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Web powerhouses' union is good news for troops

Jul. 14, 2011 - 12:15PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 14, 2011 - 12:15PM  |  
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Facebook and Skype are marrying their services in an online mashup that will allow users to video chat directly from their Facebook account.

That's good news for troops downrange — or just down the street — who need all the help they can get staying connected with far-flung friends and family.

"We think this is awesome because we're using the best technology that's out there for doing video chat with the best social infrastructure that's out there to create some really cool new scenarios," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gushed July 6 to a conference room full of reporters at the company's California headquarters.

The two social media darlings started dating in October, when Skype began allowing its users to tap their Facebook contacts for its video, voice and text services. But this latest partnership vows to be far more intimate, seamlessly integrating Skype into the Facebook experience, with one-on-one video chat one click away.

However, in a symbolic — if not actual — sign of the growing pains in any new relationship, Facebook's live webcast announcing the new merger quickly became choppy even on high-speed Internet providers.

With web-connected conversations left to the mercy of digital bottlenecks and often overloaded networks, it's an experience troops — especially those downrange — are used to, with Skype's video feeds often no better than a clunky slideshow of awkward webcam stills. While it remains to be seen whether its new relationship will help improve that, Skype has been focused on refining its services for those stuck in the social media slow lane.

Last year, Skype created a stand-alone program for low-bandwidth disaster zone aid groups that was widely tested in Iraq and Afghanistan. In February, it rolled out a new mobile app for smartphones running on more sluggish service providers. If nothing else, troops can take heart in a shout-out from Skype CEO Tony Bates, who singled them out as the mission-critical core of Skype's user base.

Alongside Zuckerberg consummating their new union, Bates said "it's the person who may be away in a remote place — perhaps in the armed forces, trying to get back to their loved ones — that's what Skype is all about."

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