Hack 39. Emote by Sight and Sound with Skype
In this modern age of voice and video, emoticons are not forgotten and have become equally modern.
In the early days of text-based chat, we developed text expressions like :) and =( to show signs of happiness and dissatisfaction, respectively. We called these emotion indicators, emoticons, or simply emotes. And unless you've never chatted online, never talked to an Internet user, or never seen the film You've Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks (or one of its several knockoffs), chances are good you know what emoticons are. Today, with voice chat augmenting text chat and video chat and with webcams becoming commonplace, the old-fashioned emoticon seems plain out of place. It's small, monolithic, and, well, underwhelming. Emoticons just don't convey as much emotion as a speaking voice or the human face, which is what you hear or see when you Skype folks using voice or video facilities.
You're about to use Skype add-ons to enable audio emotes, 3-D avatars, and video chat, making old-school text emotes seem downright archaic. The tools I've looked at are all built around the Skype API for Windows, though, so if you've got a Mac (for which the Skype API has only just been introduced), you'll be watching the action from the sidelines.
3.13.1. Adding Sound and Video Emoticons
Sound emotes and 3-D avatars are two really cool add-ons for Skype that can enhance the social aspect of the Skype experience. Sound emotes are essentially just prerecorded sounds that you trigger as a part of your normal sound transmission so that the person on the other end of the conversation can hear them. As with old-fashioned text emoticons, sound emotes can be just the thing you need to lighten up a conversation, or just to raise the silliness level a bit. (Yes, even I, the ever-stodgy VoIP aficionado, have been known to be silly once in a great while.)
To get started with sound emotes, you'll need to pick up a copy of Porto Ranelli's HotRecorder 2.0 for Windows (http://www.hotrecorder.com/). This ad-supported shareware application lets you select from a small batch of prerecorded sound emotes, including applause, a room full of people laughing, a baby cryingin other words, a wisecrack for every occasion. Also included in HotRecorder is a voicemail utility for Skype (I prefer Skype Answering Machine, though) and a sound recorder, so you can add your own sound emotes. To play them back during a Skype conversation, just click the one you want from the selection on the Emotisounds tab in the HotRecorder application. For some real fun, try importing sound clips from your favorite movies.
That's just sound, though. To bring the visual aspect of emoticons into the 21st century, download a copy of 3D Avatar Messenger (http://share.skype.com/directory/skype_3d_avatar_messenger/view) and install it on your Windows PC. It's kind of hard to describe what this application does, though Yahoo!'s IMvironments are probably the closest analogy. Figure 3-15 shows the application's interface.
3D Avatar Messenger is a Java application that uses the Skype API to send animated, three-dimensional emoticons involving a cartoon character that has several characteristics that you can manipulatehair, shirt, and pants color, and gender (though it appears you'll be stuck with red shoes no matter what). The coolest part about 3D Avatar Messenger is how it displays your character in the same window as your conversation partner's character, allowing you to interact with him. The application is limited to two participants at a time, of course, and it's the most fun to use during a Skype voice conversation.
To install it, unpack the zip file you'll find at the URL mentioned earlier and execute its run.bat file, either by double-clicking or executing at the command prompt. This will launch the Java interpreter and allow the program to run. Once it's up and running, you'll need to find a partner who also has it installeda husband or wife will work well (hey, it works for me). Otherwise, you'll be emoting by yourself, as in Figure 3-15.
Figure 3-15. Skype 3D Avatar Messenger enhances VoIP calls with an animated alter ego
3.13.2. Sometimes There's No Substitute for Video
If you want to use your webcam to enhance your Skype calls with real-time video, just like the video viewer screens on Star Trek (only lower resolution), point your browser to two of the coolest video-on-Skype plug-ins:
At the moment, both work only with the Windows version of Skype, but considering the recent release of the Skype API for the Mac, I suspect we'll see some video goodies for Mac Skype very soon.
To be seen by your Skype buddies, you'll need a webcam connected. Logitech, Microsoft, Sony, and Creative all sell USB webcams that are suitable for Skype video. You don't need a webcam to see the video from your buddy's webcam, of course.