Skype for distal interviews

Posted: April 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: research tools | Tags: | 1 Comment »

The case study that I’m currently working on required me to conduct interviews with a dozen people spread all across the United States.  Due to budget and time constraints, it would have been impossible for me do these interviews face-to-face.  Instead, I opted to conduct the interviews using Skype.

The basic Skype service, which is free and easy to download, allows computer-to-computer connection between Skype users.  The connections can be made using IM, voice, and video.  Using Skype was a very cost-effective method of conducting these interviews (an important criterion for a researcher working on a tight budget) and was also extremely convenient in that it allowed me to easily record and archive the interviews.

To use Skype you have to have some sort of device on which the program is loaded (a laptop, PC, Ipod touch, etc.) and you have to have an active Internet connection.  For most of my interviewees this wasn’t a problem, and so we used the free version of Skype to connect computer-to-computer.

Some of my interviewees, however, either wanted me to call them on their cell/home phones or they wanted to call me.  Skype can accommodate both of these scenarios.  What I did was subscribe to two of Skype’s additional services.

First, I purchased a subscription to Skype’s “Unlimited US and Canada” service, which lets you place an unlimited number of calls to phones in the United States and Canada.  At only $2.95/month, this was even cheaper than my landline. (Which I have since canceled, incidentally.  Take that, Qwest.)  With this service I could log in to Skype, select the “call phones” function, and easily call the cell phone or landline number that my interviewees had given me.

For those interviewees who wanted to call me, I set up an online Skype number.  The way this works is that you essentially buy a phone number from Skype.  The phone number can be “in” one of 25 countries.  I bought a US American number, meaning that the international code of my number is “1,” and it has a three-digit area code, just like any phone number in the United States.  If, however, you were doing telephonic interviews with people in Chile, Estonia, or Sweden, it would make sense for you to buy a number associated with those countries, so that your callers would not be incurring any international charges when they placed the call to you.

Of course, to receive calls placed to your online Skype number, you need to have the device which Skype is loaded on switched on, and you need to be connected to the Internet, and you need to have Skype running.  If any one of these conditions is not met and someone tries to call your online number, they won’t be able to connect with you.  Instead, their call will just go to your Skype voice mail account, which comes along with the service.

In my next posts I’ll write about Audio Hijack Pro, which I used to record my Skype interviews (with my interviewees’ informed consent, of course).  I’ll also write about obtaining oral informed consent in the interview scenario I’ve described here.