Over the past few months I have been a frequent participant on Alec Saunders’ daily SquawkBox conference call where several of those involved in following today’s communications and web developments will discuss topics of the day. Subjects for yesterday’s call were the impact of the Internet on this years U.S. President campaign and Skype’s fifth anniversary today. Participants included Dan York of Voxeo, James Body of Truphone, William Volk of MyNumo (one of the more successful iPhone Apps developers) and Jonathan Jensen amongst others. The Saunderslog post is here.
The Skype discussion commences about half-way through the call. The one universal agreement was that Skype has succeeded because of the user experience. You can build all the communications technology you want but unless people can get all the way through the setup and readily make a call, people will not use it routinely. And the discussion highlights the importance of getting the Skype 4.0 user interface right but starting with some experimentation that challenges all of us to think through how to set up and manage a multi-modal conversation experience.. Some comments from the SquawkBox discussion:
- James Body: participating in a discussion at a smoke-filled bar in London with Nicklas just after Skype launched: “this proprietary thing will never work because it does not use SIP”. James then goes on to point out that if Skype had not had the success it has achieved, Truphone may never have been funded to the level they have obtained.
- Alec Saunders: basically it was the first VoIP-based service that “just worked”.
- I then discussed my memories of watching the Quarterdeck team develop WebTalk back in 1995 – and how our CEO of the day drove the engineers to make it work on 50MHz (not 50 GHz – a slip of the tongue) Pentium PC’s and over 14.4 kbps modems. But the overall infrastructure was just not there to let it become viable as a consumer in the 1996 time frame.Yes, having widely deployed broadband was one major contributor to the timing element that helped achieve Skype’s immediate success. (I did have WebTalk running over a 56kbps modem on a 100MHz Pentium but it was challenging to carry on a conversation. Yet a few small businesses did adopt it.)
- William Volk talked about the importance of usability. “Just because it – VoIP – works is not enough. Users are fickle. You will lose a significant number of users at each step where the process of installing and completing a call may fail. The user experience is everything.”
- Dan York the security expert amongst us, got into a discussion of how Skype worked when offerings such as NetMeeting and CU CMe just did not get significant traction. Firewall traversal across NAT – a major failing of SIP, the first true high quality wideband codec, and Skype’s inherent security are all features that impressed Dan.
But listen to the recording via the link/player on the Saunderslog post to get the full story, especially helpful for Skype employees involved in the Skype 4.0 beta.
And Happy Fifth Anniversary to Skype from all of us on the call! There are many challenges ahead as Skype liquifies communications – we look forward to the next generation of Skype under its new executive team. And thanks to the iotum team and SquawkBox producer Alec Saunders for making such a conversation feasible.