Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A workaround to a Skype interview and its advantages

In the modern digital age that we live in, Skype has helped us communicate with people who are on the other side of the planet through the internet.

Of late, this technique has been used by news channels for conducting interviews. 'The Stream' from English and Arabic news channel Al Jazeera is one such example. 

Conducting interviews with experts on a particular subject solely via Skype, 'The Stream' takes a look at international events and incidents throughout the globe which may range from mainstream current events such as the conflict in Mali to off-beat topics such as 'Voluntourism' which is rapidly growing in New Zealand as people volunteer their services for a charitable organisation while also getting to visit other nations.

But there are some nations in the world which have banned Skype for a multitude of reasons, ranging from security threats in countries such as Ethiopia to a vested interest in promoting one of their own VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services, as is the case in Oman, where I live.

While not technically blocked here, what it requires is for someone to get a license from the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority before using it.

The Russian Federal Security Service did try to block Skype, Gmail and Hotmail in 2011 after they were considered potential threats to national security following the hacking of one of Russia's most popular blogs and an independent newspaper, according to the Associated Press, but the Kremlin rejected their appeal.

The workaround

As part of my assignment, I had considered doing a Skype interview with a friend of mine, but knew that that would most likely be impossible because I live in Oman.

I also knew that any VPN services and IP address concealers would not work as they had been filtered by the government and any attempt to do so is considered illegal by the government.

My solution to the same, therefore was to interview my friend during a Google Hangout session. While Skype has been used to interview people in the past, Google Hangout has come to the fore only recently.

The concept

Once I had chosen to conduct an interview via Google Hangouts, I had to inform the right person and organise a back-up just in case things fell through.

The idea behind this was to show a working, viable alternative to Skype in places where it is banned, thereby still providing an ability to deliver news to the world on a particular topic.

I would also record the same using screen recording software.

The idea

My plan was to interview a Japanese national on the current state of affairs between the United States and Japan.

Since the end of the Second World War, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which was drafted by occupying forces of the United States of America (Dower, 1999) after the Second World War says that the Japanese people will waive their right to armed conflict accompanied by a lack of recognition to the right of belligerency.

The same is mentioned on the official website of Japan's Ministry of Defense.

"Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

"In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized." 

In its stead, there was the institution of the Japanese Self Defense Forces. The article on the Ministry website continues:

"Since Japan is an independent state, it is recognized beyond doubt that the provision in the article does not deny the inherent right of self-defense that Japan is entitled to maintain as a sovereign nation.

"On the basis of such understanding, the government has adopted an exclusively defense-oriented policy as its basic policy of national defense, has maintained the Self-Defense Forces as an armed organization and has taken steps to improve their capabilities and conduct their operations under the Constitution."

Given the alarming number of armed conflicts currently taking place across the globe and the role the United States plays in international relations, I wanted to get the opinion of the current generation on the alliance between the two nations, as a part of which the United States has established several military bases in Okinawa (Chanlett-Avery & Rinehart, 2012).

Moreover, diplomatic relations between Japan and the People's Republic of China are increasingly strained since Japan claimed sovereignty over the disputed Rukyu island chain which Japan calls the Senkaku and China the Diaoyu since the discovery of natural gas around the isles as mentioned in this article in The Economist.

For this purpose, I arranged to interview a Japanese friend of mine from Hiroshima. This was of further advantage to me due to the dropping of the atom bomb in 1945 over the city, leading to a potential change in attitude of the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the Americans.

Due to the sensitivity of this topic, I will not mention said person's name and other details, suffice to say that the above person knows what he/she is talking about.

I had also arranged for footage from Reuters and two documentary film makers. The Fukushima Film Collective had covered the speeches delivered by atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) on the subject of nuclear warfare, while David Rothauser had covered a memorial service that is conducted for hibakusha every year.

The Process

A day before the interview, I gave my friend a list of questions to provide answers to. 

I conducted the interview on Thursday afternoon at around five o'clock in the evening. The time difference between Oman and Japan is five hours. 

The entire conversation (with plenty of reminiscing) took around an hour, but I only took what was relevant for the interview.

Using screen capture software, I recorded the entire interview, edited it and then exported it in the form of an AVI file which was then worked upon using video editing software.

