Posts categorized "Skype"

Updated "Directory Dilemma" Article Now On CircleID...

Back in December, 2014, I published a post here called "The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App". After receiving a good bit of feedback, I've now published a new version over on CircleID:
The Directory Dilemma - Why Facebook, Google and Skype May Win the Mobile App War

I incorporated a good bit of the feedback I received and also brought in some newer numbers and statistics. Of note, I now have a section on WebRTC where I didn't before. You'll also notice a new emphasis in the title... I'm now talking about the potential winners versus the challengers. I also chose "Directory Dilemma" not only for the alliteration but also because the situation really isn't as much a "problem" as it is an overall "dilemma". It may or may not be a "problem".

I'm not done yet.

I'm still seeking feedback. I intend to do yet another revision of this piece, but in doing so intend to:

  • Change it from the informal tone at the beginning to more of a "paper" style;
  • Include a bit more about potential solutions.

Comments and feedback are definitely welcome... either as comments here on this site, on social media or as email to "[email protected]".

I'm not sure when I'll do that next iteration, but probably later this year.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. An audio commentary on this topic is available... see the embedded audio plater at the bottom of this post... (below the graphic)

Directory dilemma

Jim Courtney Discussing His "Experience Skype To The Max" Book on March 27 on VUC at Noon US EDT

Vuc534 skype to the maxWant to learn more about what's up with Skype right now? Tomorrow, March 27, 2015, at 12 noon US Eastern, my friend Jim Courtney is going to be discussing the new second edition of his "Experience Skype to the Max" on episode 534 of the VoIP Users Conference (VUC) podcast.

As noted on the VUC page, Jim will be talking about:

  • New features over the past three years and why they don’t have the “buzz” impact that new features used to have. Are we becoming calloused to anything new?
  • The challenge of innovating with a product that has built up a legacy and familiarity
  • The challenge of educating users about features beyond free voice and video calling (and it’s also a challenge for smartphones – to make users realize there is value in all those applications available beyond voice calls and SMS messages).
  • The feature set to consider when evaluating other alternatives
  • The directory issue
  • Skype vs Skype for Business
  • Asynchronous vs real time comms (migrating to IM backend has allowed more “persistence” with chat messaging, for instance)
  • Anytime communications Rooms

It should be a good session. I've known Jim for many years through his blogging about VoIP and he has a great amount of knowledge about Skype. Sadly, I'll be occupied with IETF 92 activities during the live broadcast so I will have to catch up with the recording of the session.

It's probably best to also join the IRC backchannel where links are shared, questions are answered and other comments occur. You also can visit the Google+ event page for the VUC #534 session today where there may be additional links and info.

If you won't be at your computer, you can also call in via:

  • sip:[email protected]
  • +1 (646) 475-2098

The session will of course be recorded so you can listen/watch later. Here is the YouTube live video stream:

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Skype Translator Looks Intriguing

While it is only a "preview" release and is only available to people using Skype on Windows 8.1, Microsoft's new Skype Translator announced on Monday looks very cool! As they state:
The preview program will kick-off with two spoken languages, Spanish and English, and 40+ instant messaging languages will be available to Skype customers who have signed-up via the Skype Translator sign-up page and are using Windows 8.1 on the desktop or device.

The very well-done video shows the real potential, though:

I think many of us have always wanted the Star Trek Universal Translator and while this "preview" from Microsoft is not yet near that sci-fi ideal, it's definitely a very intriguing step along that direction. I like the idea that it can do both speech and text translation. Given my travel to different parts of the world, the idea of being able to whip out my smartphone and be able to translate to and from another language is definitely welcome.

I'm told the Windows 8.1 restriction is because it is based on Microsoft's Cortana 'personal assistant' technology. Given that I have no Windows 8.1 devices nor expect to anytime soon, I won't personally get a chance to check out this Skype Translator preview. (Although obviously I would expect Microsoft is hoping that perhaps this may help drive some people to use Windows 8.1.)

On a macro level, I think it's great that Microsoft/Skype is undertaking this kind of research and development. Certainly anything that can help bridge communication challenges is welcome in this global age!

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The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App

Skype directoryAs much as I am enjoying the new Wire app, there is a fundamental problem that Wire faces... as well as Talko, Firefox Hello and every other Over-The-Top (OTT) or WebRTC application that is seeking to become THE way that we communicate via voice, chat and/or video from our mobile phones and desktops. That is:
How do they gather the "directory" of people that others want to talk to?

The fundamental challenge all of these applications face is this:

People will only USE a communication application if the people they want to talk to are using the application.

And where I say "talk" it could also be "chat" or "message" or... pick your communication verb.

It's all about the "directory" of users.

There's a war out there right now... and it's a war for the future of our communications between each other. It's a war for messaging... and it's also a war for voice and video.

And it all comes back to... which communications application or service can provide the most comprehensive directory of users?

Which communications tool will be the one that people use the most? Will any of them replace the default communications of the mobile phone?

NOTE: A number of updates have been added to the bottom of this post.

Today's Fragmented User Experience

The reality is that today we use several different tools for real-time communications ... and that creates a bit of a frustrating user experience. If I want to send a message to Joe, do I send him a message on Skype? Facebook? WhatsApp? Google+? Twitter? SMS? iMessage? BBM? Wire? email?

If I want to call him and speak via voice or video, do I use Skype? Facebook Messenger? Google+ Hangouts? Facetime? Wire? Talko? Viber? Firefox Hello? <insert WebRTC or OTT app du jour here>? Or just call him on his regular old phone line?

By trial and error we start to figure out which of the people with whom we regularly communicate are available over which channels. Certain family members may be through Facebook... others through WhatsApp or Skype. Work colleagues through Jabber or Yammer... except for some of them who primarily use Skype. These friends detest Facebook and so they are in Google+ ... and then there's that guy who thinks all of these new apps are junk and only wants to talk to you via SMS and phone.

It's a mess.

And every new app and service wants to fix it... and wants to be THE communications application/service that you use.

Skype/Microsoft Has A Directory

Over the years, I think it would be impossible to count the number of times we've seen new communications applications trumpted as "Skype-killers". "This new app/service WILL be the one to replace Skype. It's new. It's better. It supports (something). Everyone will switch and the world will be so much better!"

Except they don't switch.

Even when Skype's audio quality is no longer what it once was.

And why not?

Because Skype has a massive user directory.

When I speak at a conference I can ask the attendees "who has a Skype ID?" and usually almost every hand goes up. They may not use Skype as their primary communication tool, but they have an ID. They can be found on Skype.

Now a large part of this is because Skype has now been around for over 11 years and truly led the disruption that "consumer VoIP" has caused in the larger telecom industry. Part of it is that Skype prioritized the user experience and made it drop-dead simple to install and use. Part of it is that Skype made it easy to find other Skype users.

But the point is that Skype amassed this huge directory - and now is the default way that many of us communicate via voice or video over the Internet. Certainly many of us, myself included, would like a better mechanism at this point... but we still use Skype because that's where the people are! The directory of users is there.

Facebook Has A Directory (Two, Actually)

Facebook messenger callWhen it comes to a user directory, certainly one of the biggest in the world right now is Facebook. With over a billion users Facebook has an enormous ability to connect people together.

