While this blog tends to focus on new developments and the role they can play in our future real time conversations, it sometimes pays to look back to see what has been accomplished. For 2007, these are, from my perspective, top ten accomplishments for the Skype ecosystem:
1. eBay CEO Meg Whitman states at an eBay quarterly analyst conference call, “Not enough focus on ‘Delight The User'”. Hopefully this is a high priority guiding principal in the search for a new Skype CEO. Great technology but needs the business development, marketing and leadership skills of a seasoned high technology executive to truly make Skype happen on a world market leader scale. End users need a delightful “total” experience, including user support, adequate and well timed announcement of changes to calling plans, more participation in the blogosphere, higher awareness and broader availability of Skype hardware … and the list goes on.
2. Skype High Quality Video: because it brings a whole new dimension and level of realism to real time conversations. Yes, to take full advantage requires a new webcam with enhanced optics, but my final selection came because of the very positive reaction and response of those whom I converse with and who receive my High Quality Video (Recipients don’t need all the requirements of senders — the past two weeks two parties have observed “my” High Quality Video on their Macs.) A success story involving not only Skype software but also hardware specifications and co-operative device driver development.
3. HD Voice –nobody has called it that specifically but here I pick up a term used to name a Fall VON session. I refer to wideband voice transmission covering a minimum 8Khz audio bandwidth (twice that of conventional telephony). Over the year Skype has been making gradual improvements to the Skype voice engine, including the codecs, such that today most Skype voice conversations can be held with a basic laptop, and no additional headset or microphone (provided one is available in the laptop) is required. Over Christmas I helped my son with a Skype for Mac installation; he made a call yesterday from his home that was very clear using his basic Mac speakers and mic. Each new version of Skype since Skype 3.2 has had some improvements but with Skype 3.6 I am getting many unsolicited comments about how it better handles lower Internet connection bandwidth configurations. And, should you use a headset, such as the FreeTalk Wireless Stereo headset, for, say, personal privacy or office etiquette reasons, you will find your other parties on the call “in your head”. HD Voice received additional support this fall when HiDef Conferencing became equipped with the ability to ensure all Skype participants on a conference call would experience HD Voice quality when conversing with other Skype users on the same call.
4. Mobile Access to Skype. We still don’t have a Skype client for three of the most popular mobile devices (Nokia, Blackberry, iPhone); true mobile VoIP requires not only either WiFi or 3G connectivity but also appropriate wireless network infrastructure to handle the capacity demands VoIP would place on a wireless network. However, we have seen the release of several offerings that provide a combination of an IM client for these platforms along with a protocol that allows easy access to the wireless network to complete a call from a mobile device at reduced costs. These include the 3 Skypephone, IM+ for Skype (even works on not only the iPhone but also iPod Touch), iSkoot and Fring.
5. Skype Developer Partner acquired: Pioneering Skype Developer Partner Webdialogs was acquired by IBM’s Lotus Sametime division in September. Certainly says that with the right technology and offerings there is potential for other Skype developer partners to lead the way to expanding the Voice 2.0 world where applications are the value generator. Question: will IBM’s Lotus Sametime license Skype technology for their own real time conversations capability?
6. Skype Developer Platform. While still requiring web services support to be offering a complete mashup development platform, the Skype Mashup contest and announcement of the Skype Public Platform Roadmap have brought enhanced awareness to this program. Partner PamConsult has led the way in demonstrating, with PamFax, how Skype technology, digital rights management and transaction engine can be combined to offer a carrier independent, worldwide service that requires only a Skype user account, an Internet connection but no additional hardware beyond a basic PC.
7. Disruption Rules: While PamFax can reduce the cost of those $1.00+ per page faxes from hotels, two Skype Partners have introduced products that portend for significant business model disruption:
- OnState’s Call Center brings a “no hardware” solution to the call center space. Whereas a full call center previously required a low six figure investment in a PBX, as well as IT support and other infrastructure, OnState’s Call Center has the cost of a PC for each agent along with a $30 per month per agent ongoing subscription fee with no long term commitments.. Suddenly call centers become viable both for even the smallest business and for remotely located, geographically distributed employees.
