Skypecasts! Free web conferencing for a hundred participants

by Jay Cross on June 19, 2006

Participants in our Unworkshops learn about using the web to support learning by jumping in and trying things. Our current group includes participants in Italy, Austria, Denmark, Australia, and across North America. Since we want to demonstrate technology that our alumni can use to prototype applications with their clients, we’re always on the prowl for free or nearly-free software and services.

In our first Unworkshop this month, our commercial VoIP solution fell apart at the seams. Most of this was my fault. I’m guilty of the pro-tech mistake of counting 1…2…3…a million. Fact of the matter is, consumer-grade systems aren’t going to support 15 simultaneous full duplex users. The pipe’s not big enough.

Harold Jarche, one of my partners in crime in the Unworkshops, got in touch with Jeff and Dave at WorldBridges/WebCast Academy/etc. They have hundreds of webcasts under their belts. They recommended Skypecasts without reservation.

Skypecasts only appeared on the scene last month. Today was our second unworkshop Skypecast. It came off without a hitch.

I have no idea what sort of mojo is going on inside the internet cloud to make this work, but all it takes is clicking a button in Skype to set up a Skypecast. Participants make a free Skype call to a special Skypecast phone number. Scores of people can listen in.

Here’s the secret to making it work: The person who sets up the call has control of the microphone. As long as you limit the number of participants to three or four, the sound is fine. Go beyond that, and it’s as if you’re 20′ under the surface of the water trying to talk with the fish. Participants can click a button to request the microphone. (You really don’t want more than four people talking at once, so this is not an onerous requirement.)

Like many new web technologies, cool stuff like Skypecasts sneak under the radar of training departments and managers because they incorrectly assume that if it’s free, it can’t be that good. Skypecasts are DIY and self-service, scary thoughts to people used to being able to lay the blame for failure at the doors of their supplier. Give it a whirl! At the very least, you can shave a big chunk off your phone bill.

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