With Facebook Messenger, they are definitely aiming to replace SMS and become THE messaging application you use on your mobile phone.

And now in many regions of the world, Facebook lets you initiate voice conversations through simply clicking on a telephone icon in the Messenger interface.

They make it simple and easy... and it works because "everyone" has a Facebook account (or at least 1 billion people do).

Facebook has a massive user directory.

(Of course, every chat and voice conversation can then be mined for data for Facebook advertisers... but that's a topic for another post...)

Facebook actually as two massive user directories if you consider that they also own WhatsApp and most stats right now say that WhatsApp has over 600 million users. (Which is actually more than Facebook Messenger, which recently crossed the 500 million user mark.)

Put these two together and while there is certainly duplication between the two directories, they do represent a huge directory of users.

P.S. And Facebook actually has a third user directory in the form of Instagram (which now has 300 million users)... but we've not yet seen them do anything with real-time communications there.

Google Has A Directory

And then of course Google has its own massive directory. Everyone who has a "Google Account". Every Gmail user. Every Google+ user. Every Google docs user.

Hundreds of millions of Google users.

Google's focus today seems to be on Hangouts, which is available from the desktop and also from the iOS and Android mobile platforms. While Hangouts started out inside of Google+, Google has separated the application out. I'll note that just today they are rolling out a new version of Hangouts on Android that lets you add your phone number so that you are easier to find. They may at some point also integrate their Google Voice offering better into Hangouts.

Apple Has A Directory

Apple idIt goes without saying that Apple has its own massive directory from the hundreds of millions of iPhone and Mac users, almost all of whom get integrated into Apple's iMessage and Facetime services through their Apple ID. With iMessage and Facetime, Apple's directory includes my own phone number, as well as my email addresses.

Apple also makes the user experience insanely simple. When I go to call a contact, I am offered the choice of calling them via Facetime (audio or video) or the regular phone. When I send a message, Apple automagically sends the message over iMessage if the recipient is registered in Apple's directory. As a user I have no clue about this unless I realize that "blue bubbles" are iMessage and "green bubbles" are regular SMS.

The point is that Apple can do all this and make it so simple because they have this massive user directory.

LINE And WeChat Have Directories

While we in North America don't tend to know their names, there are apps building huge user directories in Asia. WeChat, based in China, now has over 468 million monthly active users worldwide. LINE, out of Japan and used in much of Asia, has over 170 million monthly active users. There are others such as KakaoTalk in Korea that have large directories.

The Telcos Have Directories

Of course, the original user directories for mobile phone users reside with all of the mobile service providers / telephone companies. They have the customer names and phone numbers. Their challenge is one of sharing that information between each other - and also their general challenges with embracing the world of OTT communications apps that threaten their basic revenue streams.

Some telcos have tried - and continue to try. Telefonica had "Tu ME" and now has "Tu Go". Orange has Libon. T-Mobile did have "Bobsled" but that seems to have disappeared. And then of course there was (and still is, although on life support) Joyn, the traditional telcos attempt to provide rich communication services and fight back against OTT apps. As Dean Bubley wrote at the time, RCS/Joyn was in trouble from the start and now seems to have faded from consideration.

I should note that Telefonica is doing some great work in the WebRTC space and is involved with Mozilla's latest Firefox Hello effort. There are other traditional carriers who are also doing some good work with WebRTC and other OTT works ... but I've still not really seen any of them figure out how to tie their apps and services back to the large user directories they collectively have.

Everyone Wants To OWN The Directory

Notice a common thread across all of these directories?

They are all owned / controlled by corporations - some of whom are among the largest in the world.

They have NO interest in sharing their directories.

They are all about the "lock-in".

Well... I should say... they are glad to "share" in the sense that they are glad for you to use their directory as a source of identity in your application or service. "Login with Facebook" or "Login with Google" or "Login with Twitter" ...

A better way to say it would be:

They have no interest in federation / interoperability between directories.

They want to own the directory. They want to be THE source of "identity" ... but that's a topic for yet another post.

And each of the ones I've listed is a commercial entity with their own investors or shareholders and their own ideas of what they will do with your data and your communication...

(NOTE: This is not a new problem - I wrote about "walled gardens" back in 2007 with regard to email and messaging - some names have changed but the problem remains.)

One Directory To Rule Them All?

Amidst all this we've seen various attempts to provide a global directory for IP communications. ENUM was one in the open standard space, but the original vision of "public ENUM" ran into a barrage of security and privacy issues and faded from view. (ENUM is still heavily used within SIP-based networks either within telcos or within peering relationships between telcos.)

On the corporate side, he original Google Voice was an attempt to put users in control, at least as far as a telephone number. Give out one number and have it ring many devices or apps. The .TEL people tried this with their original vision for that top-level domain. iNum tried to offer this with their numbers. Many other attempts have been made...

The question with all of these is how to make the directory accessible to other entities in a secure fashion - and how to deal with privacy issues, telemarketers, spammers, attackers, etc.

Back to the "Directory Problem"

How, then, does a new startup like Wire or Talko or Firefox Hello or whoever-releases-their-WebRTC-app-today build up a significant enough directory of users so that the application is usable by large numbers of people?

How do they compete with these massive user directories being built by Facebook, Google, Apple and others?

I don't know.

(If I did I'd probably start up a company... ;-) )

What I do know is that, as I said in my initial thoughts on Wire, "my iPhone is littered with the dead carcasses of so many other apps that have launched trying to be THE communication platform we all want to use."

Some may opt to use the identity systems of one of the major vendors mentioned before - but now you are putting your user directory in the hands of some other entity and relying on them to be there. And... you are excluding people who may not use that system.

Some apps/services may make it easy for you to "find your friends" through using your "social graph"... the connections you have on Facebook, Google, etc.

Some apps use your phone number as an identifier, but they still have to build up their own directory of users.

I don't know the answer... but I see this as a fundamental challenge for any new entrant in the space. How do they gain the directory of users so that people will be able to communicate with others using this new service?

THAT is what the team at Wire needs to answer... and Talko... and every other app.

Unless, of course, they just want to be happy as a smaller, more niche player.

But most of these apps and services want to be THE communication platform you use more than any other. Their success - and funding - is tied to that goal.

A Final Thought - The Bigger Picture

Let me end with one thought... this "directory problem" is in fact tied to the larger challenge of "identity" on the Internet. Back in the pre-Internet days our "identity" for real-time communications was simple - our telephone number. We might have had several phone numbers, but they were ours and they were/are globally unique and globally routable.

With the Internet, we gradually moved to where email addresses were (and still are in many ways) our "identity" online and became the identifiers that we used for many forms of communication.

BUT... when we've moved to IP-based real-time communications, first with instant-messaging / chat and then with voice and video, we've also moved into a realm of fractured identities and identifiers with, as noted above, many different companies vying to have us use their system so that their directory is the most complete and comprehensive.

I do definitely worry about a future in which our identities and the user directories are controlled by large corporations. This, to me, seems like it could be a severe barrier to the "permissionless innovation" that has brought about the "Internet of opportunity" that we have today.

