Cheap and Easy Communication Tools

NetSquared's picture

I manage a couple of projects in Europe. I work in San Francisco. The organizations in Europe don't have much money. My organization doesn't have much money. I had to find a way to communicate with everyone cheaply and easily, so of course I looked to open source solutions. Let me tell you about two I found and how they helped me overcome my communication challenges.

Skype

You've heard about it quite a bit recently. EBay bought the company (it's based in Luxembourg) so buyers and sellers on the EBay site could talk to one another.

I didn't have to buy the company, though, I just showed up at http://www.skype.com and downloaded their (then) Beta version, and I was ready to go. Here are the features that sold me on Skype.

Conference calling.

At the time I made this choice, I needed to talk to groups of people and Skype was the only service that I found where I could do that. As moderator I could sign on and then invite four other people to come and talk. It's easy, and all anyone needs is a headset with earphones and a microphone. I bought one for $14, including shipping. Other people use the speakers and mic in their laptops or computers, but the sound quality isn't quite as good. Did I mention that if everyone has Skype this is free?

Individual calls.

Call anyone who also has Skype. Any time. Any call length. Free. And if you want to call land lines you can, but you have to pay an addition per-minute fee. It's probably good to see what those fees would be (they're set by country). People can also call you from land lines but that also involves paying a fee. If you Skype Out or Skype In, as these two services are called, you can also have voice mail.

IM.

Sure, I use AIM and ICQ and Yahoo, but Skype also offers an IM feature that is equally functional. And free.

WebHuddle

After Skyping around the world a bit, one day I discovered I'd like to have a meeting where I could show slides while I talked to people. So I went to http://www.webhuddle.com and there I found just the ticket.

Uploading slides was very easy, and the application handles .jpg, .gif, and .ppt files. I could begin the meeting as the moderator, and then people could visit my meeting room, logging on using the information I emailed them, and we could talk to one another while we browsed through the slides I had created and uploaded.

Two is better than one

At the time I convened this meeting, the audio on WebHuddle (which also permits you to record the meeting) operated at about a 3 second delay, which was very distracting. So I opted not to use WebHuddle's audio, and I convened a Skype conference call instead. The visuals were on WebHuddle, the audio on Skype, and both worked perfectly.

No doubt there will be one tool soon; meanwhile, these two did just what I needed. And for the price I wanted to pay.

Did I mention free?