Searchable Discussions

I work from home, and in addition to a company mobile phone and email, my colleagues and I use Skype to keep in touch.  Not so much the voice, but the IM capability.

Now, I’m not a bad typist, but I do find four main problems with IM when discussing fairly complex subjects:

  • I can’t type as fast as I can think (and even that’s not very fast sometimes).
  • You can get the words across, but not the tone.  This sometimes leads to confusion, requiring even more typing (or resorting to a phonecall) to sort out.  You get a similar problem with SMS/text messages on mobile phones.
  • You can easily end up with multiple IM windows open at the same time, diluting your attention.
  • People don’t think for a second before popping up Skype and sending an IM, whereas before making a phonecall usually people will typically make sure it’s a good reason.

Sometimes I find I’m reaching for the phone when an IM chat goes overboard, but more often than not I stick to IM because it has some tangible benefits in the workplace:

  • You can put IM on “Do not disturb” mode, and give “callers” an insight into whether you’re likely to be able to receive them.
  • You can copy and paste information into IM.  For example in my job I deal a lot with barcodes, and I can tell you from experience that it’s soo much easier to copy and paste than try to read out a 24-digit numeric barcode or serial number.  Also, for developers sharing titbits of SQL code or hyperlinks, it’s invaluable.
  • Most importantly: conversations are searchable.  I know there are services out there that can transcript a telephone conversation, but that’s several orders of magnitude more complex than IM.

There are some excellent improvements that could be made to IM.  For instance, replacing the concept of Available/Unavailable status with the ability to “walk in and out” of a “room” would be an interesting new way of looking at things.

However as you can tell, I’m most interested in the ability to search.  My memory is awful, and to get the exact same detail from a conversation I had months ago is invaluable.

Trouble is, the only IM client that I’ve seen support searching properly is Google Talk.  GTalk chats are stored in your Google account alongside your email, and are searchable with the ubiquitous Google search engine. This is especially handy because you can search from anywhere in the world.  You don’t even have to be at your PC.

Skype has an incremental search facility, but the data is stored locally on your PC and is only available in a chat window, and the text in that window.  If you want to search for something said in a conversation a month ago, you’re going to have to get it to load all the conversation history.  To be fair Skype do offer a workaround for this but while it goes some way to blocking the gap, it’s not perfect.

So, the point of this post is that the main benefit of IM in the workplace is recorded and searchable conversations.  It’s no small wonder why IM client developers aren’t tapping into the power of this information by providing a more suitable mechanism.

So imagine my surprise, that while researching for this article I found a Skype plugin for Google Desktop Search.  Since I’ve only just found it I’ve not had chance for more than a quick go, but it’s a good start.

‘Till then, happy chatting!