I’ve just completed some research and testing of options for doing home gatherings entirely online and I wanted to pass along my findings.
Like everyone else these days, being home-bound because of the corona virus, I’m using the various video conferencing options out there for both work and home/church/friends gatherings. I’ve researched many that I’d never heard of before, and I’ve actively used/using Zoom, Webex, Bluejeans, Microsoft Teams, and Skype. It had been a few years since I used Skype, and I was pleasantly surprised with how it has improved. If you’re looking for a video conferencing solution for your home gatherings, here’s why I recommend Skype:
- There are no costs (all the others have some amount of cost, for example, to do a 5-person meeting for an hour)
- There are no meaningful limits on the number of people or length of meetings (most of the others have limits on both with their “free” options)
- It is great group video conferencing, 1:1 video conferencing, or group and 1:1 Instant Messaging (chat). Like other applications, you can video conference and at the same time have a chat box open for Instant Messaging. The chat box sticks around after you close the call so you can go back to it and remember what someone posted if needed.
- It lets you see who in your contact group are “active,” meaning they are signed in, so that you can spontaneously instant message them or start a video call with them. I really like this because I’m all in for enabling our online conversations to happen at any time we want to be available for it, not just for scheduled events.
- I found that some of the options REQUIRE access to your contacts list on your computer – a big no-no in my book, way to invasive. Skype will gently invite you to let it import your contacts on your computer, but does not require it, and I don’t do it.
So it’s pretty simple. You just go to www.skype.com and click through the options. Here’s the basics I’ve learned and used so far:
- Whoever hosts/starts a video meeting will need to download the Skype application. You can do this on your PC, Mac, iPhone, or Android device. You’ll be prompted to create a free Microsoft (who owns Skype) account using a phone number or email address. It’s quick, painless, and safe, and it didn’t get me on spam email mailings.
- Then as the host, you start the application and click on “Meet Now” in advance of your meeting to get a custom URL/web address for your video meeting and send that around to your attendees. When it comes time for your gathering, you as the host click on that meeting record in the application and then “Start call.” Your attendees simply click on the URL you sent them from their computer to join the meeting. They won’t have to “sign up” for anything, and they won’t have to download the Skype application. They WILL have to download the application if they join from a mobile device.
- You can keep this same URL in your meeting list and use it every time this same group meets, so you don’t have to send around a new one each time. You can change the generic “Meet Now” title to something like “Saturday night home gathering” so you can differentiate it from other “Meet Now” gatherings you may do.
- If your friends download the application and get their own Skype/Microsoft accounts, you can add them to your Skype contacts list, and then you’ll see a little dot on their id when they are active, meaning they are logged into Skype. Then you can spontaneously shoot them an Instant Message/chat or start a video call with them. You can look up your friends Skype accounts – by Skype account name, email address, or phone number – and then reach out to them so they can “accept” your invitation to be on your contacts list.
- It’s a fun app to use. Like anything, there’s a little learning curve, but it doesn’t take long. I’ve had a few group and individual calls and I’ve barely explored all it can do. For example, I haven’t tried the part where you can “screen share” so you can show people something on your computer screen, and there’s also a feature for uploading files from your computer to the group chat so they can download it right then as you’re talking with them. And I haven’t tried the “Private Conversation” feature where I believe you can do a sidebar, private chat with someone(s) right in the middle of a group video call.
Best to you and your home gatherings!