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It is hard to imagine that Skype, a service that is so deeply embedded into our broadband life, is nine years old. August 29, 2003 is the official birthday of the service, which celebrated its ninth birthday just ahead of the long holiday weekend here in the United States. It is a service that started as a simple idea – free calling for everyone who had an Internet connection. That radically simple idea changed the telecom industry and the voice-calling business forever.

Looking back, it is clear as day that the service succeeded in what it set out to do. Research from Telegeography projected that at the end of 2011, Microsoft-owned Skype accounted for 33 percent of all long-distance minutes – 145 billion of the total 438 billion minutes. According to Skype CEO Tony Bates, Skype has 254 million monthly active users and is “growing somewhere around 40% year on year.”

But that success comes bearing a harsh reality: What comes next for Skype, which admittedly has lost much of its sexiness? Skype has become a default setting in our lives and today the only time it generates any excitement is when the company manages to mess up the user experience of its applications. Skype’s future was on the mind of my fellow VoIPers - a small but still very active community of bloggers who love all things pertaining to Internet Voice.

Dan York, who is amazed by the success of Skype, is wondering what happens to Skype next, especially now that it is part of Microsoft. He believes that Skype hasn’t really had a challenger for a long time — or as he put it: “Instead of the little company taking on the Man, Skype has now become the Man.” Skype is being challenged not by other VoIP players but instead by other means of communication. It is and will always be in a battle for attention. Today’s social communication tools are the enemy of Skype.

Not everyone is worried. Skype Journal’s Phil Wolff (in a colorful presentation on SlideShare) is predicting Skype inside Windows, the web version of Skype and Skype for Kindle, amongst many things that will add up to glorious things for the service. But it is not going to be that easy for Skype, which has lost some of its early simplicity and needs to work hard to improve its user experience.

In a recent interview with USA Today, Skype CEO Bates said:

It needs to become more seamless, and, quite candidly, easier to use on mobile smartphones. The big No. 1 focus for us is we see this huge shift to more and more people on the go and bringing their own devices, and we need to have the best possible experience to do that.

But there is a lot to celebrate when it comes to Skype. Andy Abramson puts it best when he writes: “Skype may have been the single most disruptive service ever to hit the telecommunications world. For starters Skype really defined the idea of “free” calling.” Amen to that!

I have been using a new Google Chromebook — specifically the Samsung Series 5 550 — since I bought it for $449 about a month ago. For the first week, I was alternating between a capable and portable two-year-old MacBook Air and the Chromebook, but for the past three weeks, I have been a happy full-time Chromebook user. Along my Chromebook journey, I have found a number of little tips, tricks and tweaks that both improve and personalize the experience.

Before I share them, note that I’m not trying to convert anyone to a Chromebook, nor am I suggesting the Chrome OS is the best solution for you. It works for me because it fits my workflow nicely and without the distractions or extra features my work efforts don’t require. If Windows, OS X or a Linux distro works for you, then clearly, that’s what you should be using. For those who can work completely in a browser — or even do a large portion of daily activities in one — then the Chromebook is worth the look, and these tips are for you.

