I’m a great fan of Skype, especially for those of us in the work from home brigade. I also recognize that Skype is not always totally reliable.

Skype’s 30 hour outage last weekend was a real bore for me, as it was presumably for millions of other users around the world. It reminded me how much I rely on Skype to connect and keep in touch with people. And it reminded me that I get frustrated with Skype, quite often.

I get particularly frustrated when I’m in the middle of a conversation and the other person starts to sound as if they are speaking underwater, or whole chunks of sentences don’t make to my end but as they can’t hear the distortion they don’t pick up on my “could you say that again, please?”.

But the basic service is still free. And I’ll still use it.

It just has so much going for it and not just because it’s free.

One of the main advantages I see in Skype is that it makes it so much easier for me to connect with people in other countries and timezones, and for them to connect with me, without having to go through that dance of “if it’s 9.30 am here, what time is it in Dallas, or Sofia, or London?”

To illustrate. Last night, around 11 pm local time, I wanted to chat with my colleague Bill in Dallas, Texas, so I changed my Skype status from offline to online. No sooner had I started chatting (text) with Bill than a colleague in Sydney popped in for a chat. Then another, in a more rural part of Australia. I had three chats going at once, in different timezones. It was a bit disconcerting at first – I was just about ready for bed and had to smarten up! But it was also exhilarating. I could have used voice for one of them and kept the other chats going by text, or I could have created a conference and introduced them all to one another on a voice call.

Did I say it’s free?

There are services you can pay for. One is that, for a modest annual payment, I have a regular San Francisco phone number, so that anyone in the USA who wants to talk to me by phone can call me on a US number instead of trying to figure out how to call me on an Australian number, how much it will cost etc. And if I’m offline, they can leave a recorded message and I can call them right back. The number, if you would like to call, is (415) 992-7487. And no, it’s not a collect (reverse-charge) call :).

So does the weekend’s outage indicate that Skype is an unreliable service for businesses? From what I’ve read, maybe it’s not totally reliable for certain functions. For example, these days I’m wary of scheduling a recorded interview via Skype, especially if I’m only likely to be able to interview the person once. And although I’m not particularly paranoid, I would not conduct highly confidential business on Skype.

But in the great scheme of things, it was a glitch. Stuff happens.

A Skype blog gives an account of what went wrong and why.

On Thursday, 16th August 2007, the Skype peer-to-peer network became unstable and suffered a critical disruption. The disruption was triggered by a massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they re-booted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update.

And assures us that the software has been tweaked to prevent or at least minimize the chances of a recurrence.

We’d like to reassure our users across the globe that we’ve done everything we need to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We’ve already introduced a number of improvements to our software to ensure our users will not be similarly affected – in the unlikely possibility of this combination of events recurring.

I for one will continue to use Skype as a valued tool of business. Just won’t rely on it completely until I am 99% sure I can have a glitch-free, extended conversation.

And if you are reluctant to just call someone who is on your Skype list, why not make sure your default from clicking on a contact is chat, not talk? (Tools -> Options -> General). Phil Wolff of Skype Journal, commended this practice to me and I have that default set permanently. I believe it is a considerate thing to do and I appreciate it when others send me a chat ping first and ask if I want to talk.

I’ve also found that some people just prefer to use the text chat mode anyway. And for business purposes that can be very handy as you have a full record of the conversation, which you can download for future reference.

My Skype id is: deswalsh. If you want to connect, please include in the message the info that you read this blog. I don’t respond to “stray” requests to connect, if people provide no information as to what we might have in common.

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