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Gmail Voice and Video Chat…assumes you want to see and hear your associates!

Saturday November 15, 2008

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

The other day I signed into my Gmail account and noticed a new link at the top of the page. The link says: “New! Video chat.” Usually I learn about new Gmail tools from Webconsuls’ technical director, Darin McClure. What crossed my mind is why hasn’t Darin sent me or us an email extolling the virtues of this new tool. Not like Darin to not jump on a Gmail bandwagon. Hmmm! I even reviewed the Webconsuls’ blog to make sure I hadn’t missed a blog about this new tool. Couldn’t find anything.

I ignored the bold red font, “New! Video chat” for a few days, but yesterday I was a little curious. So, I clicked on the link. This is what I learned:
* Voice and video in Gmail only works with the newer version of Gmail in supported browsers: FF 2.0+, IE 6.0+, Safari 3.0+, and Google Chrome.
* Download the Gmail voice and video chat plug-in, quit all open browser windows, and install the plug-in.
* Sign in to Gmail.
* In the Chat section of your Gmail, select the contact you want to call. If they have a camera icon next to their name, you can make a voice or video call to them; just click Video & more.

Now the first thing to remember is that you need to have a web-cam. If you don’t have a web-cam, then Google has made it easy for you to purchase one. According to their site: “We tried to make buying a web-cam easier by working with Logitech and Buy.com to offer high quality cameras at up to 30% off with free shipping until November 30th, 2008.” The prices quoted range from $39.99 to $89.99. But, not to worry, I already have a web-cam, so I was good to go.

My browsers met the requirements, I downloaded the Gmail voice and video chat plug-in, I quit all open browsers, and I installed the plug-in! I signed in to my Gmail account and lo and behold, there I was in a little window…Judy at work! Great, right? Here is what I noticed:
1. My Web-cam sits right on top of my monitor, so I could see myself very clearly, but I could also see my co-worker, Dennis, at work at his computer desk. You see when we are both working my back is to him, a kind of “what I don’t see won’t hurt me” position. But now I could clearly see him working away.
2. I could also see the little camera icon next to my name in the “Chat” box on my Gmail page, but interestingly enough the only associate with a camera icon next to their name was Malik. I could see that Malik was on-line so I tried to connect with him with video chat. Well, he could chat, but what I discovered is that he was experiencing problems with Video Chat. To quote Malik: “crashes my browser every time though”. Not good and I read on-line that other users were experiencing this problem. Bugs!!

You need to be aware that this new tool is being rolled out by Google, which means not everyone has access to the new tool at the same time. Don’t assume that because you have access that all of your friends can access it, just yet.

Here is my first take on this tool: Fun tool. Free tool, unless you need to buy a web-cam. I don’t really know if it will take the place of Skype, as Google video chat does not allow you to connect to landlines, but it is one more tool for the tool box. Whether it will be the sharpest tool in the box remains to be seen. Also, I noticed that once you have downloaded this new tool, there does not seem to be a way to just “turn it off” should you not want to be contacted via video chat. This is a little disconcerting, but maybe I just haven’t played with it enough. I do know that the software is not activated unless you are signed in to your Gmail account, so maybe that feature is the main “shut-off” valve. In other words, you can be signed out of your Gmail account and still be running “Google Talk” on your desktop and chat with friends and co-workers the old fashioned way, sans webcam.

According to the official Gmail blog: ‘Once you install the plug-in, to start a video chat, just click on the “Video & more” menu at the bottom of your Gmail chat window, and choose “Start video chat.” You’ll have a few seconds to make sure you look presentable while it’s ringing, and then you’ll see and hear your friend live, right from within Gmail.’ The operative phrase in this statement is: “You’ll have a few seconds to make sure you look presentable.” Yikes!!!

Here is the bottom line: if you are always signed into you Gmail account, the webcam is running and you better be prepared for your friends and co-workers to want to video chat with you. You better keep your desk straightened, your hair combed and not be wearing your PJs at 3:00PM.

For the record, I un-installed the “plug-in” yesterday, because I don’t want to be the first one on my block to use this software…I am going to wait for Darin, Lisa, Dick, Dennis, Malik, Keith, Dan and Dennis to “plug-in”. I don’t want to be the cheerleader and I am still wondering why the usual cheerleaders are not cheering…just yet.
To learn more, view the video below and I promise to keep you posted on this new tool. Let me know what you think by posting a comment here.


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