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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Skype 4.0 for Windows Beta 2 Available Wednesday

Wednesday, October 1, the second beta release of Skype 4.0 for Windows will become available for worldwide testing. Via a mix of the Skype 4.0 for Windows Beta 1 feedback channels involving legacy users and new users, bug reporting and usability issue forums and direct surveys that resulted in over 45,000 participants' responses and feedback, Skype learned:

  • 70% were in favor of the new "large desktop" user interface; about 30% wanted to return to the traditional compact user interface.
  • users were looking for improved means of organizing contacts by groups
  • relative to pre-Skype 4.0 beta 1 surveys, increased awareness of the multi-modal features of Skype such as IM, file transfer and SMS.
  • there existed problems with how IM presented itself to the new user
  • users were missing Instant messages and other events due to a lack of appropriate notification procedures
  • increased conversions rate to paid Skype subscriptions
As a result Skype 4.0 beta 2 includes:
  • user choice of a default "large desktop" view or a compact view
  • organization of contacts by categories with several default categories (the term "Groups" now refers to a multitude of users within a conversation such as in a Group Chat, Public chat or on a multi-party call)
  • new drop down menu to select "Categories" from the "Contacts" tab
  • new algorithms for message and missed call notification, with the initial notification coming via a tag on the Skype System Tray icon so as not to make the notification activity overwhelming
  • a new way to display a selected Contact's information when in a call or chat session
  • several options for resizing the user information, the video images, the chat area of a conversation, etc.
  • entry of PSTN phone numbers into a Contact's information on your local PC for those Contacts who have not included these phone numbers in their Skype user profile: mobile, home, office, other.
Skype for Windows Product Manager Mike Bartlett has prepared a video to demonstrate some of the new features:






And you can download Skype 4.0 for Windows Beta 2 here.

Skype 4.0 for Windows Beta 2 has the same caveat as we issued for Skype 4.0 Beta 1: this is beta software, there will be bugs and may even be usability issues. This is your opportunity to provide feedback. It is still missing some features of Skype 3.8, the last officially released version of Skype, such as Call History and creation of Public Chats. Do not use it as your primary Skype interface, especially if you depend on Skype for business or professional communications. I am still running Skype 3.8 on my laptop; I run Skype 4.0 Beta on my desktop PC.

Phil will be posting tomorrow with more details on his experience.

Check out Alec Saunders comments. And Mike Bartlett appeared as the featured guest on the October 1, 2008 SquawkBox. Click on the link to access the recording.

We asked about any upcoming Skype for Mac; the response was along the lines of (i) the Mac group is also examining the feedback from the Skype 4.0 for Windows Beta 1 for ideas to incorporate and (ii) when a new version does come along it may have some features that are not available on Skype 4.0 for Windows.

Hint: to activate the Contact Categories feature, go to Contacts | Contact Categories | See All Contact Categories.


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New eBay toolbar with Skype, PayPal features

If you like such things, eBay now offers The Browser Highlighter toolbar. Skypify phone numbers, compare prices on eBay, fill forms with your PayPal data, StumbleUpon new sites.

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Star Trek: The Continuing Mission. Episode 2: Integration

TCM Productions uses Skype to connect cast and crew of Star Trek: The Continuing Mission, an independent, fanfic, audio drama. The first episode came out in December. The second episode is out now: Download Part 1, Part 2 or The Master Cut. The Trailer. More to come; check out The Continuing Mission site for interviews with the cast and crew.

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Jon Arnold: Is VoIP Dead?

TMCNet Editor Michael Dinan has reported on Jonathan Christensen's keynote two weeks ago at TMCNet's IT Expo in Los Angeles. While many of us in the Skype world have heard pieces of this story previously, Jonathan was addressing an audience of enterprise and business telephony professionals who are dealing with VoIP implementation issues.. Jonathan's basic thesis was that VoIP has become a commodity feature but the innovation starts by going beyond low cost voice conversations:

Now, Christensen said, are emerging three pillars of a generation “beyond VoIP.”

The first pillar, he said, includes different facets, including the fact that – unlike analog telephone conversations – services such as Skype are marked by an “explicit handshake model,” or agreed relationship, where both or all parties have agreed to communicate (a nice idea although this presidential election year will feature no robocalls, courtesy of Congress). Secondly, he said, there’s a new band of audio, including wideband audio, improving communications, in part, by allowing participants to distinguish among different speakers. Finally, higher resolution video makes video conferencing such as that offered by Skype, more real.

Three pillars that set the bar for fully equipped IP-based conversation services from the performance aspect.

Yesterday analyst Jon Arnold, who also attended the conference, wrote in his weekly Service Provider Views column: Is VoIP Dead?

Skype has an important message to deliver, not just for the consumer market, but for the business world too. It’s really a matter of how far ahead you’re prepared to look. While most service providers are just catching up to the realities and potential of VoIP, pioneers like Skype are way past that, and for them, VoIP is so old, it’s dead for them.
Jon goes on to point out:
The vision Jonathan paints, of course, is based in the world of IP, not TDM. VoIP can readily replicate the PSTN feature set today, but not much more. With end-to-end IP, not only can VoIP deliver an added layer of new services, and integrate seamlessly with Web services, but it can also deliver superior voice quality to what we’re experiencing today. Under these conditions, VoIP is actually a better product than TDM, and that’s where things get interesting. VoIP is still widely perceived as an inferior service, which explains why it is primarily sold on the basis of price rather than quality. Think of the possibilities for service providers when VoIP could actually be marketed as a premium service, and one that does not have to be sold as a way to lower your long-distance costs.