I'd like to hope that we'll arrive at some form of distributed and decentralized identities and directories that can be federated together so that people can find each other. (Which is why I'm intrigued by what the folks and others are doing.) I do worry, though, that the financial incentives are there for the larger corporate players to fight each other for dominance... and leave us regular users of the Internet without a choice.


An audio commentary on this topic is available on SoundCloud:

UPDATE #1 - On Twitter, Aswath Rao asserted that Firefox Hello doesn't have the directory problem because it provides a way to pass a URL out to anyone so that they can simply call you at that URL. I documented this myself in a post back on December 2nd. I can see his point, but I would argue that for Firefox Hello to be truly useful to me in my regular ongoing communications, I need some form of a "directory", either as a directory in the cloud maintained by Mozilla, or as a local address book in my Firefox browser that keeps track of those URLs. To the degree that Mozilla wants to let Firefox Hello users build up their contact list, I think they still have this issue of building the directory.

UPDATE #2 - In the comments to this post, Tim Panton points out that in many cases people do not want to be contacted. I agree, and in fact I think that the prevalence of email spam is in part what has driven so much of us to separate (walled gardens) messaging apps such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. Within those walls I have MUCH stronger control over who may contact me at what point. I do agree that any communications app/service needs those kind of controls - whether that is part of the directory or part of the client application or in the service infrastructure seems to be a bit of an implementation consideration.

UPDATE #3 - The folks at FireRTC contend that they don't have to worry about the directory because they are leveraging PSTN telephone numbers. As I replied, they can certainly use the phone number as an identifier to locate other users. This is a great idea and is done by many similar apps, including Facetime, WhatsApp, Viber and more. BUT... all that does is help bootstrap the directory creation process. They still have to build their directory so that users of their app can find and contact other users.

UPDATE #4 - Aswath and I have been engaged in a Twitter discussion where he points out that WebRTC addresses can be much more decentralized like email addresses have been. He argues that they can provide much greater richness and freedom than a static directory of users.

He's right... BUT... we now come back to the "discovery" issue that directories also address. How do I find your WebRTC URL to call you at? Sure, you can email it or IM it to me ... and I can then store it in my address book or contact list. But somehow I have to get it first - and I have to know that it is the current and best address to use for you.

I often use Facebook to send a private message to someone because it's easier than finding their email address and sending them a message. Now, if I synced my contact lists across all my devices perhaps it would be easier... but I don't and so sometimes FB messaging is easiest. I can see the same kind of thing happening with WebRTC URLs.

UPDATE #5 - In response to this post, Phil Wolff wrote a long series of tweets with ideas for further research on this topic.

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Walk-Through: Skype 5.4 For iPhone Lets You Host Audio Conference Calls

Skype 5 4 for iosSkype released a new version 5.4 of it's iPhone app that includes an interesting ability to host "group audio calls". In a post on Skype's "Garage & Updates" blog today, Skype's Gary Wong writes that the goal of this release is "to make it easy for you to host a group audio call with just one tap." They did that... and I'll show that below in a series of images walking through the process.

A couple of caveats and thoughts from the testing:

  • As Gary Wong noted in his blog post this first release is limited to four people in a group audio call.
  • It seems from the testing described below that the "group audio call" is limited to Skype users. I couldn't find a way to add in a call to an external phone number.
  • It also seems to be limited to the iPhone and is not yet available on the iPad.
  • Image sharing isn't seamless between Skype for iPhone users and Skype desktop users.
  • The user interface was a bit troubling when switching between parts of the group call.

With that in mind, here are more details...

An Architecture Change For Audio Conferencing

What's interesting is that this capability is a change from the way that Skype has historically "hosted" audio conferences. With the existing Skype desktop clients, when you launch an audio conference call, your computer does all the mixing of the audio streams.

For this reason, if you want the best quality audio conference (or "group audio call"... I note that Skype is pointedly avoiding using the term "conference call") your smartest plan is usually to find the person with the fastest computer and fastest Internet connection. The combination of those two factors can make your audio call work the best.

Perhaps obviously, as powerful as they are, today's smartphones aren't going to have the CPU or bandwidth to do all the mixing of the audio streams and sending them back out to all participants.

So this new "group audio call" feature from Skype has to be using some audio mixing happening back in servers in Microsoft/Skype's "cloud" (also known as their "central data centers"). Your iPhone then becomes the control center for the group audio call and also sends your audio stream and receives back the mixed audio stream.

Walking Through Group Audio Calls

Naturally I had to try this out and enlisted the help of two long-time fellow testers - Jim Courtney and Phil Wolff.

Part of this new feature is that there is now a "phone" icon at the bottom of every chat window on your iPhone. A simple tap of that phone icon will initiate a group call with "everyone" in that chat. I didn't have Jim and Phil in a group chat smaller than the 4-person limit, so I started out with a regular voice call via Skype to Jim. I then tapped on the "add a person" icon in the lower right and added in Phil. As the call was connecting to Phil, here is what it looked like:

Skype 5 4 p2

After Phil accepted the call, I could tap on the "multiple person" (or "group") icon at the top and see a list of who was on the call:

Skype 5 4 p3

Tapping the "star" icon on the bottom would add this to my "Favorites" in the iPhone Skype client. Tapping the "..." button brought up a small set of options:

Skype 5 4 p4 0

Choosing to "rename group" let me give it a new name ("Testing Skype") which then appeared at the top of the window:

Skype 5 4 p4 1

Now, Jim and I were both using Skype on our iPhones while Phil was connected using Skype on his Mac. Neither Jim nor I could easily figure out how to start a text chat, but as part of the call Phil had a chat open up in his Mac Skype client. Once he typed in that, Jim and I both had a chat window on our iPhone:

Skype 5 4 p5

Jim and I could then enter in messages in our iPhone clients without any problems. I also had a Mac Skype client open and Jim had a Windows Skype client open and we could see the chat messages there, too, and could type messages in those clients - it all worked fine.

One interesting issue was the support of sharing files or photos across the clients. When Phil dropped a photo into the chat on his Mac desktop client, I was unable to see it in my iPhone:

Skype 5 4 p6

Tapping the "i" icon next to the message brought me to a page explaining that the iPhone client only used Skype's new "cloud-based" photo sharing service. Curious to explore this more, I tapped the camera icon and shared out an image I had on my iPhone. The result was visible to both Jim and I (and no, that's not me but rather a contractor working on our house):

Skype 5 4 p7

However, now Phil was not able to see the photo in his Mac desktop client (nor was I) but was instead directed to go to a URL in his browser to see the image:


Phil said on our call that in order to view that photo he had to login to his Skype account. After our 10 minutes or so of testing this, Phil dropped off and navigating back to the "call" screen I could see that he was no longer on the call:

Skype 5 4 p8

At this point I could have tapped on the green phone icon to bring Phil back in, but we were done.

When this was over, I did now have my new "Testing Skype" chat with Jim and Phil in it - and at the bottom was a phone icon. Jim tapped the phone icon on his iPhone and reconnected all three of us into a call.