I had also taken screenshots of both Japanese and foreign newspapers with articles concerning Japanese policy. These along with the aforementioned footage were then overlaid on the interview, exported and then uploaded.

The Tools

As mentioned above, Google Hangouts was used to conduct the interview.

Camtasia Screen Capture software was used to record the screen, while Adobe Premiere Pro was used to edit it.

All screengrabs were edited using MS Paint.

Technical Difficulties

While conducting the interview via Google Hangout, I faced a lot of technical difficulties which are chronicled below:

1.) Noise from the internal microphone

I did not know this at the time, but the internal microphone I used to record the interview had static in the background which was heard during playback.

What I could have done is try to select the microphone on my headset as my default communication device or buy an independent microphone and plug it in.

On reflection, I should have first tried out my mic to see if it was fine and then downloaded software to eliminate that noise.

2.) The repetition of my voice on the speakers of my interviewee

While I had my headphones on, my interviewee was speaking into the internal microphone of his laptop. This meant that I was able to hear myself speaking twice, once when I spoke and the other when he received my questions.

I should have asked my interviewee to arrange for a pair of headphones to nullify that.

This meant that while his speech was recorded only once, mine was recorded twice and made for difficult interpretation while it was being viewed.

3.) Time lag between speech and video output during the interview

The reason for the above was the low bandwidth of a standard internet connection in Oman. This meant that while both mine and my interviewee's speech was mostly clear, the video broke constantly.

The only way to solve this would have been to increase the bandwidth of my connection thereby getting a new internet plan, because my laptop was right next to the wireless router. Using a LAN cable did not improve the situation.

The same is the reason for the low video quality, which at least could have been bettered by purchasing a web cam instead of using the in-built one.

4.) Voice breakage during the interview

Once again, this was a problem that could have been solved using a stronger connection.

During the interview, both our voices broke at times because of the distance between us and the previously mentioned low bandwidth.

It was also very noticeable immediately after one person had finished speaking and another had just begun to speak, usually when I asked my interviewee a question and said interviewee had just begun to answer.

That was also the reason there was a slight misunderstanding in the question-answer sequence wherein I interrupted my interviewee quite a few times.

5.) Slow render time

While using Adobe Premiere Pro, it took about an hour to render the video the first time. This was due to the availability of free RAM on my laptop.

I have eight GB of RAM on my system and in increase in RAM would have surely helped with that. That being said, it would have caused increased heating of the system, because my laptop came with only four GB to start with. I already use a cooling fan to negate the heating effect of the extra four gigabytes of RAM.

However I found out that allowing Premiere Pro to use previews of the edit decreased the render time from an hour and 12 minutes to around six minutes.

6.) Extremely slow YouTube upload speed

The estimated upload time for the uploading of the 13 and a half minute video was around two thousand minutes, or close to 35 hours.

While I do not upload very frequently onto YouTube, that meant it would take a little more than two hours to  upload one minute of the video.

An increase in bandwidth could have helped here.

7.) I should have dressed professionally

While this is not a technical error, it is important to dress professionally, even if this is only an experiment.

Professionalism gives you that extra edge and gets both you and your interviewee in the spirit of the interview, which varies greatly from subject to subject, as mentioned by Joan Curtis (Curtis, 2012)

A lot of these problems could have been solved if I had more time to work on the project. In addition, to reduce the number of glitches you face, experiment with the software with a friend before the actual interview, as I did with the Hangout software a friend in Australia.

The same is recommended in The Everything Job Interview Book: All You Need to Stand Out in Today's Competitive Job Market (Gensing-Pophal, 2011), which says that a large number of companies are now turning to videoconferencing as a mode of interviewing potential candidates.


The following are the merits of interviewing through Google Hangouts:

1.) It's free, which means you don't have to pay for calls unlike on Skype.

2.) Through Google Hangouts, it is possible to chat with multiple people, thereby allowing you to interview multiple people simultaneously, which is once again a Premium feature on Skype.

3.) Google Hangouts, like Skype, are easy to use in today's information age, and most people are comfortable with the utilisation of such digital technology (Lederman, n.d.)

4.) Sarah Blackford says that the presence of Skype (and by extension Hangouts) allows for national and international interviewing for little or no money (Blackford, 2012), as I have shown here.