- Vapps, Inc.s’ HiDef Conferencing provides hosted business grade conference calling (with HD Voice support as mentioned above) that is robust, reliable, scalable and supports up to 500 participants on a call. For as little as $25 per month to as much as $200 per month you can have 10 to 500 Skype participants with unlimited minutes as well as 300 to 5,000 toll-free minutes for callers from the legacy phone network. Six years ago $200 got me one hour of a five-party conference call. (Jan 2009 Update: HiDef Conferencing has been acquired by Citrix and is offering free trial calling until February 15, 2009.)
8. Innovation Rules. Whereas disruption requires the displacement of legacy business processes, innovation brings new services that allow new, previously unavailable (business) processes to happen:
- For instance, there is a Vosky distributor in Texas who has worked with a local social service agency to provide much more effective counselling services by bringing into the monthly review of “challenged” children’s education the child’s teachers located at the school during a social worker’s monthly visit to parents at home.via Skype conference calling.
- But we also are seeing innovative new services such as Evoca’s Media Service. This involves a hosted “Get a Phone for your Website” audio service that provides for asynchronous voice conversations being used, for instance, by Discovery Channel, with user access from either Skype or a legacy telephone.
- Collaboration: there are three different collaboration services, each addressing its own market niche. I label these services as innovative as they bring entirely new processes to business for both internal and external conversations, especially businesses that are geographically disbursed.
9. Skype Toolbars: For some time Skype has offered toolbars which make Skype calling more readily accessible in common applications such as Outlook, Internet Explorer and Firefox. In fact, the Skype Outlook Toolbar and Firefox extension have both become routine elements of my everyday communications operations. (Remember, I don’t dial phone numbers, I call people with real names.) Two weeks ago, Skype released a new version of the Skype Outlook Toolbar which has optimized Skype-enabled operations within Outlook while eliminating a couple of “nuisance” bugs in the previous version. However, the browser toolbars became embedded into the standard Skype installation but should you elect not to install them, you now have to re-install Skype itself. This is one example where Skype needs to “Delight the User” by restoring the ability to install these Toolbars individually when they were not installed at the time of Skype installation.
10. Skype Public Chats: Since first introduced in May, I have been a participant on several group chats, the most enduring being the Skype 3.x Discussion chat where several Skype enthusiasts share their thoughts and ideas. One interesting aspect of this particular chat is that a few members of the Skype Developer team and Skype PR people monitor the session and, when appropriate and not in conflict with “company policy”, participate in the conversation as well as provide notification about new releases, etc. It was a rather heated discussion on this public chat that lead to this Skype Journal post about restoring a “geek” feature buried in Skype related to Skype video. Another Public Chat was open during the beta testing of the Skype Outlook Toolbar; no doubt its input, and ability to bring out common issues, contributed to the robustness of the newly released Skype Outlook Toolbar.
11. (I can’t stop at 10): And for the 11th accomplishment: Skype Technology Licensing: In my recent interview with Sten Tamkivi, GM of Skype Estonia (a detailed post to follow), he mentioned that Skype is migrating its development focus to becoming a platform developer from simply a client and services developer. In addition to a platform for Partners (discussed above), the recent licensing to MySpace is the first in the series of what they hope becomes Skype infrastructure technology licensing deals with other services as their route into, say, providing social networking infrastructure.
From my perspective these have been the top accomplishment within the Skype ecosystem in 2007. It has resulted in a cost effective conversation ecosystem that has no equal amongst VoIP service providers. However, this ecosystem is not near demonstrating its full potential; hopefully eBay will announce a new CEO soon who captain the ship into providing a “delightful user experience” at full sail.
Next: My projections for 2008. Related “Skype Primer” posts:
- A Backgrounder
- Enabling Real Time Communications
- Skype Hardware – If and When Available
- Skype’s Extras Gallery and Developer Partner Program
- Mobile Conversations
Tags: Skype, eBay, Meg Whitman, High Quality Video, HD Voice, Skype Developer Program, OnState, Evoca, PamFax, Convenos, Yugma, Unyte, PamConsult, Skype Public Chat, MySpace, HighSpeedConferencing.com, FreeTalk Wireless Stereo Headset, Vosky, Skype Outlook Toolbar, IBM Lotus Sametime
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