Well, by the time the incumbent telcos come around, Skype will be long past them. Skype has built up a sprawling international customer base that has embraced a communications platform that goes well beyond VoIP. PC-based VoIP and IM have been the backbone of their success, but Jonathan sees a richer experience emerging, and one that is much more than everyday VoIP. In the keynote, he talked about three pillars that will support this new mode of communications – presence, wideband audio and high resolution video.

And, after discussing the three pillars mentioned above, Jon concludes:
Taking all of this into account, one of Christensen’s key messages was that innovation is happening today at the network edge, not the core. Furthermore, it is not coming from the telcos, but from the disrupters from outside the voice world, such as Skype, Google and the whole Open Source movement. Telecom, as we know it, is now software, and rapidly moving into the cloud and the world of Web 2.0. In this environment, voice becomes another data application, and telcos will no longer be able to build their business around it. This means walled gardens cannot last – and this includes Skype, by the way – and the end user will ultimately define what the optimal experience is, as well as where they choose to get it from.

This is the world Skype is building its future around, and to the extent that VoIP is offered as a standalone service, it will not have much of a future here. Service providers are certainly welcome to try doing so, but in my books, the voice of tomorrow will look a lot more like what Skype is talking about today. What does it look like to you?

It's not about VoIP; it's about the potential of multi-modal IP-based conversations. Read Michael's and Jon's complete posts for more insight.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Skype Journal Interviews Josh Silverman: The Way Ahead - Markets

This is the fifth in a series of posts resulting from an interview a week ago Friday with Josh Silverman, Skype's recently appointed President. In this post we talk about addressing the small-to-medium business market as well as various geographical markets.

Over its five years, Skype has built up, almost totally virally, a significant base of users who take advantage of Skype to not only reduce their business communications costs but also to communicate more effectively with colleagues and customers around the world. At the same time various Skype software partners have built offerings, such as Pamela, PamFax and Skylook, that either focus on Skype as a business communications tool or include Skype amongst their options for calling. Within Skype's own offerings, the Business Control Panel provides the tools for a system administrator to handle both the deployment of Skype and the administration of Skype accounts within a business's operations.

OnState is a primary example of the latter. They have built up a call center offering that takes full advantage of both instant messaging chat and voice in dealing with both inbound and outbound calls; they also take advantage of the three founders' combined over sixty years' experience participating in the call center market. Yet, they encountered many opportunities where they had to go back to Skype for assistance since, for one reason or another, Skype's program were insufficient to address business users' requirement. The result is that today OnState offers their customers "one stop shopping" whereby, on acquiring a customer, OnState takes on responsibility for addressing Skype subscription needs, hardware requirements (headsets and handsets, implementation issues and first level technical support.

The Business Control Panel has had its limitations also; the main fear has been to mitigate potential for fraudulent or unauthorized activity through transaction value and volume licensing limits.

As for geographical markets, Skype met a much larger need for communications cost reductions in Europe and Asia than in North America. As a result over 80% of Skype's revenues continue to come from outside the U.S. The two primary needs met in North America are for "Friends and Family" calling outside North America and small businesses who are working to grow internationally - both internally and with their suppliers and customers.

In growing internationally, there has been the challenge of building user bases in widely diverse markets; "free", "easy-to-install" and a whole lot of viral marketing action have introduced significant adoption around the world. But this success has led to more business-oriented challenges in working out termination agreements, establishing effective multi-currency transaction systems (although being an eBay co-unit of PayPal certainly helps), multiple language versions of software (27 at last count) and providing multi-lingual, internationally available technical support. (We'll talk about marketing and more about technical support in future posts in this series.)

We asked Josh about the Skype's approach to the business market:

JS: Skype in the business market. There's more that needs to be done. (you guys are smart, you're asking all the right questions). Platform is a huge opportunity for us; business is another big opportunity for us. About half of the communications market is business; we have a great solution, especially for small-to-medium size businesses. We haven't tailored that solution to businesses very much; we haven't communicated to businesses that we have that solution. In the new organizational design one of the pieces of that will be to build out a business unit focused on small-to-medium size businesses where we'll have some resources available to tailor our product and some sales and marketing resources to work ... I don't think that we'll be directly selling to small-to-medium size businesses but we can work with VAR's to help support them in bringing Skype to businesses.
(Note this interview occurred two weeks prior to last week's announcement of Skype for Asterisk, a program that leverages Digium's Asterisk reseller channel for sales, implementation and ongoing support requirements.)

We then moved on to ask about various geographical markets:

SJ: North America. (Thank God for Oprah!) Skype has become much more a household name this past year (with an acknowledgement to Don Albert, GM North America). What does it take to keep that business going forward in U.S. and Canada and what are the strategies for U.S. and Canada?
JS: We're very aware that the number one way to grow Skype is to build products the users love. That is our first mandate always. Once you have a product users love, we can accelerate it by some smart marketing programs. (By the way if you don't have a product that users love no amount of marketing on earth will save you, right?) So we do have a product that users love and I don't think we have done as much as we could to communicate that.

Oprah is a great example. It is not our intention and people should not expect massive multi-million dollar marketing budgets from Skype. But there are some smart tactical things we can do working together with evangelists like Oprah to build awareness. It's our belief that once you've grown awareness, people will try it; once they try it they'll love it. and the rest takes care of itself. At the Democratic national convention we were quite happy to see many of the national broadcasters using Skype as a way to expand their coverage and you should be looking for more programs like that in the United States in the year to come.

