Skype Etiquette

Skype is one of the most important work and social tools I use. It’s nearly perfect. Except that you people are using it to drive me crazy.

It’s made my list of “can’t live without” products for the last five years, and more recently the screen sharing feature has made Skype even more important as a productivity tool.

What I like about Skype is that you can use it for chat, or audio, or video. It’s an extremely versatile tool and most people in the startup world use it as their primary instant messenger application. It’s nowhere near as popular as Windows Live Messenger with 303 million worldwide monthly users, or Yahoo with 79 million. But it’s in a solid fourth place with 18 million users per month, according to Comscore (just the IM feature). The real number is probably far higher than that.

A lot of people know I like to use Skype for communicating, and I get a lot of inbound messages. And I’m starting to go a little crazy from the way people are using it. So it’s time for a friendly primer on appropriate Skype etiquette. Most of these helpful hints will also be useful for people using different IM applications.

It’s not a conversation until both sides are engaged. Just because I haven’t blocked you on Skype doesn’t mean that you have an open door into my brain. The best way to start a Skype conversation is to message something like “are you free?” If I respond then we’re all set. If not, don’t take it personally. And don’t start firing off whatever you want to say anyway. Too many of my Skype interactions look like this:

You: Hey Mike
You: Mike!
You: Are you
You: there?
You: Ok well I really want to talk to you about
You: [long message follows]
You: Hey! r u there?
You: hellooooooooo
You: yo!
You: Whatever. Thanks for ignoring me. Jerk.
Me (an hour later): Um, ok.

Instant messaging is both synchronous and asynchronous. Sometimes a conversation is both. I don’t take offense if someone bails out of a conversation on IM without warning only to reengage an hour or a day later. Neither should you.

Just start a conversation politely, and wait for the other person to say something before jumping in. If they don’t respond, say something like “Looks like you’re not online, I’ll send an email.” And then send an email.

Don’t abuse the Enter button. I know – your message is extremely time sensitive. So instead of typing full sentences you just
hit return in the middle of a sent
ence. Or a word.
That way the reader can know what you’re saying in the beginning of a sentence before you’re even done typing the end!

The default Skype settings are lots of notification messages all the time. Every time you hit enter it beeps my computer. That’s really annoying. Get whole sentences, paragraphs even, down in the box before you hit enter. People will appreciate it.

This is the number one thing that drives me crazy on Skype, as shown in the video above. Full screen it to watch the fun.

Don’t just jump right into a phone call. It’s polite to send a chat message first saying “online? time for a quick Skype call?” It’s annoying when the Skype phone starts ringing randomly. Sometimes in a rush to hit don’t accept I accidentally accept and then there’s some person talking full volume at me, most likely with their video going and demanding that I turn on video too. And all I wanted was a little bit of quiet.

Video calls are not a God given right. Just because you want to do video right now doesn’t mean I want to. I may be in my underwear, for example, which is when I do my best blogging. Feel free to hit video if you want. And if I want to I’ll hit video. If I don’t, why bring it up?

If you do turn on video, note that you have just become part of my informal psychology test. The default is for you to see yourself in the bottom left of the Skype app. Most people constantly check themselves and then change position slightly or whatever. I won’t mention it, but I do find it funny to see what percentage of the call you spend looking at yourself.

Don’t assume confidentiality. The worst thing I ever did was Skype message someone, in a rush, to confirm a story. And it turns out that poor person was using his laptop to give a presentation to a group of co-workers. And my skype message popped up on the screen for everyone to see. Bad stuff followed. Since then I always start off with something benign and wait for them to engage before jumping into anything sensitive. Other people are often looking at my computer screen, too. So be careful with throwing confidential information around until you know who’s reading it.

For more tips on human communication with touchy bloggers, read my post Greetings! And interesting side note, my favorite secret Skype emoticon is (mooning).