Final Thoughts

If I used Skype on my iPhone a great amount, I could see how this feature would be quite useful for initiating group audio calls. I could create a "group" (effectively a "chat") with a group of people and add that to my "favorites". Then I could simply go into my "favorites" on my iPhone client and initiate the call. Obviously the initial four-person restriction limits the usefulness to only small teams/groups right now, but presumably Microsoft/Skype will raise that limit over time as this feature rolls out more.

The audio quality was fine. I didn't see a way to find out the technical details, but the audio sounded high quality, i.e. it was using Silk or another wideband codec to give rich audio.

I did find the navigation to be a bit cumbersome and not intuitive. Switching between the chat window, the "call status" window (showing the participants) and the regular call window was not as easy as I would have liked. It took some poking and tapping to figure out how to move around.

We did wonder why Skype was rolling out this particular feature right now. Phil wondered if there might be competitive pressures with Apple's announcements coming on Tuesday - for example, will we see group audio calls for Apple's Facetime? We'll have to tune in to see!

It also may purely be Skype seeking to reclaim some of the leadership on features for OTT voice apps given that so many other players have entered the market. Whatever the case... the feature is now out there and available for iPhone users.

If you'd like to try this out yourself, you should be able to download an update from the AppStore.

If you have already tried it, what do you think?

An audio commentary on this topic is also available on SoundCloud:

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Why Is Skype Forcing A Software Upgrade On All Of Us? (Plus The Community Outrage)

Today when I opened up my laptop and switched to Skype, I found that I had been logged out:


The text in that image says:

We've signed you out because you're using an outdated version of Skype. Download the latest version now.

Now, to be clear, I wasn't using an ancient version of Skype. My laptop had version from sometime in, say, March 2013 - so yes, it was over a year old, but the thing with Skype is that it has had a history of always "just working", which perhaps we as users have gotten used to. The upgrade went fine on my MacBook Pro that is still running Mountain Lion (10.8) and I'm now using Skype version "6.15 (334)".

Community Outrage

In a Skype public chat in which I participate a number of other users said they'd been logged out - and looking in the Windows Skype community and Mac Skype community web forums I see MANY messages from people who are experiencing problems over the past week. The frustration is even visible in the Linux Skype community (a community Skype has often ignored), where a staff moderator posted last Friday, August 1, this message:

From today, users with Skype for Linux version 4.2 and older will not be able to sign in to Skype. The error messages user will see during sign in may include “Can’t Connect to Skype” or ”Can’t login on Skype”. To continue using Skype, please update to the latest version.

The replies mostly indicate that the "new" version of Skype won't work on various configurations of Linux. The 99th response to the threadperhaps sums up the anger best:

In all your web content you people claim that forcing us to drop 4.2 and move to 4.3 improves our lives and makes our Skype experience better. If you have bothered to read all the responses in this topic, by now I hope you understand: YOU ARE NOT MAKING SKYPE BETTER FOR US. 4.3 breaks audio compatibility. Pulseaudio does not work with my USB external audio equipment, and running it causes my other audio-based apps to stop working. If you want to make Skype better for us, put ALSA support back in. Or release the source code so we can do it ourselves. Or stop blocking 4.2 so we can continue using the version that DOES make our lives easier. What you have done to Skype is an abomination.

You can see similar sentiment in the lengthy thread in the Mac community. Here's the 78th message in the thread:

Hello. Okay, straight to the point. THIS is not a solution. I've tried many times diferent ''approaches'' to this problem. From trying to use an old version 2.8 to just plainly updating in the skype app as asked (which I downloaded and when I tried to sign in it logs me out cuz its asks AGAIN for the update); I even tried unistall skype and download it again, but everything fails. And no, I won't update to Mavricks; I'm fine with the current version I have; thanks. So, plz, I do like skype, its awesome for work (which I use EVERYDAY) and keep in contact, but this is waaaaaaay out. PLEASE GIVE A SOLUTION. THANK YOU. :happy:

A big issue in reading the threads seems to be that many people still need to use older versions of their base operating system - and the latest versions of Skype will not work with those operating systems. Here's an example:

I'm ready to drop Skype. I do not allow even APPLE to tell me how to configure my computer, much less MICROSOFT (who owns skype since 2011). There is no way I'm upgrading to Mavericks. Absolutely no need, and I still use applications that require Rosetta, which is not available in anything past 10.6.8.

Bye bye skype. I'll use it on my iPhone, but no more on my desktop, and if it gets weird on my iPhone skype will simply lose a customer. Period.

There are MANY more examples... and many more in the Windows community as well. All in all it seems that this "forced upgrade" is not going down well with many people.

Skype's Statements

As far as I can see, Skype is pointing people to this support article about upgrading that says:

We want everyone to experience the best Skype has to offer – from enhanced quality to better reliability to improved security – and the newest version of Skype is the way to do that. So everyone can benefit from the latest improvements, from time to time we retire older versions of Skype across all platforms, including mobile devices. It’s easy to update Skype; once you do, you’ll have access to the latest features our team has worked hard to deliver.

When we retire older versions of Skype, if you are still on an older version, you would be signed out of Skype automatically and won’t be able to sign in again until you upgrade to a new version. Simply follow the steps below to download, install, and sign in to the latest version, and you’ll be back in Skype in no time.

Skype also provided a bit of a preview of this action in a July 16, 2014, blog post titled "Update Skype now to improve your experience" where they trumpted all the benefits of upgrading and included one little line about the impending retirement:

So everyone can benefit from the latest improvements, we’ll retire older versions of Skype across all platforms, including mobile devices, in the near future.

where it turns out that "in the near future" meant about two weeks later at the end of July 2014. :-(

But Why, Skype?

The lingering question is... why now?

I mean, I do understand that one of the strengths of Skype historically has been that it "just worked" and that pretty much any version of Skype would still let you connect. This has allowed Skype to become the amazingly ubiquitous communication tool that it has become.

The down side of this for Microsoft/Skype is that they can't get people to use all their new services - or see their new ads - if there are so many older versions.

Similarly, they can't move to new technical architectures that may provide better service when they have to also support a long history of past releases. (For example, their move away from the peer-to-peer architecture that was their original highlight to more of a centralized "cloud" architecture to provide better support for mobile clients.)

I get all that.

I can understand why Microsoft would want - even need - everyone to use newer versions of Skype.

But why now? Why the end-of-July 2014 point? Was that just an arbitrary date? Is there something else driving it?

And what changes are being made in these newer versions? Is it, as one friend said, because Microsoft wants to move away from P2P chat? Or make some other technical changes?

What are they doing that caused them to decide NOW was the time to move?

The somewhat crazy thing with the timing is that it is not like Skype is the only choice for people now. There are a ton of competing communication channels. I've personally been using Apple's Facetime and Google+ Hangouts a good bit more these days for communication. As I wrote about recently, Facebook is clearly looking to make their Messenger be a mobile tool for voice and chat communication. And there are many other mobile apps that are trying to be "the next Skype". Plus... there is the whole world of WebRTC and the zillion new apps and sites that are providing new ways to communicate.