  1. Take and edit screen shots. Thanks to the new built-in photo editor in Chrome OS, this is an easy task. Just press Ctrl and the window switch button for the screen cap. Then press Ctrl – M to open the file manager and see the saved screen shot in the file listing. Double-click the file to open it and click Edit for basics: crop, rotate, brightness. Note that by default, all image captures are saved in the .png format.
  2. Convert .png to .jpg. Related to the first tip is the use of an online file-conversion tool. Here at GigaOM, we use the .jpg format for images and there’s no way to easily convert .png screen captures or images to .jpg. There are a number of online file conversion sites — I use CoolUtils — to make the conversion in a matter of seconds. In fact, when I find online tools such as this, I add them to a special Chrome OS folder in my bookmarks (bonus tip!).
  3. Unlock Chrome’s hidden features. Type “chrome://flags” in the browser and you’ll see dozens of experimental functions, many of which can be used with Chrome OS. Some of the currently available options include: enable smooth scrolling, GPU-accelerated rendering of SVG and CSS filters, preload instant search, enable experimental pipelining of HTTP requests, enable gamepad support, and enable experimental HTML implementation of the task manager dialog, to name a few. Note that some features require a Chrome OS restart.
  4. Turn on touchscreen-like scrolling. Coming from my MacBook Air, where I have the same scrolling direction enabled as on my iPhone, I was originally flustered with the multitouch Chromebook trackpad. When using two fingers to scroll a web page, it went in the opposite direction than I was used to. Then I found the solution. Click the little wrench icon in Chrome OS and choose Settings. Under Device, Pointer Settings, you’ll see an option to “enable simple scrolling direction,” which reverses the scrolling direction.
  5. Watch iTunes movie trailers. Of course, I don’t just work with my Chromebook. I try to keep up on the latest upcoming movies using Apple’s iTunes Movie Trailers site, but I quickly ran into a problem when using the Chromebook for this: Apple requires QuickTime to stream the trailers, and you can’t install QuickTime — or any native apps, really — on a Chromebook. I then realized Apple will allow you to download the trailers, so I tried with a 1080p trailer. Once downloaded, just hit up the file manager and double-click the trailer file, usually in .mov format, and the Chrome OS media player will show the trailer just fine.
  6. Use the secret caps-lock button. This is a simple but handy little tip. With the new Chromebooks, Google did away with the caps-lock keyboard button, opting to leave a full-sized search key instead. Tapping the search key opens up a new browser tab, but if you hit search while holding the shift key, you enable the caps-lock function. To remove caps lock, just tap the search button while holding the shift key again.
  7. Minimize a browser tab. With Chrome OS, Google has added more desktop-platform-style window management. You can drag browser tabs as if they were windows to the left or right side of the display, for example. But sometimes I want a tab open and active but hidden: I stream music using Rdio over the web, for example, and I don’t need to see that tab at all. I minimize it by first making it a stand-alone tab: Just drag the tab off the browser to do this. Then, place the cursor on the square icon next to the tab-close button at the top right of tab. Drag down from there, and the stand-alone web page is minimized into the Chrome OS dock. Extra tip: Use the dedicated window switch button on a Chromebook to quickly cycle through minimized browser tabs.
  8. Use an external monitor. Since the Chromebook is a laptop, I didn’t expect to use it as a desktop. However, I wanted to see how well the device worked with an external monitor. The Chromebook has a DisplayPort++ interface, so it should work with nearly any external monitor. I bought a cheap ($6.57) cable from Amazon and now use my 27-inch iMac as a monitor when working in my home office. Chrome OS works great on a large screen and keeps me going with the distraction-free experience but with more screen real estate when needed.
  9. Enable offline Google Docs. Last month Google finally introduced offline support for Docs, which is now actually part of Drive. It won’t just work automatically, though: You have to enable it in advance. If you don’t and you’re using a Chromebook without connectivity, you’re not going to be able to use offline docs until you first get back online and set it up. To enable it, just open the settings in Google Drive while online and turn on support for offline use. Once you do that, Google will download local copies of your cloud-based files, which could take some time. After that, however, file synchronization is relatively quick, as only files that have changed are synced.
  10. Test new features early. By default, a new Chromebook is set to receive background updates to Chrome OS as soon as Google releases them to what’s called the stable channel. These are the updates that were tested in beta prior and are ready for public consumption. But you can change your Chromebook channel, so to speak, and get early access to new or experimental features from the beta or dev channels as well. Note the dev channel is specifically dubbed “unstable,” so be prepared for system issues if you use this channel.
    To change channels, click the Chrome OS wrench icon and choose About Chrome OS, More Info. Here you can select among the stable, beta and dev channels. To keep an eye on what features Google is working on within each channel, pay attention to the official Chrome Releases blog.

