2008/01/31

NEW NET Remote Participation

At the NEW NET meeting this week, it was decided to spend some time working on making remote participation in the NEW NET meetings a more polished and worthwhile aspect of the group.

NEW NET is a weekly gathering of tech enthusiasts in northeast Wisconsin (NorthEast Wisconsin Network for Economy and Technology issues). Because most of the people who participate in the meetings on a regular basis are from the Appleton area, the meetings have almost always been held in Appleton. Connecting people from several remote locations (see above sketch) will allow more people to participate in the meetings without having to drive 45 minutes through a winter storm or even 5 minutes on a pleasant summer evening. It will also allow the group to become more skilled at using the cool new collaborative tools that Moore's Law and the knowledge economy are bringing to us. While an important facet of NEW NET will always be providing face-to-face interaction between tech enthusiasts, this new focus on remote interaction will be fun and useful.

On this past Tuesday evening, 29 February 2008, a blustery winter squall made traveling conditions dicey. Several tech enthusiasts wisely chose not to make the trek from Oshkosh to participate in the NEW NET meeting, held this week at the Cambria Suites Hotel in Appleton. They instead chose to connect to the meeting via their computers, using a highspeed internet connection and Skype, a popular internet tool for phone calls and videoconferences.

One of the people who connected from Oshkosh had to sign up for a Skype account and download the application onto his computer, but within less than half an hour he finished the set-up work and was connected to us via Skype.

We spent part of the time on Skype discussing tech topics which were in the news over the past seven days. This is one of the activities which often happens at NEW NET meetings. The rest of the Skype call was spent talking about different ways to make remote participation in NEW NET meetings more worthwhile to all the people at the various connected locations.

Our default tool for connecting NEW NET meeting participants will be Skype. This VoIP (voice over internet protocol) tool is a mature and reliable product, at least in terms of internet services. The free version of Skype can be used to connect up to ten computers in a teleconference. It also does excellent free videoconferencing between two people (computers). Skype has many associated tools and add-ons, such as chat and whiteboards. One of the NEW NET regulars uses Skype every day to do business in England and other places around the world. When I logged in just now to check on the usage levels, the Skype counter said 6.5+ million people were currently using the service. Often when I'm on Skype that number is between 8 and 12 million people.

In addition to using the free phone calls and videoconferencing of Skype, we'll try out the service's other features to see which ones remotely connect NEW NET tech enthusiasts in ways that are enjoyable and effective.

Other telecollaboration tools we'll be using or experimenting with include Oovoo, a free web service that does videoconferencing between more than two people at the same time (Skype currently can't do that), Yahoo Instant Messenger, which one of the NEW NET regulars uses daily for webcams around the world, Yugma, a web service for connecting one-to-one and one-to-many, video services such as YouTube, Revver and Ustream, free VPN (virtual private network) programs like Hamachi, an IRC channel and whatever other tools NEW NET members read about or hear about from others.

If you'd like to be part of this expanded version of NEW NET, we invite you to join us in person at the 'central' location as posted weekly on this blog, or you can log on from wherever you happen to be located. We highly encourage you to have at least one other person with you if you connect remotely because building face-to-face relationships between geeks is a highly valuable benefit of participating in NEW NET meetings. If you want to connect to NEW NET meetings remotely and don't know any other tech enthusiasts, put some energy into finding one or two people who live in your city or within a few miles of you. Invite people you know to come to your house on Tuesdays or to meet you at a coffeeshop with free wifi. When you see someone using a laptop or iPhone at a public location, strike up a conversation with them, and ask if they'd be interested in connecting to a NEW NET meeting with you.

Above all, try out some of these new technologies and suggest new ones for the rest of us to check out. You'll be glad you did!

*****

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