October 18, 2010, 12:06 PM — With the launch of Skype 5.0 this week, the PC-based voice over IP (VoIP) and messaging service is now integrated with the Facebook social network. While neither Skype, nor Facebook are typically considered business platforms, the combination of the two offer many of the benefits and features of unified communications on a budget that small and medium businesses can appreciate: free.
First, let's define unified communications (UC). Admittedly, that is easier said than done. UC is more of a concept than a specific technology. UC is somewhat subjective and can involve combining whichever elements of communications and productivity suit the needs of the organization. For the sake of simplicity, though, let's assume that UC involves melding voice communications, video conferencing, instant messaging, and e-mail.
Skype alone provides most of those elements. Skype established itself as a leading provider of online VoIP communications, and has subsequently also become one of the most widely used video chat services. Cable news networks like CNN frequently use Skype video as a means of conducting remote interviews without having to send a camera crew onsite. With Skype 5.0, group video chats can now be conducted between up to ten parties--expanding the capabilities of Skype as a teleconferencing platform.
Skype also has instant messaging capabilities, but the value of an instant messaging service is directly related to the number of your contacts that are available on it, and Skype has never been a leading platform in that regard. Facebook, on the other hand, has more than half a billion members and has surpassed Google as the online destination that users spend the most time with. Essentially, if there is a contact you want to instant message with, odds are good that contact has a Facebook account, and there is a relatively high chance the contact is on Facebook right now.
Neither Skype, nor Facebook offers e-mail. However, Facebook does provide a messaging feature which can be used to send messages between individual contacts, or to groups of contacts. The down side, though, is that Facebook messaging relies on the recipient either being on Facebook to see that a message has arrived, or on an e-mail notification being distributed to a third-party e-mail account outside of Facebook or Skype.