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Broom sweepingIf you come to GigaOM on a regular basis, you may notice that we’re doing a little tidying up around here, or specifically, up there. As of today, we’re simplifying our top navigation, removing the Collaboration and Broadband channels. All the archived content from those channels will remain on the site (so your old URLs will still work) and is accessible through our search box and, of course, your search engine of choice. However, we won’t be posting any new content to those channels.

Bringing more focus to the site

These changes reflect our basic editorial mission. When Om started GigaOM, he chose to focus on the most important stories — not necessarily the ones that will garner the highest pageviews, but the ones that have the greatest potential to change technology and how we interact with it. We don’t cover every story in tech news, and we probably never will.

That philosophy has always driven what we cover. Yet, as the site grew to 10 channels, our site’s navigation no longer reflected that focus. We heard from some of our readers that it was a little confusing. We had to agree. We had to simplify.

Our broadband coverage underpins everything else we do on the site because broadband underpins every major development in connected technology. The increasing access to faster, more reliable broadband makes so much of the tech we talk about today — the cloud, big data, mobile apps, etc. — possible.

To understand the future of connected technology, you need to understand broadband. Read the stories Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Fitchard write, and you will begin to see where technology is heading. We decided that there’s no longer any reason to sequester that content off into its own channel. From now on, our broadband stories will appear on our main GigaOM channel and mobile broadband stories will appear on our Mobile channel.

Similarly, Collaboration no longer made sense as a standalone channel on our site. When we launched this channel as WebWorkerDaily in 2006, increasing broadband speeds and greater access to broadband were rapidly transforming the ways we worked. New terms were being coined as we tried to understand this phenomenon and its participants: “virtual workforce,” “web workers,” “freelance economy.” It was enormously disruptive — both to how work got done and to workers’ lifestyles. WebWorkerDaily was launched to address all of that.

Fast forward six years, and these terms have all but disappeared. This once-disruptive way of working has become a matter of course for many companies in tech and beyond. It’s no longer “web work,” it’s just “work.” Work from home policies are viewed more as a standard offering than a benefit. Nearly every cafe you walk into — well, at least the ones with free Wi-Fi — are filled with people tapping away at their open laptops and taking conference calls on their mobile phones. Most of our readers have at least one coworker who works in a different country or at least a different time zone.

Although we will continue to cover this trend from an enterprise perspective on GigaOM Pro, we will no longer have a dedicated channel on the site. As with Broadband, we will continue to write about these issues — whether it’s a new startup, emerging technology, or trend — on GigaOM, Mobile, or another appropriate channel. Looking back at the past six years of WebWorkerDaily/Collaboration, so many people were instrumental in making this site a reality. There are too many to list here, but I’d especially like to thank editors Simon Mackie, Ann Zelenka, and Judi Sohn and two of our top writers over the past year, Jessica Stillman and Terri Griffith.

And there’s more to come

Think of these small changes as another iteration of GigaOM, following on our expansion into the media industry, New York and Europe earlier this year. But there’s more news to come. We’ll always keep our same editorial focus. Our stellar editorial team — which, in my opinion, is made up of the smartest writers in tech reporting — will continue bringing you intelligent takes on the most important stories in technology, telling you not only what happened today but how it will affect the tech landscape going forward. But stay tuned over the next few months for some exciting announcements about new technologies our team is focusing on and new enhancements to our site.

This post was updated at 4:56 p.m. to thank our fabulous WebWorkerDaily editors from the past six years.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user CarbonNYC

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Increased use of remote work may be changing management styles and the tech tools teams use to communicate, but as we’ve covered here on GigaOM before, it’s also changing our physical workspaces. Some offices are opting to go modular, making their workspaces as flexible as their occupants’ work schedules. Others are emphasizing spaces for collaboration, ripping out some traditional individual work areas in favor of places where groups can huddle together.

Now another big company is going one step further and chucking out the concept of the individual desk entirely. Forbes reports that massive pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is going deskless at its Philadelphia office, entirely eliminating anything resembling a private office or cubicle for the 1,300 employees based there. It already has one such deskless office in Bogota, Colombia. Forbes explains:

GlaxoSmithKline, the global pharmaceutical giant, thinks it has found the cure for the drab, inefficient office: fluid spaces where you do what the moment requires, alone or in groups, moving throughout the day. Each employee has a laptop with a built-in “soft phone,” a locker for personal possessions, and maybe one file drawer. That’s it. Even U.S. head Deirdre Connelly doesn’t have an office….

