Online status and Skype-Me mode
The Insight series is about some less discussed features of Skype – the program and its features, the services, as well as the people and company running the whole show. By making Skype easy to use, we often make a deliberate choice to “hide away” some advanced features, as to not distract the entry-level users.
So the Insight series will be about things that are not obvious yet may boost your productivity and also be fun to use once you know a bit of background. Since most of Skype users are on Windows, the articles as well as screenshots will be mostly Windows-specific (but we might do some special “alternative” ones once in a while), but most of the concepts are applicable to Skype on all platforms.
The first one is gonna be about Skype online status. You may think “what’s there to talk? Just rightclick on the Skype icon, select Change Status and change it to anything you want and that’s it?” Yes, pretty much.
There are some things, though, that are good to know beyond this.
Ways to set your online status
There are three main places in Skype where you can set your online status.
- the System Tray menu, displayed on the screenshot above. Just right-click on the Skype icon in system tray, select “Change Status” and click on the desired status. This is useful if you prefer to keep your Skype main window hidden – you don’t have to open extra windows to change status.
- The status icon in lower left corner of the window. The Skype main window and all chat windows have a “Display/Change status” icon in the lower left corner of the window. It displays your current status. As the down arrow indicates, you can click on it to display dropdown of available statuses and click on them to change it.
- “Change Status” submenu in the “File” menu. This is one of the less used ways to change status, but it is useful if you have your main window open and like using the menus, especially if you have hidden your Skype status bar with View menu to conserve desktop space.
Auto-Away and Not Available
Skype can automatically set your status to Away and Not Available if you are away from your computer for a specified period of time. The default periods are 20 minutes for Away and 60 minutes for Not Available, but you can change them in Options. Which most people don’t do – so when someone is Away or Not Available, you can make a pretty educated guess of how long they’ve been away.
When you come back to your PC when the status was automatically set to Away or Not Available, Skype resets it automatically back to Online as soon as it detects mouse or keyboard activity, so you don’t have to do anything at all. You can, of course, set either status manually as well – in this case, they’re not reset to any other status automatically.
Custom status message
Skype does not have a “Custom mood/status message” feature yet. Still, it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t communicate any info beyond the standard profile fields. The way it’s done usually in the “Skype world” these times is that you add the extra info in your Full Name field, separating it from your name using the | (pipe) character. This way, it is displayed right away to those who are on your contact list, as seen below.
As you can see, a common usage for this “workaround” is to communicate your timezone info – very useful if you and your contacts travel a lot! However, setting it manually every time is bothersome, so we’re looking at ways of communicating the timezone and other custom mood/status info in a less painful way over the next Skype versions.
Common online statuses – Online, Away, Not Available, Invisible
The semantics (meaning) of these statuses is the same as in other Instant Messaging programs, so let’s just go over them briefly.
Online means you are available and ready to accept communication that is allowed by your privacy settings.
Away and Not Available mean you are logged on to Skype, but not using it currently or “distracted” for whatever reason. Many people set themselves to Not Available during off-hours or weekends – even though they’re online, they indicate they’d rather not be distracted and may not respond immediately.
Invisible works just like Online, except you are displayed Offline to others and there’s no indication you’re actually online, unless you initiate some contact yourself. Busy people often prefer this because it attracts less “attention”. On the other hand, if someone appears to be offline in your contact list, they may actually be in Invisible status – and if you have a really pressing need to contact them, you may still try to call or send a chat message. With luck, it may be delivered – or you may be able to leave them voicemail or the chat message will be delivered next time you are both online.
The Skype-Me mode
Skype-Me is a special mode in Skype, indicating that you are ready and willing to accept communications from strangers. When you set your status to Skype-Me, the following dialog box is displayed.
Apparently the text there is not that great and people don’t really bother to read it – we constantly hear from users saying “hey, I have my privacy settings set but I still get calls from unknown people”. Well this is the trick – Skype-Me mode temporarily disables your privacy settings, so that you can be contacted by anyone.
To go back to “normal”, just set your status from Skype-Me to anything else.
You can search for other contacts who are in Skype-Me mode to find “random new friends”. To do this, check the corresponding checkbox in the Skype search dialog.
Do Not Disturb
This status indicates that you do not wish to be contacted and even if you are, may not respond. Skype turns off most popups and notifications in this mode, so you can focus on anything else you are doing. All the incoming events are captured in the “missed events” area where you can review and click on them at a later time that suits you.
Offline vs Logged Off
Offline and Logged Off are two distinctly separate states and it is important to understand the difference between them for security reasons.
Offline indicates that you are not connected to the Skype “cloud”, but have still been authenticated as a Skype user and can go back online just by changing the status.
Logged Off is strictly speaking not an online status, but it is a state in Skype. The state is “user-less” – no Skype Name is authenticated and a proper logon procedure must be done before you can go any further.
Therefore, it is important that you don’t just go Offline when leaving your PC, but do “log off” instead. It is not always necessary when you are using other security methods such as locking your screen when you walk away (which is always a good idea), but it is certainly necessary to do a logoff procedure when you have been using Skype in an insecure/public environment, such as a net cafe.
To log off, just select “Log Off” from the File menu.
Authorizations and online status
You can see the online status of only those users who have authorized you to do so. Similarly, anyone who you authorize can see your online status, but no one else can.
If you have previously authorized someone but want him/her to stop seeing your online status, you can add that Skype Name to your local blocklist. That user will now see you always as Offline, and won’t be able to call or chat you.
Not covered here
This article doesn’t cover some advanced online status concepts such as working with it from devices/other programs using Skype over the API and displaying your online status on the web. (For the latter, there are third-party tools available – you might want to Google or search Skype forums.) We will discuss these, and more, in one of our next posts.