I left b5media, I stopped using Skype for the most part. I still have my account and the Skype client remains open, but it is no longer a main staple of my work. That could change with Skype 2.8 beta for Mac which is now available for download.

A main business application for anyone who has a web startup is “the demo”. You want to show your product to someone or a group of someones for partnership possibilities, general feedback, or to review QA findings with remote developers. Up until now, company would purchase Glance or WebEx accounts to provide this functionality. Built into Skype 2.8 is screen sharing.

Skype Access provides the ability for Skype to connect to Boingo hotspots (somewhat limiting, but a good step) and pay for the access directly from Skype Credit. In order to be truly ubiquitous, though, Skype needs to offer the same ability for T-Mobile and AT&T Hotspots.

For more of the new features, Disruptive Technology has done a great review. Check it out.

Skype for Mac does kind of change the game again – at least for me. I’m more likely to use Skype more often again. I’m more likely because it meets business need that I have. It is not simply a new bling release. It significantly alters the roadmap.

That said, I’ll be curious to see if they have done anything with their back-end infrastructure to make message delivery more reliable, VoIp calls less laggy and conference calling more stable. If anyone has any insight, pass it along in comments.

Update: As an update, Boingo wireless supports T-Mobile, AT&T and other hotspot types so you can pay for your AT&T wifi access with Skype now.

Slipstream Intros, Outros and Other Multimedia Into Talkshoe Calls

So, if you’ve noticed, I’m kind of a perfectionist about podcasts I do. It was one of my downfalls when I did the Suicide Fan sports show awhile ago. I wasted so much time getting details right that I finally gave up as it wasn’t my full time job and I ended up spending hours for little return.

Then, at the beginning of the year, Geoff and I decided to do a Blog Talk Radio show that would eventually become District of Corruption

The sex appeal about doing a BTR show was there was no production. We called in at a set time, the show started automatically and ended when we said it would. BTR would record the show and give us an MP3. If we wanted to do editing, we could, but we rarely did.

Eventually, things started taking more time. We headed over to Talkshoe and started doing the show over there. One of the nice things about Talkshoe was the ability to upload an edited version. The bad part was that, unlike BTR, we couldn’t slip our really cool intro music into the mix.

The OCD in me started going nuts and I started looking for solutions.

Then, I decided to start up The Aaron Brazell Show, an eclectic show that is disjointed from Technosailor.com due to it’s wide variety of subjects (We have some doozys coming in the next few weeks). My new friend, Spam (I’m not even kidding!), works at a local radio station and offered to make a killer intro for the show. I took him up on the offer and it really was killer. Though there has been revisions that I’ll using going forward, you can hear what he originally produced here.

As you can hear, this is an awesome intro and I certainly didn’t want to only include it in post edits after the live show was done. I had to figure out how to slipstream the audio into my live stream.

Here are the steps I took with Mac OS X to handle this. The total cost (USB headset not included) – $61.50.

Requirements

Also needed, for this setup, is a Mac OS X and a USB headset. You can go much better than this with a mixer and a studio mic with a dedicated phone line. This is the poor mans way – my way.

The Concept

The basic premise here is real simple. I have one way to talk to Talkshoe and that is via the phone. Skype is a good phone-to-bridge method and tends to provide the best audio for such a program. Skype provides one way in and one way out for my interaction with Talkshoe. Think Line In/Line Out.

Therefore, if I want to include my intro MP3, I have to get it into my Skype stream. Windows provides some nifty Skype plugins but I have yet to find a decent one for Mac. I do have iTunes though and with that, I can even set a custom “playlist”, should I want to include other pieces of audio throughout the show.

Somehow, I need to merge my iTunes audio with my USB mic audio. Solution.

Cables

In the pro audio world, the way to pass sound around is via cables. Quarter inch cables. XLR cables. Speaker cables. Snakes. There’s a million kinds of cables. In the Mac software digital world, there’s Soundflower. Soundflower is your virtual cables for typing sounds together and shooting them around to other places. Soundflower appears in sound devices as yet another audio device, both input and output.

Audio Hijack Pro

AHP is a fantastic little utility that wrangles sound in the Mac world. Though I’m quite convinced that I have no clue what all it is capable of, needless to say, it can do just about anything sound related. In my little setup, I’ve opted to “hijack” my Logitech USB headset and send it to Soundflower. Screenshot.

If I were to click the Hijack button, this rerouting of audio would begin happening. However, I’m not done yet. You see, one of the powerfully hidden things about AHP is it’s ability to hijack an applications audio and piggy-back it on the back of another hijacked audio stream.

Enter Application Mixer.

Under the effects tab, there’s a grid. Click on one of the empty grid boxes and a context menu will appear. Lots of options, but the key one is 4FX Effect -> Application Mixer. This will prompt another dialog box where I select iTunes and click the relevant Hijack button. iTunes needs to be relaunched – this is okay.

Now, I’ve merged my iTunes audio (where I’ll play my intro MP3) with my USB mic and sent the combined signal out over Soundflower. To where, though?

Skype

I recommend the SkypeOut purchase as I do a lot of these. I paid for a year. You can pay a $2.95/mo fee if you’d like. Whatever works. Unfortunately, the Skypers haven’t figured out that both Windows and Mac have built in audio device controls so they have recreated the wheel by providing separate audio control from the Operating System.

Nifty.

In preferences, I’ve set my Audio Output to be my USB Headset (allowing me to hear Talkshoe) and my Audio Input to be Soundflower 2ch. The beauty here being that I can call in to my Talkshoe show and play whatever audio files I want from iTunes directly into the show.

Eliminating after-event post-production. For. The. Win. You can hear the final result of the slipstreamed audio here.

Enjoy.

Grokking What Makes People Tick via Skype

Total fun for a Friday. I’ve just realized that I have to laugh at people (including myself) when it comes to Mood Messages in IM. So in the spirit of good natured fun, let’s see what people are about via my Skype contact list (people online right now):
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