Why do it? “We found that only 35% of work activity took place in offices and cubes, yet we were dedicating 85% of our space to those,” says Edward Danyo, manager of workplace strategy. “It’s about creating environments so people can do their best work, and we’ve seen a 45% increase in the speed of decision making. But our biggest surprise is that within two weeks most folks say they wouldn’t go back to cellular space.” Bonus: The design saves money by saving space.

Check out the complete article for a visual explaining exactly how these innovative offices are laid out. GlaxoSmithKline is certainly not the only company trying a fairly radical re-thinking of the office. Zappos, for example, has even gone so far as to try to re-imagine the relationship between corporate campus and surrounding city, blurring the line between work and home life in their new downtown Las Vegas space.

Play office futurist – what do you foresee for the office space of the future? 

Image courtesy of Flickr user mark sebastian

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Vacation season is in full swing with the summer sun distracting workers of all stripes with daydreams of getting away from the daily grind. At the same time, small business owners continue to be besieged, as ever, with a tidal wave of responsibilities, small hassles and unmissable obligations. The collision of these two realities could equal frustration, but according to a new survey from Cisco, the result is actually a happier one – more remote work.

The recent poll of 500 U.S. small business owners uncovered that large percentages of these entrepreneurs are relying on remote work to balance their need to get away with keeping their companies running smoothly. On average the respondents plan to work remotely 18 days over the summer. Fifteen percent plan to work remotely 36 days or more, while nearly half of owners plan to work remotely for at least two weeks. One in four stated their companies rely on telecommuting.

“The results demonstrate the extent to which telephone and video conferencing have become ingrained in the work habits of small business owners,” said Glenn Bray, senior director, cloud collaboration applications technology group, Cisco. “It’s clear small business owners need to stay connected to the office, even during the summer vacation season.”

What’s also clear is that small business owners, freed from the bureaucratic hassles of larger organizations, find plenty of benefit in remote working and manage to make leading at a distance work for their teams. All of which suggests that the what’s holding back remote work at big firms is more a matter of culture and inertia than logistics.

Do you agree?

Image courtesy of Flickr user uros velickovokic

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The hits keep coming from day two of Google I/O: The company announced Google Docs finally works offline, allowing users to edit docs without a connection to the web. Apple iPhones, iPods and iPod touch devices not only got the Chrome browser earlier in the day, but also gain a native Google Drive application, which was improved for all platforms with integrated search features.

To use offline document editing in Google Docs, users will have to enable in it the applications settings while online. Docs will then download local copies of all documents for editing without a connection. Once that step is complete, edits can take place offline and when Docs senses that a connection is available, it will automatically sync the changed documents with the files in Google’s cloud.

Of course, Google Docs is going away in favor of Google Drive: Google recently announced the change in an effort put file storage and editing capabilities under one name. But there’s more to Google Drive than just the name and iOS device owners can start to take advantage of Google’s storage service with a native iOS app for Drive. There is one caveat: It’s just a file viewer for now.

All Google Drive users gain a nifty new feature: A vastly improved search function. On stage at Google I/O, the company demonstrated this and it was impressive. About two dozen PDF files of scanned images were shown in a Google Drive account and none were labeled. Yet one out of the bunch was a shipping receipt.

A quick search for “certified mail” pulled up the proper image thanks to optical scanning recognition of the file contents, making Google Drive much more useful and easier to use: Why label what you don’t have to?

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Asana, the company that wants to help workgroups collaborate efficiently, is adding a new feature to attack what it calls a huge productivity suck: email. And it’s doing so with a new feature ironically called Inbox.