SJ: China is your biggest market?
JS: In terms of total users it's one of our top markets; the answer is yes.
SJ: QQ is still kicking butt in China? What strategy do you have in your existing partnership with Tom?
JS: We have a great partnership with Tom who knows the local market very well. Tom is also a very entrepreneurial, innovative, fast moving company. We're very pleased to be partnering with them; they're the right partner to continue building our presence in China.
SJ: Do you have your own people in Asia?
JS: A couple of people in Asia who work with our partners to make sure they're getting the support they need and also giving us real feedback from the market on what we need to be doing on [our] core platform to be able to support Asia better.
SJ: How about India?
JS: We don't have anyone working in India. We don't have a partnership in India to announce but we are seeing good growth in India but we think it's a terrific market and we are expecting to have more focus on that in 2009

My observation, five months in, [is that] markets where Skype has the most power are markets where you have high broadband connectivity, you have a large ex-pat population, and where the local telephony system is not as efficient as it could be. Many of the developing markets meet that profile so we think we have a huge opportunity in developing markets such as India and it's our intention to focus more on that in the coming year.

SJ: To succeed in the mobile market place, mobile device manufacturers have had to build carrier relationships. What does Skype need to do with either handset manufacturers and/ or carriers to succeed in the mobile market?
JS: I don't think the carriers should be able to dictate what software the users get to use. any company,. the smallest startup in the world, if it has really outstanding software ought to be able to take on the whole world and not have to hire 50 people to develop relationships with 300 carriers.
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Skype tries Skype Prime commissions at 8% for October

"For the whole of October we'll be reducing the commission we take from Skype Prime to just 8%. That means you get to keep more of the money from your calls – you deserve it."

Skype, in a letter to Prime service providers.

skype-prime-art-lite 30% is Skype's standard cut. Skype takes 120 days to pay and does not pay interest on your money. 

Skype Prime is Skype's first try at eBay-style markets. Where eBay brings people together to buy and sell atoms, Prime brings people together to buy and sell services, entertainment, education, and information. Skype Prime could be just as effective a distribution channel for people who sell their smarts, skills, and charm as eBay is for those who sell cars, collectibles, and tickets.

This one month promotion is an experiment in incentives. How do you bring back service providers? How do you freshen the Prime directory? Is the lower rate enough or do you also need to shorten time to pay to 30 days?

Don Albert, Skype's GM for North America, is getting Prime ready. The timing is right: when the economy sucks, entrepreneurs innovate, and Prime could be on their list of simple things-to-do to pick up new business.

Prime builds on a trend to include fractional labor in labor markets.

hoursperworkrelationship by you.

Society started with lifetime jobs, then multiple jobs, contract work, part time work, and now... fractional labor. What's started at sites like Rent-a-Coder and oDesk is spreading to other occupations and even sites like LinkedIn Answers.

If the last ten years were about the rise of eCommerce for goods, the next ten are the rise of the online and mobile intangibles economy. We will sell knowledge, entertainment, and services; our time and intellectual work product instead of atoms.

While the eBays of the world are huge now, wait until they apply their "commerce community" experience to organize p2p markets for intangibles. Now it's iPod accessories, soon it will be for forensic accountancy. They know how to bring buyers and sellers together, make a place feel safe, build reputations, and deliver the goods.

When the Keens first tried to launch in the last decade, nobody had broadband, wi-fi was a novelty, mobile phones didn't have data plans, trusted payment mechanisms like PayPal were novelties, and communication tools like Skype were trying to work on dial-up.

Now, the technical and social prerequisites are here. Labor markets aren't just flatter, they are divvying work into smaller, task-sized parcels.

So you can ask the talent pool "what's the best mix for Prime?" and we can bid for your attention and wallet.

From My Skype Prime Wishlist:

  • Prime in non-desktop clients. I want to pick up my mobile, my deskphone, my Skype for Asterisk client and make/take Prime calls.
  • Prime for Talent Pools. Think distributed call centers, schools, consulting firms.
    • Talent discovery (tell me how our team can help you so I can find the right mix of people),
    • Service delivery (one or more people helping you at the same time or in a workflow), and
    • Payment (billing, reporting) are administered by different people/roles.
  • Prime social. Turn on social features so members of the Prime community can organize themselves, talk with each other, friend each other and develop ties that enrich the marketplace.
  • Prime text chat.  Let me deliver service without voice or video, if that's what my customer wants.
  • Prime alerts. Text me, call my mobile, send an email to my blackberry, shout, anything to let me know a paying customer is calling.
  • Prime web service APIs. Let programmers can add/update services from a web site, check your activity logs and payment queues, and launch Prime sessions from a web page. At Skype's faster post-founder innovation pace, they may be ready to pilot this in Q2-2009.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rural Internet access is an Obama priority

From Friday's U.S. presidential debate, in discussion of domestic spending priorities, Senator Obama said:

And I also think that we're going to have to rebuild our infrastructure, which is falling behind; our roads, our bridges, but also broadband lines that reach into rural communities.

As I reported Monday, Obama wants to pay for rural net access directly, using the Universal Service Fund. All Americans now pay for the USF with a surcharge on their telephone service, subsidizing the higher costs of connecting distant homes, schools, and hospitals to the phone network. From the Obama/Biden rural issues page, under the headline "Support Rural Economic Development":

Connect Rural America: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will ensure that rural Americans have access to a modern communications infrastructure. They will modernize an FCC program that supports rural phone service so that it promotes affordable broadband coverage across rural America as well.

The Democrats' technology policy says America's Internet needs an upgrade. America's broadband is much slower (2.35 megabits per second) than average broadband in other countries, like Japan (63), South Korea (49), Finland (21), Sweden, and France.

Deploy Next-Generation Broadband: Barack Obama believes that America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access. As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and Obama will do likewise for broadband Internet access. Obama and Biden believe we can get true broadband to every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives.

