Hack 28. Get Skype and Make Some New Friends
Looking for like-minded buddies on the Net? Look no further than Skype's built-in contact search function.
You can obtain the Skype software at http://www.skype.com/. Though it's available for the Pocket PC [Hack #34], it is best to have your first Skype experience using a desktop operating system: Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux. The Pocket PC version is really nifty, but not entirely practical. Nor is it very customizable. So download one of the desktop OS versions from Skype's web site and install it.
Windows users will need Windows 2000, XP, or newer. Linux users will need SuSE, Fedora Core, Debian, or Mandriva (consult Skype's web site to find out precisely which kernel versions are supported). Mac OS X users will need version 10.3 (Panther) or newer. On all platforms, 256 MB of RAM is a reasonable minimum, though you might be able to get by with less.
3.2.1. Set Up Skype
Once you've downloaded Skype, setting it up is as simple as running its installer (Windows) or dragging its application icon to the Applications folder (Mac). On all platforms, the Skype installer is practically foolproof.
(You'll find that ease of use is Skype's middle name; for instance, you can call a person simply by double-clicking his name.) The first time you run Skype, you can set up a new Skype username, or reuse an existing one to log in. Creating a Skype account is free, though some Skype features, such as voicemail, require a paid subscription.
3.2.2. Find Someone to Talk To
The quickest way to find someone to talk to is to ask a real-life friend for his Skype username. Of course, if you don't have a real-life pal to Skype, you can search the Skype user directory for a lonely soul willing to talk to someone. Seriously, Skype has a mode called Skype Me that users can enable, which says they are willing to talk to anyone who comes calling. To find people willing to talk, click the Add button in Skype's main window; then click the magnifying glass icon to display the search window. Here, you'll see a checkbox labeled "Search for people in 'Skype Me' mode." Enabling this option before clicking Search will hopefully display users looking for buddies to call them. Double-click a search result to call that person.
One reason people have embraced Skype globally is because of its integrated social network. People are able to find each other through Skype's built-in contact search (available through Contacts/Search for People). If you're looking for somebody with whom you can speak German, for example, it usually takes only a single visit to this window to find users in Germany with the status of Skype Me.
Of course, if your objective is to learn German (or Mandarin, or Japanese… you get the idea), you can search the Skype online forums at http://forum.skype.com/ for "learn German" or "learn Japanese." You'll find bilingual users who would love for you to Skype them, with whom you can try out your linguistic chops. A casual perusal of the Skype Me forum will put you in touch with thousands of other folks who are endpoints on the social networkendpoints with various interests:
If you really want somebody to Skype you, post a message in one of these forums, and before too long, you'll have a buddy list that's a mile long (or a mile longer). Maybe you'll even learn some Swahili.
3.2.3. Still Don't Know Whom to Call? Meet Kerli
Here's something you'll find useful on both the desktop and mobile editions of Skype: the official (though minimally documented) Skype echo test service. This automated Skype service is a user named echo123 that records a 10-second sample of your voice and then plays it back for you to listen to. This will give you a rough idea of how well your Skype setup is working, and whether it is working.
There are also Chinese and Japanese sound-test users that you can call, each with their own pleasant-sounding announcements. To sound-check in Chinese, try Skyping echo-chinese. If you'd like to sound-check in Japanese, try soundtestjapanese.
These sound-test users offer another neat trick. If you send the text message callme, they'll call you to initiate the sound check. This will help you verify that your Skype is fully workingthat you can place and receive calls, hear and be heard.
3.2.4. A Solution for Those Inevitable Antisocial Moments
Sometimes you just don't want to be bothered. That's why Skype tells you who is calling so that you can opt to ignore their calls. Then again, you might accept a call, thinking it's going to be a short one, only to hear the caller blather on about something about which they mistakenly believe you care. In times like these, you need a way out of the call. Luckily, there's Gotta Go, a Yahoo! Widget that plays a sound (like a fire alarm, for example) that gives you just the excuse you need to end the call. The calling party hears the sound, giving legitimacy to your claim that you've "gotta go!"
Check it out at http://www.widgetgallery.com/view.php?widget=27970.