Inbox is a central place for an information worker to aggregate only the relevant and requested files and messages about given projects and share task lists etc. Users subscribe to and unsubscribe from the feeds as they want to see them

Four-year old San Francisco-based Asana, co-founded by Facebook veterans Dustin Moskowitz and Justin Rosenstein and backed by Andreessen Horowitz and Benchmark Capital, is betting that social networking tools transformed for the enterprise will not fill the bill. It claims big customers, including Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, use the service to minimize extraneous meetings and to cut down on distractions.

“We don’t really see things like Yammer, SocialCast and Chatter as competitors but we also don’t see them as particularly useful. They just took something popular in the consumer space and ported them over, but research shows many people don’t see the value in them. We’re about a work graph, not the social graph,” Rosenstein said in an interview Tuesday.

Inbox gives users the information about the projects they want to see. “If you click on a message in Inbox, you get all the associated context and information surrounding it,” said Rosenstein. “Inbox keeps your communication directly connected to the shared record of what you’re working on.”

Asana’s service is free for up to 30 users and then is $100 per month up to $800 per month depending on number of users. For more on Asana Inbox, check out this company blog post.

In some ways, Inbox reminds me of what Lotus Notes (now Domino) started out as — a way for workgroups to keep their project information together and communicate about it. Rosenstein agreed with that comparison. “Lotus Notes was ahead of its time. That time has come,” he said. Mitchell Kapor, co-founder of Lotus Development Corp., is an Asana advisor.

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Thanks to online hiring platforms and a range of tech solutions, your team is more likely to be made up of folks from widely geographically dispersed places than ever before. And, of course, that also means your team is more likely to be culturally diverse. What do you need to make it run smoothly?

Your knee jerk answer may be a variety of communication tools and management practices to deal with distance in time and space and coordination issues, but according to David Livermore, president at the Cultural Intelligence Center, the really secret ingredient to leading cross-cultural teams well is simpler and rarer – good, old fashioned patience.

Writing for UK site Management Issues, Livermore notes that our speedy internet connections and lightning fast technology train us to be impatient. But if you want to successfully lead a culturally diverse team, he says, you’re going to need to relearn to go slow:

“Impatience” + “cross-cultural” don’t work well together. Cross-cultural relationships and projects inevitably take more time, more effort, and more patience…. Just about everything takes longer when working and relating cross-culturally. Communication, trust-building, and just getting things done requires more effort and perseverance. Whether it’s dealing with long queues when traveling, merging different technology systems, or trying to get to the bottom of a conflict, understanding and effectiveness come more slowly when different cultures are involved.

Patience needs to be factored in from the very beginning of any cross-cultural project…. In a world of instant information and feedback, it’s counterintuitive to step back and move more slowly. But slow is the new fast when you’re working across cultures.

Do you agree that when it comes to cross-cultural teams the old saying that haste makes waste applies anew? 

Image courtesy of Flickr user meddygarnet

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With Microsoft’s billion-dollar acquisition of Yammer, it’s clear that even the stodgiest corners of the business world are starting to come to terms with the idea that social has arrived and organizations need to find ways to leverage personal networks in innovative ways. And apparently what goes for internal communication goes for recruiting as well.

On Forbes recently Josh Bersin, president and CEO of HR consultancy Bersin & Associates, laid out the feverish start-up scene in the realm of social recruiting, ticking off an impressively long list of young companies hoping to leverage our social graphs “to make the ‘job matching game’ easier for job-seekers and recruiters.” Here’s a small fraction of the companies Bersin mentions:

Path.to and Bright:  These companies try to mine your social graph and “find jobs” for you. So far they’re just getting started so the matching isn’t very good yet, but the potential is big.  Think e-harmony for the job seeker.

TalentBin:  Gives recruiters an intelligent tool to find people through their social graph.  Kind of the opposite of Path.to and Bright.

Jobvite: A fast-growing company which delivers referral recruiting tools, applicant tracking, and advertisement management tools for recruiters. Gooodjob is a startup building a similar offering.

Bullhorn: one of the biggest end-to-end social talent acquisition solutions (recently acquired by Vista Equity).

