Skype’s Prime Balancing Act

Lost in all the blog posts on Skype Prime amid the speculation about how it could be used for a wide range of knowledge exchange and services is the prospect for conflict between Skype and its Extras Gallery partners, BitWine and Jyve. But first to put the motivation for using these services in perspective, I want to repeat the excellent Comment that Alon Cohen of BitWine put on Luca Filigheddu’s post:

A large portion of the world economy is based on paid services. In our days many of those services may be delivered over the Internet.

Premium services are similar to a Blog, the better marketing you have, the better content you provide the more readers you will have and higher monetization.

Information is free, knowledge is not. Customization of the flood of information to a nice answer for an urgent unique problem worth money to people who don’t have the time or the skill on a particular subject matter. They are the people paying for the services.

If you have the time and skills get the knowledge you need for free. No premium call system will change that.

Skype Prime is in a beta phase, initially putting out an incomplete offering while seeking feedback and information about:

  • what Skypers may want to offer as services,
  • the psychology behind the dialog between customer and service provider to establish credibility and value prior to delivering the knowledge,
  • how to build a network of trusted service providers
  • payment terms and refund logistics to ensure a "fair trade" for value

Some key questions:

  • How will Skype Prime differentiate itself from services already offered through "Extras Gallery" Partners Bitwine and Jyve?
  • What is the balance between Skype’s marketing of Extras Gallery products and services and the need for each service to do its own marketing to gain customers?
  • If Skype feels this is a key revenue generator, why did they take the "development" as opposed to the "acquisition" route to gain experience with these types of services and transactions.
  • How are the Extras Gallery partners reacting to this announcement?
  • How will Skype use this as an example of working with their partners to encourage both new and ongoing independent investment in Extras Gallery Partners businesses?
  • What logistics exist to ensure a "fair trade"? This includes how does the service establish credibility between provider and customer, what mechanism is in place to provide refunds if a customer is unsatisfied? How will Skype monitor and police service providers?

While all this speculation has been going on, I have been registering for all three services and had discussions with principals at all three. First let’s look briefly at the services:

  • Jyve, in its most simplistic description, provides a "Search" service that’s built around "live" human knowledge which, in turn, requires a significant volume of participants covering a very broad range of topics. Jyve executives have focused on developing the user experience. Fundamentally you can pose a question (much like a Google entry) and wait to see what responses come back from their resource base. Keys to their success are a huge user base of knowledge resources, a simple process for rapid notification and distribution of questions and relatively rapid response to queries. They rely on a database of information from their service provider resources which become "tags" used to identify participants who may have an answer to the relevant question; in effect this database becomes an "internal" directory. It does require a browser and/or a downloaded client (which is active in the System Tray). Their primary payment mechanism is via a "tip jar" but this can be extended to delivery of a service at either a metered or fixed rate. Jyve takes in 10% of the revenues.
  • BitWine is building a directory of knowledge resources which, in turn, is built around "marketing" information gleaned from each service provider, called Advisor, in establishing an account. This marketing information allows the Advisor to: describe (briefly), in text, their service and experience , list degrees and other qualifications, produce a short YouTube video, make a special offer and other information about the service. The Advisor must also register with PayPal (via Bitwine’s setup wizard). A prospective Client is presented with the information and a conversation can be initiated. This is where Bitwine’s patent pending payment system comes into play: the customer and service provider can enter into a brief dialog, establish a payment agreement, agree to turn on the meter or pay the fixed fee, and — at the end — the customer has the option to request a refund which is effectively provided instantly. The service provider is paid (via PayPal) almost immediately (<15 minutes). During their beta period, BitWine collects no fee; however, they expect to collect 10% to 15% when the service launches. Their payment algorithm all but eliminates the need for conflict resolution. They also have a feedback system that becomes part of the service provider’s "marketing" information described above. Bitwine operates through a client that either is accessed from the System Tray or can sit as a Toolbar on your desktop. You can promote your service via Skype’s mood message or via widgets that can be placed on a weblog or website.
  • Skype Prime (alpha) involves a registration process from within the Skype client; however, initially this registration process basically takes your name, contact and PayPal information and a very limited one-line service description. There is no directory (at this time); you promote your service via a (forthcoming) widget that can be placed on a weblog or website. When anyone calls you the "Caller" tab in your Skype client adds a "Charge" option which you then click on to request acknowledgement of becoming a "paid" call with either metering or a fixed rate; the metering can only be stopped by ending the call. Callers use up Skype Credits to pay; service providers receive payment via their PayPal account. Skype takes 30% of the fee and payment terms are four months. See Phil’s post on 30.120.0.30.15 for more information on rates and permitted charges. There are no mechanisms at this point for building a trust network or handling conflict resolution.

So we can start to see differentiation around:

  • Marketing and promotion of service providers
  • Service provider background information available to prospective clients
  • Query notification protocols
  • The user experience:

    • registration, making queries, obtaining responses, transaction processing
  • Payment methods and terms
  • Service provider fees
  • Limitations on fees charged
  • Establishment of trust between the client and the Advisor
  • Building trust networks
  • Feedback and rating logistics
  • Monitoring and policing of service providers.

If you are interested in becoming a service provider I would recommend going through the registration process for all three providers and experiencing the various aspects of a service listed above. You can access Jyve and BitWine via the Extras Gallery (Tools | Do More | Get Extras); you can access Skype Prime via Tools | "Earn Money with Skype Prime".

And if you are looking for premium information or services focused on your individual needs try one or more of these services. The bottom line for value creations is gong to be whether clients can be attracted to and satisfied by these services and in establishing how much demand exists for such services.

And put your feedback in the Comments for this post or post feedback on the Skype Prime public chat.

These are the questions to which we need answers as Skype works out how to maintain positive Extras Gallery Partner relationships. At the same time these betas will help to establish demand levels for such services. If it’s a multi-billion dollar market, there’s probably room for three players; if it’s weak the whole concept may be a fad and go the way of some other Internet-initiated services such as PointCast.

Note: the various service descriptions are only intended to provide a summary overview based on my discussions and experiences; please visit the services’ websites for more complete descriptions and to experience the services themselves.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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