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It’s time to video chat!

Most of us still haven’t made up our minds about video chat. Maybe it’s the poor connection last time we tried Skype, or the hassle of pre-arranging the call so both parties are online. Or maybe the thought of stepping in front of a camera still makes us a little anxious, particularly when a phone call or text is so much easier.

But make no mistake, the popularity of video chat is growing.  New devices, better software, and faster network speeds have combined to bring video chat into a whole new era of convenience and reliability. Whether it’s our kids discussing their homework assignments, working moms checking in on the kids, or military families saying hi to loved ones overseas, video chat appears to be taking on a whole new life.

So don’t be left out. It’s time to give video chat another look. Here are just a few of the ways you can get started.


Now owned by Microsoft, Skype is still the best known and most popular video chat platform, with over 650 million registered users. Skype requires custom software but both the download and the calls are free. Users are assigned a unique username, which can be listed in the international Skype directory. Video calls are made over the Internet, which means both parties have to be online.

iPhones (3G and later models), and certain BlackBerry and Android smartphones can also make and receive Skype calls using the Skype mobile app. (The phone will need a front-facing camera.) Skype to Skype calls will not count against smartphone calling or data plans. Skype can also be used to make or receive calls from regular landline or mobile phones at heavily discounted rates.

Google Talk

Google Talk is almost as ubiquitous as Skype, because it’s integrated right into everyone’s Gmail account. Google Talk requires a download and the video chat piece requires a small additional plug-in. Once installed, you then select the contact you want to call. If they have a video icon next to their name, they’re ready to go. If they haven’t installed Google Talk or video chat, you can invite them to do so right from the chat window.

All calls are free and you can talk for as long as you like.


iChat is a free instant messaging application developed by Apple exclusively for its Mac OS X operating system. It has audio, video, and screen-sharing capabilities, as well as text messaging. iChat is also integrated into AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo Mail and other mail and messaging programs.

Users can also insert photos, movies, and other backdrops and special effects into the iChat window, making it a fun program to use for those young and creative minds!


FaceTime is Apple’s custom video calling app, which was introduced with the iPhone 4 but which is also available on the iPod touch, iPad 2, and now all Mac computers. FaceTime is a proprietary app, which means it can only be used on Apple devices. But it’s “cross-platform,” which means an iPhone can call an iPad 2 and an iPod touch can call a Mac.

The new iOS 5 software makes FaceTime incredibly versatile and easy to use. Just find the contact you want to call, tap the FaceTime button, and the person you’re calling will be invited to join the chat. You can switch from a regular call to a FaceTime call mid-conversation, and even use Siri, Apple’s new voice activation tool, to initiate the call.

Google Hangouts

One of the most popular features of the Google + social network, Hangouts allows instant video chat between individuals in the same Google + network. With Hangouts, the idea is not to schedule a video chat – although you can do that if you want to – but instead start a video chat or jump on one that’s already in progress when you have time to “hangout.”. As Google suggests, Hangouts is like “when you walk into a pub or step onto your front porch.”

Up to 10 people can be on a Hangouts chat at the same time. Although you can block people, you can’t kick them off once they join, so it’s not for private one-on-one chats. A mobile app allows you to join a Hangouts video chat from a properly enabled smartphone.


Facebook recently integrated Skype calling into its instant messaging feature. First you need to download the Skype plug-in and then it’s a question of finding out who is available to chat. Once you start a regular chat, you can click on the camera icon at the top of the window to activate the video. If your friend hasn’t set up video calling yet, you’ll be asked to wait until set up is complete.

If your friend is unavailable, you can leave a video message. The time and date of the call will be listed in the ongoing message history.

Comment by sherry, posted 12/10/2011, 9:48 PM:

I really need this downloaded on my smartphone!!!
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