For the rest of the extensive list, check out the complete article. Why such a wild frenzy of activity in the space? American corporations spend $140 billion a year on recruiting, Bersin points out, and 40 million of us change jobs each year regardless of how lousy the economy might be. Add to this the huge amounts of data available through the Facebook and LinkedIn APIs and that’s rich pickings for startups who are bringing a wide array of approaches to bear on the challenge of applying social to recruiting. These include “recruitment advertising, job boards, candidate relationship management, assessment, interview automation, applicant tracking, recruitment analytics, and job-seeker services and tools,” according to Bersin.

Which approach (or approaches) are you betting will emerge victorious from the social recruiting start-up wars? 

Image courtesy of Flickr user Daniel Paquet

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Want to start a flurry on the internet? Wade into the always fraught discussion about how women should balance work and family commitments. Any piece on the topic is bound to spark a raging debate as Princeton professor and Obama administration official Anne-Marie Slaughter recently confirmed with her Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in which she discusses at length her decision to give up a high-powered State Department job to spend more time with her teenaged sons.

With its catnip title backed up with a thoughtful exploration of a difficult and emotional issue, the article has generated a predictably frantic round of response and recrimination online. But even for those who weren’t dying for another rehashing of the limitations (or lack of them) society and biology puts on women’s life choices, the piece offers food for thought, particularly for those thinking about the future of work and the role of remote collaboration.

Slaughter bemoans the “culture of ‘time macho’—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.” And argues that it’s time to decouple face time and achievement in favor of more tech-enabled flexibility not just for women but for all workers. She writes:

A study by the Center for American Progress reports that nationwide, the share of all professionals—women and men—working more than 50 hours a week has increased since the late 1970s. But more time in the office does not always mean more “value added”—and it does not always add up to a more successful organization… Long hours are one thing, and realistically, they are often unavoidable. But do they really need to be spent at the office? To be sure, being in the office some of the time is beneficial. In-person meetings can be far more efficient than phone or e-mail tag; trust and collegiality are much more easily built up around the same physical table; and spontaneous conversations often generate good ideas and lasting relationships. Still, armed with e-mail, instant messaging, phones, and videoconferencing technology, we should be able to move to a culture where the office is a base of operations more than the required locus of work.

Being able to work from home—in the evening after children are put to bed, or during their sick days or snow days, and at least some of the time on weekends—can be the key, for mothers, to carrying your full load versus letting a team down at crucial moments. State-of-the-art videoconferencing facilities can dramatically reduce the need for long business trips. These technologies are making inroads, and allowing easier integration of work and family life. According to the Women’s Business Center, 61 percent of women business owners use technology to “integrate the responsibilities of work and home”; 44 percent use technology to allow employees “to work off-site or to have flexible work schedules.” Yet our work culture still remains more office-centered than it needs to be, especially in light of technological advances.

One way to change that is by changing the “default rules” that govern office work—the baseline expectations about when, where, and how work will be done. As behavioral economists well know, these baselines can make an enormous difference in the way people act. It is one thing, for instance, for an organization to allow phone-ins to a meeting on an ad hoc basis, when parenting and work schedules collide—a system that’s better than nothing, but likely to engender guilt among those calling in, and possibly resentment among those in the room. It is quite another for that organization to declare that its policy will be to schedule in-person meetings, whenever possible, during the hours of the school day—a system that might normalize call-ins for those (rarer) meetings still held in the late afternoon….

Changes in default office rules should not advantage parents over other workers; indeed, done right, they can improve relations among co-workers by raising their awareness of each other’s circumstances and instilling a sense of fairness. Two years ago, the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts decided to replace its “parental leave” policy with a “family leave” policy that provides for as much as 12 weeks of leave not only for new parents, but also for employees who need to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. According to Director Carol Rose, “We wanted a policy that took into account the fact that even employees who do not have children have family obligations.”

Do you agree with Slaughter’s diagnosis that “time macho” is a problem and her prescription of tech and thoughtful flex-work policies to cure it? 

Image courtesy of Flickr user vegetarians-dominate-meat-eaters-01

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