While Senator John McCain didn't speak to rural connectivity during the debate, he's on record as wanting a slower, more indirect mechanism, offering tax breaks for rural ISP investment. From McCain's campaign's technology policy page:

John McCain would seek to accurately identify un-served or under-served areas where the market is not working and provide companies willing to build the infrastructure to serve these areas with high speed internet services incentives to do so. He also supports private/public partnerships to devise creative solutions and help rural area and towns and cities in their efforts to build-out broadband infrastructure through government-backed loans or low-interest bonds.

John McCain will establish a “People Connect Program” that rewards companies that offer high-speed Internet access services to low income customers by allowing these companies offset their tax liability for the cost of this service.

This is consistent with McCain's trust of deregulated markets over government services. McCain/Palin haven't identified how they would offset their plan's lost tax revenue.

Note that McCain's "high-speed Internet" is pre-Obama's "Next Generation Broadband".

America's 59 million rural voters tended more Red than Blue in past elections. Those votes are in play in 2008 thanks to Obama's extensive field operation, policies relevant to rural voters, and frustration with the Bush administration, and top-of-mind domestic and foreign issues.

2008 Telecom Issues by you.

In my view, Obama is tops if you are a telecom consumer or you advocate for Internet civil rights. On the other hand, an incumbent big telecommunications company or national ISP will flip those scores, putting McCain on top to preserve their market power from disruption or complication.

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One billion Skype downloads served today

Jean Mercier is the Skype Numerologist and a regular contributor to Skype Journal.

Today is the birthday of my oldest son, 22 years. But also today, at about 9h17 GMT, Skype reached the phenomenal number of 1 billion downloads.

Congratulations Stefan and congratulations Skype !!!

Some comments about this number:

  • This means about 2.8 downloads for each registered username
  • The current mean download speed is about 500 downloads/minute
  • In the past there were short periods where the mean download speed was much higher than 1500 / minute
  • The last two years the speed of downloads was mainly linear (see the light blue straight line)
  • A download doesn't necessarily mean a "new user", as "old users" also download Skype on "new or other computers" and when Skype releases "new client versions"
  • And last but not least, Skype belongs to the top ten most downloaded applications ever.

[EDITED] Hehe, Skype was also very aware of the 1 billion, because Josh Silverman blogged on it also some minutes after reaching that milestone, but I think I was first: I posted at 9h26 GMT, and he posted on 9h35 GMT! ;-)

[Editor: About 6.7 billion people live on Earth, 1.46 billion use the Internet. — Internet World Stats]

1 billion Skype software downloads

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dan York Clarifies Skype's Role within Asterisk

Following up on Thursday's announcement of Skype for Asterisk for which details were posted on Skype Journal late Thursday, Dan York has published a more technical post, "Clarifying how Asterisk could possibly be used as a Skype-to-SIP gateway", discussing how the Asterisk PBX treats incoming and outgoing calls, effectively independently of how the Asterisk PBX is accessed either internally or externally or is directed to make outbound calls.
However, the point I was making in my post yesterday was this announcement has the potential to turn Asterisk into a two-way "Skype-to-SIP" gateway. Asterisk - with the "Skype For Asterisk" module installed - could be deployed into a network where it could provide interconnection between Skype users and SIP users.
Dan goes on in three sections (with diagrams):
  • Asterisk Interconnection Explained
  • Diving a Bit Deeper
  • So How *Might* This Work with 'Skype for Asterisk"
And, in a concluding section "So What About 'Skype-to-SIP' states:
The point of my post yesterday was now that two-way Skype connectivity becomes just another channel driver for Asterisk, you have all sorts of interconnection possibilities. As a standalone system, you could connect SIP phones on an Asterisk server out to the Skype cloud.
If you're into learning more technical detail of how Asterisk handles and directs inbound and outbound calling, Dan's post is an excellent primer.

Also check out Dan's previous post "More on how 'Skype for Asterisk" actually works..." where he quotes an update post from Tom Keating and concludes:

If I understand this correctly, this has the potential to be huge! As far as I know, all the existing "Skype-to-PBX" solutions use the rather kludgey solution of basically running multiple instances of the Skype client on the system. Each "Skype trunk" is essentially just a separate instance of the Skype client. As Stefan Öberg indicates, there are serious scaling issues with this approach.

However, this has been the only options developers have had! Skype has not - prior to this (if it works how it sounds like it works) - provided any "back-end API" that would let a system interact directly with the Skype P2P cloud. The only API developers have had is the client API that lets them interact with a local Skype client. So that's how all the "Skype-to-X" products have been built.

Does this mean that Skype has exposed some additional API that is available through this Skype For Asterisk product? If so, this could be VERY interesting...
Finally, Skype for Asterisk was the topic of discussion for about the first 25 minutes of yesterday's SquawkBox. Access the recording here.

Interesting times ahead.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Skype television commercials?

People are all atwitter over Skype television commercials on NBC in the United States.

omg!! just saw a skype commercial by you.

"OMG!! Just saw a skype commercial on NBC11. Didn't expect that" - Robbie Trencheny

during the office by you.

"Just saw a Skype ad on NBC during The Office." - Jon Ursenbach

kinda weirds me out by you.

"It shouldn't, but it kinda weirds me out that Skype has TV commercials now." - Ariel Waldman

on primetime tv? by you.

"A Skype commercial on primetime tv? wtf?" - Jon Low

Mobile operator 3 ran this commercial for the Skypephone in Austria.

No footage yet on the new NBC commercial.

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skyping friends while watching television

watching Three's Company.. and talking on skype by Jen

Clearly these two behaviors go together well. Watching television can be a social activity, something to talk about or to talk over. It's context or pretext for talking, grooming, bonding. Dancing.

hanna montana dance party by you. 

wheeze by you.

Appointment television or event programming,

grey's anatomy season premier by you.

Events like political debates.

9-26-2008 12-18-35 AM by you.