And maybe THAT is the driver. Perhaps Microsoft realizes that to compete with all these new services and to be able to evolve Skype they NEED to force users to come up to the latest versions. Perhaps they are hoping that any disruption in users behavior will be only temporary and that after that migration they can then move ahead faster.

Or perhaps this is just part of the general changes that Microsoft is making to re-focus their energy and staff. As shown by their recent large round of layoffs, the way they have been doing things hasn't been working - and they need to change. Perhaps they view the customer hostility (and potential switching) that will come from forcing these upgrades will be balanced out by their lower support costs by not having to support older models.

Or perhaps they just think of us all as sheep who won't be bothered to change.

I don't know. And Skype doesn't seem to be saying beyond their vague platitudes about how upgrading will benefit everyone.

Will Users Move To Alternatives?

The question is, of course, will users actually move to alternatives?

Judging by the outrage in many of those community forums it appears that Microsoft may have underestimated the technical problems that users would face with these upgrades. I see a lot of people saying they can't upgrade to Skype due to their operating system version or other issues.

Skype is effectively dead to them.

So in this case they will have to find an alternative because they simply can't use Skype.

But there is no easy way to know what percentage of people are affected by these upgrade issues. It could be quite small. It could be that the vast majority of users have automatically updated with no problem.

I took a look at Hudson Barton's Skype user statistics but unfortunately his system stopped collecting statistics on July 31st . He's restarted it now... but the data has been lost for this past week that might have shown us what, if any, impact there was. He is showing 77 million Skype users online right as I write this, which is consistent with recent numbers.

It's also not clear where Microsoft/Skype is in rolling out this forced upgrade to their users. From the user community posts it seems many people started experiencing this problem back on July 30th or 31st. I just received the notification this morning, August 6th. I know from others online that they are still using older versions and have not yet received the forced upgrade notice.

We've been here before, too. Back in December 2010 there was a Skype outage that disconnected almost everyone for several days. Many of us thought this might provide a push to people to try another service... and it didn't. Once the outage was over people generally went back to using Skype. It was easy - and the directory is there, i.e. so many people you know use Skype that it makes it super easy to connect with people that way.

Times are different in 2014, though. There are more and better choices than there were four years ago. Offerings from Apple, Google and Facebook all are quite compelling - and bring with them a directory of users. Perhaps not as many as on Skype, but still quite solid.

What will you do?

Switch to using more of another service such as iMessage, Google+ Hangouts or Facebook? Try out a startup such as Tox?[1] Use one of the many mobile apps?

Or will you just stick with Skype? (Assuming, of course, that you can upgrade.)

[1] Naturally I'm trying out Tox, but that's just because I'm always trying out new services... and hey, how can I not try out a service that encourages people to use IPv6? :-) (And if you want to try connecting to me there, my Tox ID is the incredibly hard to relay string of B1B85CBFB6DFBC72729F8D6113A626B116317A224C09A50BFB9C5ABDCCE5187A13701016DE8A ... I think they need to work a bit on the user experience for this to really be useful!)

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Skype Shuts Down SkypeKit and the Skype Developer Website

Goodbye to SkypeKit... and perhaps more importantly to the website. Prominently featured there now is a banner saying the site will close on July 31, 2014:

Skype Developer 3

Leaving aside the bizarre way to end the warning banner ("... to integrate with" and then nothing more), I went to the site because I received an email from Skype in the form of a "SkypeKit License Termination Notice". The email says in full:

Dear Dan ,

In July 2013, we notified you of our intention to end support for our SkypeKit SDK at the end of July 2014. With this date now approaching, this email serves as 30 days’ official notice of termination of the SkypeKit Licence Agreement (“Agreement”) pursuant to Section 13.2.4 of the Agreement. The Agreement will end on July 31st 2014. Upon termination of the Agreement you must promptly destroy all copies of the SkypeKit SDK in your possession or control, except that if you have already entered into the SkypeKit Distribution Terms and have received a commercialization keypair for your SkypeKit Product(s) then you may continue to distribute these SkypeKit Products(s).

Skype will not be issuing any new keypairs and we remind you that keypairs may only be used in connection with the SkypeKit Product for which they were issued. In addition, for hardware, keypairs may only be used for the specific version of the SkypeKit Product that was certified through our hardware certification program. Our hardware certification program for SkypeKit Products has now closed and no new hardware (including new models or versions of previously certified hardware) can be distributed.

Key investments in Skype’s application and service architecture may cause the Skype features to stop working without notice in SkypeKit products. As a result, we encourage you to end any further distribution of SkypeKit products.

We would also like to draw to your attention to the obligations that survive termination of the Agreement as described in Section 16.3 of the SkypeKit Licence Agreement.

The Skype Developer website will also close on July 31st, 2014. If you have any queries please contact Skype Developer Support.

Kind regards
Skype Developer Team

Looking back, I don't see the email from July 2013, but in truth I probably deleted it or it wound up in a spam folder. Sadly, I long ago lost much of my interest in Skype's latest developer follies.

If we jump back in time a bit, Skype first released a "preview" of their "SkypeKit" Software Development Kit (SDK) back in early 2011. Jim Courtney had a great writeup of their release of the public beta at eComm 2011. Like many others, I signed up and paid my $10 to see what was under the hood. I didn't do much with it but I remember looking at the python SDK a bit. Later in October 2011 I wrote about Skype's renaming of their public APIs and provided some clarification about what SkypeKit was all about.

And then I pretty much wrote nothing else about it... and much of the program gradually started fading away. In all my many posts about Skype, the only subsequent mention I find of SkypeKit was in a September 2010 post about Grandstream adding in Skype video to their IP phones.

In fairness, this was all happening before and then during the Microsoft acquisition of Skype in 2011 and so it was not surprising to see APIs created before Microsoft's acquisition being phased out.

What continues to surprise me is that there has never been any real replacement. Skype's 5th, 6th or 7th attempt (I lost track) at a developer program finally... just... died...

The folks at Skype wrote last November about the demise of the Desktop API and the need to support mobile devices. With that API's demise they also killed off their App Directory, which was their latest incarnation of a way to help developers get their apps out to Skype users.

Now Skype's entire "developer support" seems to be a category of pages on their support site, most of which seem to have answers about how the Skype Developer Program is no longer accepting registrations... or about why certain systems no longer work.

I get it... applications evolve. And Skype certainly has evolved away from its roots. It's just too bad, because once upon a time there seemed to be such promise for Skype as a communication platform that could be used widely by other companies and applications.

R.I.P. SkypeKit.

R.I.P. Skype Developer Program.

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10 Years Of Skype - Massive Disruption... But Will Skype Remain Relevant?

Skype's 10th anniversaryTen years ago today, on August 29, 2003, a group of entrepreneurs and developers from Denmark, Sweden and Estonia unleashed a small software program that would fundamentally and irrevocably disrupt telecommunications and just communications in general. Everything would change. Skype has a 10th anniversary blog post out today that highlights some of those changes that have been brought about by Skype, although I personally find their 9th anniversary infographic a bit more interesting because it traced back the history of Skype.

Massive Disruption

There is a GREAT amount for Skype to celebrate on it's 10th birthday. The disruption that has occurred within telecom is truly massive:

  • The cost per-minute of international phone calls has been commoditized to near zero. (Indeed, how many people actually make real "phone calls" internationally anymore?)

