On Killing Skype at SJSU

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Skype is a peer-to-peer (p2p) voice communications, instant message and file sharing program. The recent decision to pull the plug on Skype at SJSU (has it been implemented?) may be a classic example of command and control (Web 1.0 thinking) versus collaborate and communicate (Web 2.0) technologies and principles. According to one person I spoke with in the networking department of the university’s computer center, “the issue that caused the decision to kill Skype is that Skype communications are encrypted.” But, other protocols like SSL, SFTP and SSH are allowed and are encrypted. These protocols could be also used to do evil things. There is no discussion I know of to block these communications and they are used a lot on our university’s network. Also IPSec and Kerberos are protocols used used on the SJSU network. These protocols are also encrypted and supported by SJSU. Should we also kill them? Do we want to have to make credit card transactions in clear text?

Yes, there have been past concerns about Skype. But, these concerns may be over blown. Oxford University, which had banned Skype, in fact recently lifted its ban on Skype.

There are concerns about the amount of bandwidth Skype could use if used on our network. Yes, the use of our network for communications and collaboration uses bandwidth. But, isn’t that what bandwidth is for, to be used? It is like money, why have it if we don’t use it?

I have blogged in the past about how Skype is seen by some as a threat. But, the utility of Skype is great. Skype is becoming a defacto standard among users of this type of emerging technology.

In the Web 1.0 world, Client-Server is the mindset computing command model and p2p is bad and chaotic. In p2p any computer can collaborate with any other computer and that is hard to control. In the Web 2.0 world collaboration is a form of communication and enhancing the conversation is what Web 2.0 is all about. So, in Web 2.0 p2p is good and Skype is good.

Deciding to just pull the plug on Skype in its early stage of use is like what pulling the plug on Email or Web would have been like ten years ago. The decision to pull the plug on Skype, if it is to be made at all, deserves to be made with the academic community after some thoughtful consideration. There are potential pedagogical applications of Skype. These need to be considered:

  • Skype can be used to bring remote speakers into a classroom.
  • Skype can be used by educators to collaborate with distant colleagues.
  • Skype offers teleconferencing capabilities that allow quick collaboration groups to be formed free and in real time.
  • Because you can see when colleagues are logged into Skype, virtual communities can be created in Skype that offer other opportunities for collaboration.
  • The encryption nature of Skype is a feature when faculty use Skype to communicate with students. It assures their privacy.

The decision to just kill Skype at SJSU on the spur of the moment is, in my opinion, just weird. It ignores the possible pedagogical applications of Skype. The sudden nature of the plug being pulled on Skype makes me wonder if there was some sort of national security incident that may have spooked the administration? This is pure speculation. It seems to me the folks who made the decision to just kill Skype at SJSU just do not get what our mission is. Unless, there is more that we do not know.

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