9-26-2008 12-19-29 AM by you.

Ah, there's a US presidential debate tonight.

So, how could you more tightly couple TV+Skype? Watch TV in Skype? Talk (IM/voice/video) in Skype over TV?

Is that the sweet spot for Skype integration into television viewing?

Is this a reason to build Skype into Joost? into TiVo? into Hulu or YouTube?

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Video: Skype for Asterisk interview at Astricon08

Voiceroute.org interviews Wilhelm Lundborg (Skype) and Mark Spencer (Digium) from the Astricon08 show floor at the Skype for Business booth. Includes a demo: a call from Skype to Asterisk and back. (5:39)

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goldfish-eating skype dweeb

goldfish-eating skype dweeb by you.

"I knew it. you turned into a goldfish-eating Skype dweeb." - Cameron Kaiser

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Skype and Federal Elections...

While the whole world knows that there is a U.S.federal election on November 4, little international notice has been given to Canada's upcoming federal election, October 14. But both are providing significant opportunities to make use of the Internet. Emails, text messaging, candidate websites. Twitter feeds all are coming into play.

In a post on Forbes.com this morning, Elizabeth Woyke talks about "Skyping the Election", where Skype is being used to connect campaign volunteers with voters and journalists with viewers.
Supporters of Sen. Barack Obama have turned to Skype, which processes both land line and cellphone calls over the Internet, in order to reach voters. In June, Elizabeth Edwards used Skype to chat with attendees of the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference on the intersection of politics and technology. In August, reporters from CNN, C-SPAN and NBC used Skype to report from the political conventions. And this weekend, volunteers in Santa Cruz, Calif., will use Skype-loaded laptops to target voters in Nevada, a key swing state.
The article goes on to quote Christopher Libertelli, Skype's senior director of government and regulatory affairs. Most amusing was this comment:
Libertelli is, naturally, also interested in having Sens. McCain and Obama speak to each other via Skype. "There was that recent press cycle about whether McCain invented the BlackBerry," he notes. "It would be interesting to see if the candidates know how to use Skype."
As one who has known for ten years, and come to appreciate the genius of, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazardis (who wrote his original plan for wireless email in 1992 and is still executing on it), I can only chortle at the claims that surface in political battles. John McCain is no Mike Lazaradis.

Last Monday, in a public forum contributing to OneWebDay, Skype was used to help with a debate about presidential campaign tech policies. Chris Libertelli's comments on net neutrality, the candidates' positions and its role within the overall presidential campaign can be found here.

I'm still looking for examples of Skype use in the Canadian election campaign; I'm sure it's quietly getting use in many ways by those candidates who have an enlightened appreciation for web technology.

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The Skype for Asterisk Story -- Significant Details

Phil has already pointed out the Skype for Asterisk news announced at Stefan Oberg's AstriCon keynote this morning along with links to several blog postings and the news release. This afternoon I spent fifteen minutes talking with Stefan, Skype's Vice-President and General Manager of Telecom, and Digium CEO Danny Windham to get more details.

First I asked who would benefit from the Skype for Asterisk announcement?

Danny and Stefan responded that the primary beneficiary would be the end user, especially small-to-medium businesses who have installed an Asterisk PBX. In particular:
  • A generic SkypeID, say "acmesales", could be setup for inbound calls to the PBX; think of this SkypeID as a "global 800 number".
  • It will also be Skype-accessible via a click-to-call web button.
  • The Asterisk PBX would then be able to hand off the call, as appropriate, to a call center, voice mail, IVR, a voice conference and call transfer, amongst other Asterisk-based services and functionality.
  • Each employee or agent can also access the PBX via individual SkypeID's for taking inbound calls (including calls directed from the generic SkypeID) or placing outbound calls.
  • Outbound calls can be placed to any location worldwide, either to a Skype destination or, via SkypeOut, to the PSTN in any country.
  • Outbound calls can be to customers anywhere worldwide
  • Also the PBX with its Skype inbound/outbound call handling can serve to provide internal company communications amongst offices worldwide. Remote employees are simply at "extensions" of the Asterisk PBX.
  • As with any VoIP-based service, agents can be located in remote offices, work from home or be available in any location where they have set up a Skype-enabled PC with broadband access.
  • Asterisk PBX already can be programmed to handle least cost routing of international calls; the Skype cloud will be added as an option for least cost routing.
  • Calls that involve Skype at both end points will have the full HD (wideband) audio bandwidth of Skype, providing clearer, more readily understood calls than those that involve a PSTN connection at one end.
Naturally the major benefit to end users is the cost savings; Skype to Skype calls are free; calls involving SkypeOut have the normal SkypeOut charges as low as US$ 0.021 or €0.017 per minute. (On SquawkBox this morning Jim Kohlenberger, Executive Director of the VON Coalition, estimated full implementation of VoIP throughout the U.S. could result in savings of up to $110B per year.)

I then probed about the extent of Asterisk installations. It turns out that there were over 1 million downloads of Asterisk via Digium last year; this year is on a run rate of over 1.5 million downloads. Danny estimates there are over 4 million active Asterisk servers worldwide that have been implemented and/or supported by Digium's various services. Since Asterisk itself is open source, it is speculated there are many more installations out there that are not supported through Digium.

Product: Skype for Asterisk will involve a software module, developed in conjunction with Skype, that is downloaded and compiled onto an Asterisk server. Premium packages will also be available from Skype; these will be comprehensive packages tailored for various business functions and include an enhanced Skype Business Control Panel. There may be opportunities to include Skype Partner products and services, such as Pamela and/or PamFax. There will be "low" monthly licensing fees for use of the basic software module as well as the premium packages.

