This month I finally joined the 100 million other people who are using Skype.
It was something that we'd talked about for a while - mainly as a way of reducing the kids' phone bills, but a faulty Mic socket on the PC delayed us. Last week I finally got round to buying a USB microphone, down-loaded Skype and joined the VOIP revolution.
Having had a nice chat with the Skype answerphone to prove that everything was working there was a weird sense of uncertainty about what a live Skype call would be like - and would my set-up actually work?
So how do I find someone to talk to? Skype told me that 20 of my Outlook contacts had Skype - not a bad start I suppose. A morning test call to a friend in Knowle proved that the set up did indeed work, and I wasn't deafened by feedback.
Over the next few days I tried religiously to set my Skype status to On-Line or Away as I came and went from the PC. I added my Skype details to my email signature block and waited for my first "real" Skype call.
What surprised me was how quickly it came. And the next one, and the next.
So far I've had Skype calls to discuss agendas for meetings, content for a workshop I'm running in June, and some transatlantic discussions with a representative of the US Government about RSS feeds and web-based map-ping.
The quality has in most cases been very good. The only problem has been the mad panic as I go to answer a call only to find out that either the microphone isn't plugged in, or the loudspeakers are turned off.
Having sorted the basics out I'm now looking at SkypeOut and SkypeIn, that is linking my Skype phone to real phones, something that would have been particularly useful for the 45 minute presales call I had to a Canadian mobile last week.
I haven't tried the video calling yet either - do I really want people to see the untidy state that the kids have left the home-office in?
It seems like other people think the same, as several of my callers have also had webcam capability but haven't used it. The only thing missing? A "share document" or shared white-board feature so that we can do some real collaborative working.
Having used Skype for just a week or so I can see why eBay paid $2.6 billion for it last year.
As a hub around which to converge all sorts of on-line messaging and communications it's a great start. Add things like Skypecasts and text-to-speech systems and Skype could not only open the way for whole new ways of exchanging information, but also change the web out of all recognition, making it as much an audio playground as a visual one.
And what of the poor old phone companies?
In the old days we used to pay for complete, end-to-end services - telephone, TV, mobile phone etc. Some may still want to do that.
For others though, such offerings are becoming a combination of bandwidth (fixed or wireless), content (video, text or audio; one-toone, conference or broadcast) and value-add.
How we pay for those services, and how others make money from them, is changing as a result. We used to say that talk was cheap. Well now it really might be free - just expect to pay for it in other ways.