  • Telcos - and governments! - who depended upon those per-minute fees have seen almost that entire revenue stream evaporate, or at least show that it is rapidly fading away. Economic disruption on a massive scale!

  • Skype came to be a prime example of how "over-the-top (OTT)" apps could exist on top of the existing telecom networks - and take both marketshare and revenue from those networks.

  • Skype introduced the masses to high quality audio and helped people understand that the "phone quality" they were used to was actually really poor quality and that they could do so much better... that they could have the experience of "being there" with someone else.

  • Video calls, while they had been around for quite some time in many other apps and devices, were made available to everyone for free using the easy Skype user interface (and were helped by the rise of ubiquitous webcams embedded in laptops and mobile devices). An entire industry around video-conferencing was disrupted through the simple combination of Skype and webcams.

  • Long-distance audio and video collaboration became extremely routine. Think of the thousands of podcasts that use Skype between contributors? (Such as my own Blue Box or the FIR podcast to which I contribute.) Think of the number of video news reports you have seen coming in over Skype... or the guests coming in to talk shows.

  • Skype demonstrated that you could have secure, encrypted phone calls and IM chats, at least with the pre-Microsoft peer-to-peer architecture. They enabled those of us advocating for more secure phone connections to be able to go to other vendors and say "Really? You can't do secure calls... but Skype can?

  • Speaking of that p2p architecture, it, too, was something new and fascinating... perhaps one of the most innovative things to hit telecom in ages... that showed that you could think differently about how to connect endpoints.

  • Curiously, Skype also demonstrated the incredible power of persistent group chats in creating a system that enabled people to continually participate in conversations, even as they came and went from the network. Skype chats still to this day are better that most every other system out there.

  • Skype showed the power - at least in their earlier versions - of focusing on creating an extremely simple user interface and focusing on the user experience. The simplicity of using Skype was a large part of why so many people started to use it. That and the fact that Skype "just works" from behind most firewalls and in most network environments.

  • Along the way, Skype built up a massive directory of users... estimated at 300 million now. Most people I interact with do have a "Skype ID" and those names are exchanged at conferences, printed on business cards, listed on websites and generally made available.

  • Skype became a verb. It's routine now to say: "Let me skype you.", "Can you skype me?", "Let's skype", etc. We don't "call", we "skype".

At a fundamental level, Skype rocked the world of telecom and enabled so much more communication to happen all over the world. As a frequent global traveler, Skype has been such an incredible means by which I can keep in daily touch with my family back at home.

Skype has indeed MUCH to celebrate on it's 10th birthday.

And Yet...

And yet as Skype turns ten, I find myself wondering what the next 10 years will be like... and whether Skype will remain relevant.

You see, that list of disruptions I wrote above is pretty much the same list I wrote about two years ago on Skype's 8th anniversary, just with updated numbers.

What happened in the last two years?

Last year on the 9th anniversary I was asking the "what comes next?" question and Jim Courtney was similarly saying "whither Skype?" Phil Wolff was asking "is Skype boring?", a theme I picked up on for my own post.

Fast-forward a year and the questions are still relevant. Skype is no longer the "bright shiny object" that so many of us were so incredibly passionate about. Indeed, for so many years Skype was the single biggest topic I wrote about here on Disruptive Telephony. There was a reason that my phone number became associated with Skype and I was getting all sorts of calls for Skype's corporate office.

And yet... how many posts did I write here on this blog about Skype in the last year since the 9th anniversary?


Just one post... and at that a short and simple post about a new Skype version being available for the iPhone/iPad.

That's it.

Now, there's a larger issue that I'm simply not writing as much here on Disruptive Telephony as I used to, given that my energy these days is focused so much more on the worlds of IPv6, DNSSEC and Internet routing. But still... had something struck me as exciting or useful about Skype, I probably would have written about it.

I still use Skype each and every day - or at least every work day - and it is a critical part of my day when I'm traveling. But the reality is now for me:

Skype is just a tool.

That's it. A tool to be used. A tool to be expected to be there.

In one way, that's a massive success for Skype, in that millions of people now just expect Skype to be there and to be able to help them communicate.

But it's no longer anything to get excited about. It's a tool. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In a chat earlier today about this feeling shared by a number of us, Phil Wolff, long-time editor of the Skype Journal, said this (reprinted here with his permission):

Skype is boring, like electricity. The BBC interview that came out today where Skype said they'd done proof-of-concept 3D video chat in the lab says it all.

They are busy working on customer acquisition (the next billion users), usage (more conversation per user per month),  and more Microsoft integration (% of MSFT products with Skype inside, a la

They are busy getting more than 2000 employees to work together, nearly half on the job less than a year.

They are figuring out how to make money when the price of minutes - even international PSTN minutes - are falling faster than Skype can pick up share.

They are learning how to stay relevant in a universe where talk is a feature anyone can add to any app for free/cheap.

Bigger scale usually means innovation on plumbing moves faster than innovation on user experience. Skype hasn't offered up new experiences as shiny as "now with video!" in a long time.

Phil's second-to-last comment is particularly relevant as we think about WebRTC and how much it has opened up the world of voice, video and chat to so many more developers.

What Could Have Been...

Stuart Henshall, an original founder of the Skype Journal and someone promoting Skype for pretty much all of its 10 years, said something similar in a post today, "Skype’s First Decade – A Wasted Opportunity. He sums up rather well how I think some of us who were early adopters of Skype now feel:

Today Skype is a feature, part of Microsoft. While it may generate substantial dollars it isn’t the company it could have been. Skype was one of those once in a lifetime products that today could have been revolutionizing how the world evolves. It was once secure, outside the reach of the NSA. It had the network and the membership so it could have been a Facebook, or a Twitter. It had strong developer support in the early days and it’s own store. Most of us still use Skype some of the time today. It is still the most universal free calling solution. It works across platforms including the PSTN, PC, Mobile. And yet Skype today is a brand without a “soul”. That’s what you get when you sell-out one too many times and lose a passion for changing the world.

Ten years in, Skype went from being the scrappy, interesting, exciting underdog challenging the telecom infrastructure... to in fact becoming that telecom infrastructure to the point where they can't innovate as much as they once did because they do have such an enormous installed base.

Ten years ago, Skype was the disruptor - now the question is if Skype will be disrupted by all the new entrants. Maybe Skype still has some innovation in store and may surprise us... but I'm doubtful at this point.

There is a lot to celebrate in 10 years of Skype, but the question is really whether Skype is today coasting on the innovation of those earlier years and now the increased integration with Microsoft products.

As Stuart wrote:

In Internet years like dog years Skype has had a good run. Still it’s aged some and I know it’s no longer my primary communication method. If I had one wish I’d love to see another Skype P2P like system take root although this time on mobile resetting the rules for the telecom stack. That’s still something I could promote.

I, too, would like to see some system that was truly innovative and brought back many of those innovations of how Skype used to be - and did once again truly disrupt telephony as we know it.