Distribution: Here is where this agreement is significant for Skype. Digium has an established ecosystem involving a market place, technology partners and 390 Value Added Reseller partners (VAR's). For the over VAR's Skype for Asterisk will be an incremental Digium reseller offering (channel driver) for which they will receive commissions for both the software licenses and premium packages described above as well as for all SkypeOut traffic brought through their customer bases. These VAR's are responsible for implementation services as well as providing first level technical support to individual customers using Digium products and services.

The Beta program will involve two phases. Phase I will involve a limited number of participants to finalize the software while obtaining feedback from user experiences. Phase II will be a much broader public beta to provide both extended feedback as well as to train VAR's and even end users on implementation and use of Skype for Asterisk. The beta program will require the use of version 1.4 or 1.6 of Asterisk; Skype for Asterisk will only support these versions once the commercial version is available.

As Rich Tehrani stated in his post:

What this means to Skype is that [the] company has finally found a way to get into the enterprise in an easy way — by partnering with Digium/Asterisk which has great traction with developers, resellers, carriers, SMBs and more. Expect more enterprise use of Skype and as this happens, Skype should see more revenue from business users.
And to narrow down on Dan York's speculation about any Skype-to-SIP gateway:
  • Any existing SIP interfacing functionality within the Asterisk PBX will be available as appropriate to reach non-Skype extensions involving a SIP interface.
  • The only additional Skype-to-SIP functionality will come through the existing SkypeOut gateways.
To follow on from my comments yesterday about the need for business transactions related to crossing a SIP interface, both these SIP interfaces will associate with existing business agreements.

And note that for Skype-to-Skype calls through the Asterisk PBX, there are NO SIP interfaces to/from the PSTN involved; otherwise, there would be no support for HD audio on these calls.

In summary, Skype for Asterisk is a software module providing a Skype cloud-to-Asterisk PBX interface, supporting and interconnecting existing Skype and Asterisk services. It simply uses existing gateways but provides no new SIP gateways.

Skype has been hinting at major announcements during the fall; this certainly has to be a significant new revenue channel for Skype while bringing new services to Asterisk end users and new sales opportunities for Asterisk resellers.

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defenestration

9-21-2008 1-47-06 PM by you.

"Argh. If Skype was a physical, solid thing, I would have chucked it through the window half an hour ago. :(" - Walker Moore

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Skype for Asterisk gateway software announced

Tom Keating reports from Astricon on Stefan Öberg's announcement of Skype For Asterisk, a channel driver that connects the Asterisk call manager software to the Skype cloud. Register for the driver through a Skype for Asterisk beta program form.

Dan York explains the new value add is "two-way connectivity in and out of the Skype cloud." 

Skype is positioning s4a for business, Asterisk VARs as resellers. This is less about a licensing revenue stream than opening Skype up to the millions of calls managed through Asterisk solutions. 

This will kill off competing Skype channel drivers like Chanskype and create competition to Vosky and other Skype-to-PBX system integrators.

More to come...

Stefan Öberg's blog post and the news release:

Digium and Skype Collaborate to Bring Skype to Business Phone Systems

Skype For Asterisk beta program starts today, adding Skype features to Asterisk-based solutions

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AstriCon 2008)—September 25, 2008—Digium®, creator and primary developer of Asterisk®, the leading open source telephony platform, and Skype™, the leading global Internet communications company, today announced the beta version of Skype For Asterisk, which will allow the integration of Skype functionality into Digium’s Asterisk software and enable customers to make, receive and transfer Skype calls from within their Asterisk phone systems.

“Throughout our individual histories, Skype and Asterisk have each disrupted conventional communication methods through innovative, cost-effective solutions,” said Stefan Öberg, vice president and general manager for Skype Telecom and Skype for Business. “We are excited to be working together with Digium to offer small and mid-sized businesses an even more powerful communications solution to conduct business worldwide.”

Specifically, the beta version of Skype For Asterisk is an add-on channel driver module that integrates Skype Internet calling with Asterisk-based telephony products. Skype For Asterisk also complements small and mid-sized business users’ existing services by providing low rates for calling landline and mobile phones around the world.

“Working together with Skype, our goal is to help businesses boost productivity and reap the rewards of feature-rich telephony software, all while saving a substantial amount of money,” said Danny Windham, CEO of Digium, the creator and sponsor of Asterisk. “The Skype For Asterisk beta program is a first step towards adding Skype capabilities to Asterisk-based phone systems and enabling them to reach more than 338 million Skype users.”

The beta version of Skype For Asterisk will enable business users to:

  • Make, receive and transfer Skype calls from within Asterisk phone systems, using existing hardware.
  • Complement existing services with low Skype global rates (as low as 2.1US¢ per minute to more than 35 countries worldwide).
  • Save money on inbound calling solutions such as free click-to-call from a website, as well as receive inbound calling from the PSTN through Skype’s online numbers.
  • Manage Skype calls using Asterisk applications such as call routing, conferencing, phone menus and voicemail.

Following the beta period when the product is released, Skype For Asterisk will be sold and distributed by Digium and its worldwide network of resellers.

Live at AstriCon

Stefan Öberg will provide the first public demonstration of Skype For Asterisk during his keynote address today at AstriCon, the annual Asterisk user and developer conference. AstriCon attendees are also invited to stop in and see a demonstration of Skype For Asterisk at the Skype booth on the expo floor.

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skype with more-online screen sharing

9-21-2008 6-18-29 PM by you.

"Skype with More-Online Screen sharing tool http://skype.mikogo.com Looks very good-any testimonials?" - Angela Maiers

(Mikogo is the free Windows version of BeamYourScreen)

(Mikogo has a Skype plug-in to help you launch from Skype)

(Screen sharing is inherently viral, like Skype)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

997667891 Skype downloads

Counting down to one thousand million served. Just a few more days.