5.) As demonstrated here, it greatly slashes costs in terms of telephone and - more importantly - travel bills - that are usually necessary during an interview according to Irving Seidman, who promotes the utilisation of Skype - and Google Hangout - interviews (Seidman, 2012).

6.) I interviewed an individual in Japan and carried out a test to see if the Google Hangout software worked by interviewing a friend in Australia, showing the wide variety of people I could interview via this method. The same is mentioned by Chris Grams (Grams, 2012)

The availability of Google Hangouts gave me a lift after I realised that the access of Skype in Oman was not easy. You don't have to agree with me, just ask Skype Product Designer Rodrigo Madanes, who says:

"The most important thing is that even though we felt in the in the '90s that the internet was having a big impact in people's lives, we're seeing in this decade that it is reconstructing a lot of industries and shifting a lot of value around while improving people's lives."
(Jones, 2008) 


The following are the disadvantages I encountered while using Google Hangouts:

1.) Like Skype, Google Hangouts poses the following problems, which have been chronicled by Joan Curtis (Curtis, 2012) :

  • There are distortions in the visual feed that is seen on-screen, which means that slight actions (such as a shrug of the shoulders) could be missed, thereby enabling either side to miss out on vital non-verbal signs of communication.
  • There is a time-lag between the audio and video input and output and this delayed reaction will lead to a potential misunderstanding or miscommunication between the two parties.
  • Poor quality or fuzzy video output is another issue that many people face during an online interview, which can be improved with a better internet connection.
I experienced all of these problems during my interview experiment.

2.) In an online interview, both parties generally tend to look at the other person on the screen, rather than at a the camera. It is important to maintain eye-contact during an interview to show that you are paying attention and not distracted during the interview. I remembered this during my interview, as recommended by Philip C. Kolin (Kolin, 2012).

3.) The above mentioned technical difficulties and glitches

4.) A dependence on technology, which means that a power failure or the crash of an Internet Service Provider at either end could result in the loss of your interview.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

The following are concerns of a legal and ethical nature that I had to face while conducting the interview:

1.) Given the sensitive nature of interview, I cannot disclose the name and other details of my interviewee. Clause 14 of the Code of Practice drafted by the Society of Editors (UK) says that journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.

2.) Chris Grams mentions that it is absolutely vital that you take permission - preferably in the form of written consent - before you begin recording your interview (Grams, 2012).

3.) Even if you have recorded your interview, there is an ethical dilemma wherein an interviewee can raise questions about whether the interview will actually be used for its intended purpose. A study by the Universite Laval in Quebec, Canada did some analysis on the subject (Bertrand and Bourdeau, 2012), which was then used in a European Conference on Research Methods in Business Management in Madrid, Spain.

4.) As mentioned above, there could be some nations where Skype and Google (as in Ethiopia) are banned by the ruling government, and your interviewee could be residing in said nation.

5.) Always remember to provide a copy of your final interview (if it's pre-recorded) to the interviewee, as Irving Seidman says that all interviewees have the right to review what they have said (Seidman, 2012) and failure do so could result in facing legal charges.

6.) As in the case of Skype, a Google Hangout interview may be used to contact somebody when he/she is at home, similar to the way my interviewee was. Make sure you don't intrude into their personal life, as they may not like it (Curtis, 2012) and stick to the subject.

7.) Any information that is recorded on Google Hangouts will surely have some copyright claim by Google and if this is to be used commercially, will have to be ratified by all parties concerned first.

8.) Never ever use an interview for anything other than its intended purpose. This will come back to bite you in a bad way.

Future potential:

Personally, I see Google Hangouts as a great way to conduct interviews, not just where Skype is banned, but in other regions as well.

A study conducted by the University of Laval, Quebec interviewed a total of five test subjects, all of whom said they would consider using Skype as a method of interviewing people (Bertrand and Bourdeau, 2012). The same idea can surely be used for Google Hangouts.

Outside the field of journalism, since several international companies throughout the world are turning to Skype when it comes to videoconferencing and interviews (Grensing-Pophal, 2011), Google Hangouts could also be used for conference calls and interviews.

Of course, to do all this, you need a Google account.

Until Next Time,



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