An audio version of this post can be found at:

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Skype 4.2.1 for iPad/iPhone Brings Microsoft Integration, Chat Interop, Better IM Features

Skype for ipadSkype today brought its increased integration with Microsoft services to the iPhone and iPad with the new release 4.2.1 available in the iOS AppStore. As you can already do in the Windows, Mac and Android versions of Skype, the big feature is that you can now sign in with your "Microsoft account" and merge our Skype contacts with those from Windows Live Messenger (WLM) and You will now be able to chat back and forth with your WLM contacts directly from within Skype.

This is very cool from the point-of-view that Skype has always been a "walled garden" of instant messaging (IM) that did not interoperate with any other service. Many of us long ago wound up having to use two IM clients on our system: 1) Skype; and 2) a multi-service client (like Adium or Pidgin) for all the other IM networks. This doesn't quite solve that problem because it is now really just expanding the Skype client to work with two IM networks, but it is at least a step toward greater interop.

In a post on Skype's "Garage" blog, Beom Soo Park indicates these new features:

  • Sign in with your Microsoft Account to merge your Windows Live Messenger, and Skype accounts - then IM those contacts direct from Skype. 
  • Ability to edit and delete instant messages 
  • Choose an emoticon while typing an instant message via a new emoticon picker 
  • Animated emoticons for devices with a Retina display
  • Edit phone numbers from the dial pad
  • Create a new Skype account when you download the app 
  • UI improvements

Skype's post on their "Big Blog" has a bit more detail and mentions that Skype for iOS has now been downloaded over 120 million times.  The improvements to the chat interface, particularly the editing, will definitely be useful.  I personally don't really care about the improved emoticons, but I know some people do like those and will be pleased.

My only criticism is that in order to make use of the Microsoft integration you have to log out of your Skype account and then login with your Microsoft account, at which point you presumably can merge the accounts.  It's not a big deal to me, as I don't use a "Microsoft account" these days.  I certainly did have a WLM login that I used to use years ago, but I haven't used it in years and don't really feel any compelling need to do so.  Still, it would be nice if the Microsoft account could just be added to your existing Skype login as you can do in so many other IM clients.

Anyway, Skype 4.2.1 for iOS/iPad/iPhone is now out there and ready for download from the AppStore.

P.S. If you installed Skype 4.2 yesterday, you'll need to go back to the AppStore today to get Skype 4.2.1 as there were some critical bugs that were fixed in 4.2.1.

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Skype Celebrates 9 Years of Disrupting Telecom, But What Comes Next?

Nine years ago today, August 29, 2003, the first version of Skype was made publicly available. Now in 2012 Skype celebrates it's 9th birthday - and first birthday as part of Microsoft... and it's still disrupting telecommunications.

Four years ago on Skype's 5th birthday I wrote at great length about how Skype has changed telecommunications and last year I wrote a retrospective as well - both of those posts still stand... Skype has only added more capabilities over the time. Skype is still one of the only applications that I can say I personally use each and every day. It's critical to what I do.

As I look back on my last year of writing about Skype, I'd note that they've finally gotten the app to work more similarly across operating systems, introduced amazing video quality, crossed over 40 million simultaneous users, made yet another attempt at a developer program and continually improved the Skype-on-mobile-device experience. Skype has also added a deeper Facebook integration, embedded Skype into more TV and other consumer devices, rolled out Skype on Windows Phone and continued to improve their video offerings.

But what comes next?

What will we be writing about on Skype's 10th birthday next year?

Jim Courtney captures this well in a post today on the theme of "Whither Skype?" The whole post is worth a read, but I'll highlight one paragraph in particular:

Where does Skype play a role going forward? Beyond its inherent calling features within Skype clients, Skype definitely provides the infrastructure for free chat, voice and video conversations. In one sense we have seen that through their relationship with Facebook. Besides its ongoing development and innovation on mobile devices, Skype will introduce opportunities for experience sharing into several Microsoft products. Skype is incrementally improving its mobile offerings every few months on multiple vendors’ devices. Its primary focus will remain on real time communications; the question is where does one want to launch and receive a “sharing experience” in the course of our ongoing social networking activities?

The whole "social interaction" is a key one... but let me expand on a couple of points here.

Old-School Telecom Fights Back

Skype's greatest challenge going forward is one that comes from its success - by most any measure, Skype is destroying the revenue for international long-distance. Telegeography released a report back in January showing the incredible growth of Skype calling versus that of traditional carriers:

A study prior to that in January 2011 had estimated that 25% of all international calling was via Skype... and the growth in this more recent chart can only mean that number has gone even higher.

UPDATE: Digging into the executive summary for Telegeography's latest report shows that they estimate the total global international long distance market in 2011 to be 438 billion minutes. Of that, Skype accounts for 145 billion minutes - or 33% of all international calls. Yes, 33%!

I was concerned that the 438 billion minutes did not include Skype minutes, but the caption to Figure 7 (which shows the 483 billion) on page 9 states:

Notes: Total traffic reflects TDM and VoIP telephone traffic transported by carriers, and international PC-toPC Skype traffic. Traffic from Skype-to-phone service is included in the telephone traffic totals.

Separately, Phil Wolff from Skype Journal indicated that he had some time earlier contacted Telegeography about this question and they had confirmed to him that Skype numbers were included in the total figures.

UPDATE #2: I was alerted that back in January 2012, Skype published a blog post about these Telegeography numbers in which they state that the Skype-to-Skype calling is NOT included in the "total" number and so now I am not sure precisely what to believe. If it not included, then the total number of international long distance minutes would be 583 billion, of which Skype's traffic would represent 25% of all global traffic. Still an amazing figure! I am going to see if I can contact someone at Telegeography to get a verification of the numbers.

I can say that from personal experience - I never make international calls using the legacy phone network. I use Skype for all those calls... either from my laptop or increasingly from my mobile devices.

In fact, at this point in time if you are NOT using Skype for international calling, I would say that is probably only because you don't have the requisite access to bandwidth or equipment... or simply aren't aware of Skype. (Or yes, you could be using one of the other competing services appearing.)

The traditional telcos, of course, are not happy about this. Particularly the ones associated with national governments for whom all those international long distance charges constituted a MAJOR source of national revenue.

They would like to get back into the revenue stream and force Skype and all the other "Over-The-Top (OTT)" service providers to somehow start paying them again. They would like to put this whole Internet and VoIP genie back into the proverbial bottle and return to the "good old days" when all revenue went through their channels.

All this pent-up anger and frustration with declining revenue is heading toward the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December in Dubai where many of the traditional carriers are attempting to use the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as a vehicle to reign in the OTT apps like Skype. They (through various governments) want to see the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) rewritten to force OTT apps to pay.

It's going to be a mess.

Just look at all the WCIT-related news stories. I certainly hope that sanity will prevail and that the Internet will remain much as it is today... but there are no guarantees and these next few months are going to be critical for the future of the Internet, for telecommunications and for companies like Skype.

The outcome of all of that may have a lot to do with what the future holds for Skype.

WebRTC/RTCWEB and Baking Voice Into The Fabric Of The Web

Another challenge for Skype will be the ongoing work of the "WebRTC/RTCWEB initiative" to essentially bake voice/video/chat communication into the fabric of the web. (Learn more about WebRTC/RTCWEB if you aren't aware of it.)

