You used to be able to have instant communication with someone in two ways: in person or on the phone. Today there are many more ways by which you can have real-time conversations with folks from all over the world. In this chapter, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of instant messaging and take a look into the future with the video calling system Skype. We’ll also touch on social networking options such as Facebook and Twitter.
I’m IMing—Are You?
You’re checking your e-mail when there’s a notifi cation sound. Suddenly, a message appears on your screen saying, “Hi, Grandma! Can you talk now?” You’ve just received an instant message (or IM) from your granddaughter. To respond, simply write a reply in the message box and click “send.” Voilà—you’re now chatting online with your grandchild!
But how did your granddaughter know that you were online? Instant messenging software allows users to maintain a list of people with whom they want to communicate online. With Gmail’s IM service, Gchat, this list appears at the lower left corner of the screen. Depending on the program, you may get a message or notification when someone on your list logs on. If you want to chat with that person, you can send an instant message that appears on his or her screen, and vice versa. If you don’t want to be bothered, simply change your chat setting to “unavailable” or “busy”— or you can even choose “invisible” so people don’t see that you’re online.
Instant messaging has a number of uses. You can send a quick, simple note to someone (“Don’t forget to lock the door when you leave the house!”) or use it to connect on a more personal level. Check your e-mail provider for information about the personal messaging systems they offer. AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, and Microsoft all offer their own free messaging programs, and anyone can use them. Facebook, a social networking website, also offers its own instant messaging option.
Skype: The Future Is Now!
Back in the day, comic book detective Dick Tracy had a cool wrist videophone on which he could see and talk to his friends. Today’s technology has caught up to him, and now you can have video conversations with anyone you like, anytime you like, for free. Systems such as Skype and Oovoo are easy to download, easy to use, and a whole lot of fun. Of course, they’re not perfect: Sometimes the video slows down, and sometimes the connection drops. But most of the time, it works pretty darned well. Note: You need to have a webcam, or a computer with a built-in webcam, in order to Skype.
Why would you want to Skype? To see the new baby wave her tiny fists in the air. To watch your granddaughter’s dance routine and cheer her on. To “meet” the new pet hamster. Or just to talk with someone face-to-face, even when you’re thousands of miles away. There’s really only one downside to Skype: Since you and everything around you will be visible to your caller, you’ll need to think about how you look when you answer the phone!
In the past, videoconferencing required a lot of extra equipment. Now, many computers come with built-in cameras and microphones. Assuming you’re using one of these newer computers, here’s how to get started with Skype.
1. Go to www.skype.com.
2. Fill in the profile and agree to the terms of registration.
3. You’ll be asked to test your microphone (the system will walk you through this).
4. Now it’s time to search for someone to Skype with. Ideally, you already know that the person you’re looking for is already signed up with Skype, but the program will also search through your e-mail contacts to find your friends on the system. (You don’t have to do this, but it’s an option.) Once it’s found some contacts, invite people to connect with you.
5. After one or more people have accepted your invitation, you can Skype with them. To do this, sign into Skype, select your contact, and click “Video Call.” If all goes correctly, you’ll see your friend’s face on the screen, and he or she will see you as well.
6. Say someone’s trying to get ahold of you on Skype. First, you’ll need to be signed in to answer the call. Th en you’ll hear a loud beeping noise alerting you to the call. Simply click “Answer” to see and communicate with your friend.
- Skype and More
Staying in Touch: Options to Consider
E-mail, lists, forums, instant messaging, and videoconferencing are all terrific ways to communicate online, but believe it or not, there are even more ways to connect on the web. If you’re ready to dive into social media, you might want to try one or more of these options.
• Facebook—There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Facebook. It’s a website on which people communicate with others, sharing photos, videos, ideas, questions, and much more. You can get onto Facebook quickly and easily by registering at www.facebook.com. Then you can build your “profile” with a photo and any information that you choose to share about yourself. People you know (or don’t know) can “friend” you, and if you agree to their friend request, you can see what they post on the site. Some people are on Facebook multiple times a day, updating their “statuses.” Others pop in every now and then to check in but don’t add anything to the site.
• Twitter—What’s with all the tweeting? Twitter has become an international phenomenon, and for some people it’s great fun. For others, it seems like a nuisance. Much like Facebook, Twitter invites users to register, provide information, and then communicate with others. Th ere are a few major differences, however; for instance, with Twitter, messages (called “tweets”) can only have a total of 140 characters.
• Google+—To compete with Facebook and other social media sites, Google has created Google+ (which is pronounced “Google Plus”). There, you can IM with contacts, post status updates, and more.