Monthly Archives: December 2011

A 21st century festival family gathering

Christmas is traditionally a time for spending time with family, however the ease of travel enjoyed these days means that many extended families are spread across hundreds if not thousands of miles. Getting the family together in person may be impossible, however this modern problem can at least be eased by some similarly modern tech.

For the first time this year, we successfully brought together an entire side of the family on video chat using group video calling on Skype. Five video streams from across the UK and the USA all displayed on a single screen, everyone talking together, and it worked pretty well. Over the years we’ve tried all manner of services, including text, audio and video chat, but this is the first time that the infrastructure and technology has been able to offer something that allowed a quality of video and audio that’s enabled reasonably fluid conversation with everyone at once.

Getting the usability right by providing an interface that’s easy to use and that just works is essential for getting a broader audience on board who would easily be put off by technical issues. Aiding this ease of use is that fact that most people now own laptops that come with cameras and mics built-in. Suddenly we can all make video chats with no need for drivers and problems with third-party software. Our Christmas Skype chat needed no configuration aside from turning on the video and ensuring each person in the chat was a contact. Not exactly rocket science, and certainly a low level of complexity my parents could manage.

Group video calling from Skype isn’t free, but it only needs a single family member to be signed up to create the chat session. Following a hiatus from Skype of several years I’ll certainly now be looking at using it more regularly to keep in touch with the many distant family members.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Daniel and Tara at the Incovenient Mule!

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