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Skype refuses British order for emergency dialing

Skype refuses to comply with 999 ruling. Andrea-Marie Vassou quotes a Skype spokesperson:

"At this time, Skype is not complying with Ofcom’s ruling, as we believe that it is not applicable to our software offering and in fact potentially harmful to public safety.”

I don't know enough about UK law to comment on whether the General Conditions of Entitlement for VoIP applies to Skype. Potential harm is straightforward, though.

The issue is data quality and authority. Landlines, and VoIP systems like Vonage that emulate them, have a single location they can report to emergency services.

One person's Skype account, on the other hand, can be in many places at once and anywhere in the world. I could dial 999 from my laptop in Los Angeles but Skype would have no way of knowing my street address or that the call should be routed to LA 911 instead of London 999 operators.

From the Skype and Emergency Services page on Skype.com:

Skype and Emergency Services

An emergency call is perhaps the most important call you will ever make. We care about your safety and want to provide you with complete information about emergency services.

  • Skype is little piece of software that enables a rich communications experience - an entirely new way to communicate online. Skype offers affordable prices and innovation that are years ahead of what a traditional phone service offers.
  • Skype is not a replacement for your landline or your mobile phone. Skype does not offer you the ability to call emergency services for help if you are in distress.
  • When calling 911 for help, mobile phones can identify your location within a 300 meter range and sometimes even closer. This enables emergency service operators to find you or call you back if the call drops. Landline phones will dispatch help to the address you provided when you subscribed to use the phone company’s services.
  • If you are a SkypePro or SkypeIn subscriber, using your mobile or landline phone for emergency calls is still required since Skype does not know your physical location and is unable to assist emergency services.

From Skype's Terms of Service:

1.1 No Emergency Calls: More important than anything: please remember that Skype does not support any emergency calls to any type of hospitals, law enforcement agencies, medical care unit or any type of emergency services of any kind. Skype is not a traditional telephone service or a replacement for Your primary telephone service. There are important differences between traditional telephone services and the Products. You need to make additional arrangements in order to access emergency services. It is Your responsibility to purchase, separately from the Products, traditional wireless or fixed line telephone services that offer access to emergency services. If, with Your permission, another user uses Your User Account or the Business Control Panel, it is Your responsibility to inform that user that it is not possible to support or carry emergency calls using the Products.

From the Skype End User License Agreement:

3.6 No Emergency Calls: The Skype Software is not intended to support or carry emergency calls to any type of hospital, law enforcement agency, medical care unit or any other kind of Emergency Service. You acknowledge and agree that: (i) Skype is not required to offer access to Emergency Services under any applicable local and/or national rules, regulation or law; (ii) You must make additional arrangements to access Emergency Services and it is Your responsibility to purchase (separately from the Skype Software), traditional wireless or landline telephone services to obtain such access; and (iii) Skype is not a replacement for Your primary telephone service.

6.2 Specific Disclaimer Of Liability For Emergency Services: SKYPE DOES NOT PROVIDE CONNECTIONS TO EMERGENCY SERVICES VIA THE SKYPE SOFTWARE. NEITHER SKYPE NOR ITS OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES OR AFFILIATES MAY BE HELD LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGE, OR LOSS, (AND YOU HEREBY WAIVE ANY AND ALL SUCH CLAIMS OR CAUSES OF ACTION), ARISING FROM OR RELATING TO YOUR INABILITY TO USE THE SKYPE SOFTWARE TO CONTACT EMERGENCY SERVICES, AND YOUR FAILURE TO MAKE ADDITIONAL ARRANGEMENTS TO ACCESS EMERGENCY SERVICES IN ACCORDANCE WITH PARAGRAPH 3.6 ABOVE.

What do you think Skype should do?

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boss just discovered

9-21-2008 1-48-12 PM by you.
"Boss just discovered Skype..... Might be getting rid of all that is the glory of Packet8" - J.J. Merrick

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

yucky hookers

9-21-2008 6-26-12 PM by you.

"I keep getting these women that sound like hookers trying to contact me through skype. They think I'm a guy. Yuck." - skinner

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pure class

9-21-2008 1-47-59 PM by you.

"Skype ripped me off.. and the suggest I pay them more money to fix it. pure class" -- Daniel Cremer

(Old saying: "one happy customer tells one person, a dissatisfied customer tells five". The Internet and social media multiply both)

UPDATE:

get in touch by you.

thanks for the voucher by you.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Dan York on "Skype and SIP"; Input for Skype's Platform Ambitions?

Just in case you've been on vacation on a remote island not reading Skype Journal the past few days, Phil and Michael Robertson have been having this debate about Skype and interop with SIP-based services (more here and here). It even spread to last Friday's SquawkBox call.

This morning Dan York, who sits on IETF forums on VoIP security, weighed in with his perspective in a post: Skype and SIP Interop - the two sides of the issue raised by Michael Robertson where he lists all the various posts on this subject and comments:

About Wireless Openness:

So with that view, you can expect I applaud Skype's efforts to open up the wireless networks and allow consumers to have a choice of what apps they want to run. I want the *wireless* carriers to be big, fat, dump pipes... give me an IP address on the *mobile* Internet and let me do what I want with it. Sure, the carriers can offer their own services, and maybe if I like them I'll pay for them.... but I want the option to use other products and services - without degradation or prioritization...

To put it another way, I pay the wireless telcos for *dialtone* now. Once connected, I can call anyone and use any *voice service* over the PSTN. I could use someone else's voicemail if I want (like GrandCentral), although the carrier's offering may be more convenient (and is usually free). But I can call anyone on the PSTN and use any voice service I want. The carriers just provide me dialtone.