Skype hasn't really had a real challenger to its predominance as the major voice/video/chat provider for the Internet. Skype's super-simple installation and ability to "just work" has made it near ubiquitous. Add in the network effect of now having such a huge user base and it's clear why so many people use Skype.

BUT ... as much as there are many people using Skype, there are MANY more who use web browsers!

What if voice/video/chat gets moved into the web browser? What if you can go into Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer and initiate all your calls and chats from within your browser? What if you can do all this from your mobile web browsers, too?

What if you don't need to have a separate application any longer? What if you can just do all your "real-time communications" (RTC) through your web browsers?


That is exactly what the WebRTC/RTCWEB initiative is all about - putting the building blocks for RTC down into web browsers so that any web developer can work on building RTC applications.

In theory, many of these applications could reduce the need for Skype. Now, in reality, you still have the "directory" issue in that you need to find the other party with whom you want to communicate. Skype provides that easy directory. But look what Google is doing with its central accounts... look what Apple is doing with their Apple ID... there are a lot of players out there also building directory infrastructures. (Plus social services like Twitter and Facebook are also getting in that game.)

Now, Skype has been involved with WebRTC/RTCWEB from the initial meetings. Skype employs a number of the people who have been contributors along the way. Many have seen this as a possible way for Skype to roll out its own web-based Skype client and make that even more ubiquitous.

But Skype/Microsoft is no longer following the majority path of the overall initiative. They recently released their "CU-RTC-Web" proposal which deviates in some key ways from the current WebRTC/RTCWEB plans and proposals.

Will the divergence be resolved? Will there be a common solution? Or will Skype/Microsoft go on their own path? Will we see incompatible implementations? Will WebRTC/RTCWEB open up the possibility of some true challengers to Skype's dominance? Or will it wind up not delivering on the full promise of browser-based RTC?

Time will tell... but this next year will be a fascinating one.

The Microsoft Effect

Skype also faces the good and bad news that it is now part of Microsoft. On the one hand, there is a huge potential for Skype expansion into enterprises (a market Microsoft knows extremely well) and certainly some interesting synergies with Microsoft Lync and other products.

On the other hand, Skype is no longer the scrappy little Estonian startup that we used to write about. It's now part of the mainstream corporate world. It has matured - but with that maturity comes the need to maintain legacy compatibility, to make sure new things don't break old things, etc., etc.

As several of us wrote about back at the beginning of 2012, Skype has the real chance of becoming "boring", i.e. not as exciting to write about. As I said in my post:

Instead of the little company taking on "the Man", Skype has now become "the Man".

Add to that the fact that in 2012 Microsoft is not really seen in the larger media as a bastion of innovation.

Skype's success may lead it to be less exciting to write about and talk about - or not... we'll have to see what they are able to do within the new world of Microsoft.

It All Comes Down To #$@%$! Batteries

It perhaps goes without saying that the future of so much of our communication is all about mobile and the use of smartphones, tablets, etc. As I wrote at the end of my recent post about Skype's photo sharing for iOS, Skype would love to see us just keep Skype running all the time on our mobile devices. They say as much in their blog post:

We've also improved the overall performance of Skype's mobile apps. We've made them less battery hungry when running in the background, so you'll now be able to answer Skype calls throughout the day when they come in. And, as you'll be able to keep Skype open, you can respond to or send IMs to friends and colleagues all day long.

This is their mobile challenge. I do NOT keep Skype running on my mobile devices for precisely this reason. Doing so has destroyed my battery life in the past. (In fairness, I've not yet tested this new version.)

I do, though, keep other apps running on my iOS devices and so I receive notifications and messages via those services.

Skype's mission is to get their mobile app to the point where people do keep it there running all the time.

The Social Impact

Finally, the "social" aspect is one challenge that Skype certainly faces. There is the ongoing reality that:

much of our "messaging" has moved to "social networks".

We use Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn and a hundred other sites (and maybe soon) to share our messaging. On our mobile devices we've also added in other OTT apps like WhatsApp, Viber, TuMe and again a hundred others.

We're interacting in communities of "friends".

And we're not "talking" as much as we used to - in either voice or video. Oh, sure, we definitely are talking... and Skype's video usage, in particular, is no doubt increasing as more people discover Skype and also as Skype gets embedded in more video devices.

But overall the trend I'm certainly seeing is for people to interact and exchange messages in more text-based mechanisms... and again primarily through "social" services.

The question for Skype is how they best play in that space.

I don't do half of the Skype chats I used to do because many of the people with whom I might have IM'd via Skype now contact me via Facebook or Twitter. With Skype's Photo Sharing for iOS, I would honestly never think to use Skype for sharing photos... not just because of the battery issue but also because that's what I do with Facebook or Instagram or even Twitter. Not Skype.

The Facebook integration with Skype was an interesting move and I could see it for enabling real time communication from within Facebook... but I personally don't see the Skype application as a place to read Facebook updates and interact with them. I do that through Facebook's website - or through Facebook's mobile apps or other apps like Flipboard or Tweetdeck.

Even as a platform for exchanging status updates, Skype's apps no longer work like they used to. In Skype versions prior to 5.x (on a Mac, anyway), it was easy to see where you could enter your "mood message" and so it was common to update that somewhat frequently. The 5.x client brought us a "stream" interface so that we could see the updates from others - but then in a rather bizarre move they made it harder for you to update your own message! As a result I know I hardly ever update my message now. (and usually it's when someone pings me to tell me that the existing message is out-of-date!)

Skype's challenge is to figure out how they fit into the social ecosystem. Do they attempt to become the real-time communications infrastructure for social networks? So that when you do want to move your interaction to a voice or video call you can do so over Skype? Do they try to open up their massive platform to be a social infrastructure? Do they join the rest of the players in trying to be "the place" where you read your social status updates?

It's not clear what Skype will choose, but if they don't choose some path the continued rise of social interaction may render them less of a player as other players emerge.

In The End...

Skype... as Skype celebrates its 9th birthday, it's good to pause and think about all the incredible disruption they have caused. Few companies in recent history have done as much to shake the very foundations of the ways in which we communicate. Recently, my three-year-old daughter said to me:

Daddy, when I grow up I want to fly away on an airplane so that you can Skype me!

Earlier in her life when I called on the regular phone line she would look at the phone handset trying to understand why she couldn't see my video. She has grown up with video communications just being "normal" ... and with the idea that you would just talk to a computer screen.

Skype has done all of that, becoming a verb in the process.

Congrats - and happy birthday - to all the folks at Skype. As noted above, their tenth year is full of challenges... lots of crossroads and choices lie ahead, not all of them under Skype's control... but I look forward to seeing where we are next August as Skype crosses that 10-year milestone.

We do, indeed, live in interesting times.

UPDATE: Jennifer Caukin at Skype has published a post on Skype's blog with a timeline infographic outlining the growth of Skype over these past 9 years.

UPDATE #2: Phil Wolff is out with a humorous look at what the next 9 years of Skype could bring. Not sure about all of his predictions, but some are certainly fun to think about... :-)

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