I want "IP dialtone". I want a Big, Fat, Dumb Pipe.

So... go, Skype, go

About Skype Openness
We need to build the interconnect.

Yeah, there are a TON of issues out there that we still need to address to build that interconnect. There's a whole host of security issues... there are billing issues... there are trust issues... there are network plumbing issues. Yes, there are all those issues. But if we are to succeed in ultimately bringing about the rich communication experience we want, we need to make this happen.

And for that, Skype's walls need to come down.... at least a bit.

What we need is that Interconnect from Skype's cloud out to the emerging IP infrastructure. Think about it... Skype right now has a two-way interconnect between Skype's cloud and the cloud we know as the PSTN. It's called "SkypeOut" and "SkypeIn" (or whatever marketing names they are being called now). If you dial my SkypeIn number, you can reach me on Skype wherever I am. From my Skype client, I can call anyone on the PSTN. The two-way interconnect is already there.

So why not offer the same on the IP side?
My feeling is that we are at a stage in the evolution of IP-based communications where the interconnectivity agreements between service providers still need to be worked through. While technically one can make the connection, it seems that every SIP gateway also requires a business agreement and transaction - similar to the agreements amongst PSTN carriers that are so transparent to our ability to make calls anywhere on the PSTN. I'm not a technical expert; I just want to be able to call as many of my contacts as possible - at as low a cost as possible - but I also want the privacy, security and authentication of Skype when connecting to other services.

In a Skype Journal post earlier today, Skype President Josh Silverman is quoted as mentioning that Skype is looking for a GM for Platform whose initial responsibility will be to lay out Skype's future platform architecture. But Josh also assured us that user perspectives will be considered while designing this architecture. It would seem that, once the appointment is announced and Skype has a forum for user input, the debate engendered by these posts would be a good starting point for consideration of one aspect of Skype's platform ambitions.

Now the real challenge for interop beyond the issues mentioned above would be incorporating wideband (or HD) audio across the interconnection. I have had an experience the past few days where wideband audio hardware benefited my ability to complete a project more accurately. Hey, you technogeeks want a technology challenge?

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13 million – congratulations Skype!

Jean Mercier writes the Skype Numerology blog

So another million mark was reached on 15 September 2008: 13 million concurrent Skype users online.


After a very strong start in 2008, where two million-marks were reached in a very short time span, we had to wait 210 days for the next million. [Skype reached 12 million online on 20 February 2008.] This was the third longest period we had to wait for a million mark. This also means there is still a good and steady growth of Skype users, and it also means most of them are satisfied with the services offered.

But the growth isn't exponential anymore. The graph seems to show a small downward bending tendency.

I hope some innovations will cheer us up in the near future: a genuine Skype client for the iPhone for instance!

And perhaps another side comment: until right now, almost nobody blogged about these 13 million. It therefore seems to be a no-event!

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Please send photos from Skype Beta Days in Greece

9-21-2008 6-19-39 PM by you.

"el martes me voy a Grecia por los Beta Days de Skype, pero lo de Alitalia podria impedirlo... Y dejarme tirada en Roma. Interesante."

(The Skype beta tester community convenes in the Mediterranean to meet each other and Skype's new leadership team)

(Part of a methodical campaign of stakeholder relations)

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Skype Journal Interviews Josh Silverman: The Way Ahead - Platform and Partners

This is the fourth in a series of posts resulting from an interview a week ago Friday with Josh Silverman, Skype's recently appointed President. In this post we talk about directions for the Skype platform and partner programs.

When I first attended a Skype developer event in June 2006, there was lots of enthusiasm for the Skype partner program and for its integration into various third party applications and service offerings. Several of the feature requests, such as call transfer and access to the voice stream, that had come to the surface by the time of this event, have since been implemented. In December 2006 Skype announced the Skype Extras program for which there are over 100 offerings available, mostly for the consumer user but the list also includes about ten in the small-to-medium business space. Most importantly, partners have been asking not only for a platform roadmap but also for execution on that roadmap.

Skype Extras included a publishing and transaction platform, yet to date, only PamConsult has taken full advantage of these feature for its well received (and award winning) PamFax offering. On the other hand, OnState has been able to figure out how to provide a friction-free full services program for its call center customer base. However, over the past eight months market visibility of any significance for the entire Skype partner program has just not been there. Yet we see "Skype access" continue to be built into various platforms such as Ribbit and Voxeo. Skype Certification exists for only seventeen offerings. InnerPass has received Skype Certification two weeks ago (review coming). At IT Expo last week in Los Angeles I came across several service providers and application developers who wanted to have a Skype presence in their offerings.

On the hardware side there have been many innovative offerings; I have experienced many of them. As confirmed by 3 executives at last Thursday's Mobilize 08 event, the Skypephone has met with phenomenal acceptance in the nine countries serviced by 3. Yet several hardware partners have drifted away to the point where we only see limited visibility for Philips, GE and IPevo dual mode (Skype and landline) phones and a few accessory products, such as the FreeTalk Wireless Stereo Headset, from InStoreSolutions (who largely address the European market). Beyond the Skype Store availability, WalMart is carrying Skype hardware in the U.S. (and I found some at Fry's in Sunnyvale this past Saturday).

Frankly, sorting out its platform strategy and partner relationships, and giving them appropriate visibility, is perhaps one of the biggest challenges that Josh and his team face in sustaining Skype's presence in the IP-based conversation space. In our interview with Josh it became quite apparent that these issues have not missed Josh's scrutiny leading up to the business reorganization we have been discussing in the various posts in this series:

SJ: In your interview with Om Malik yesterday you mentioned as one of your key growth initiatives "Skype as a platform, embedding Skype as the conversation infrastructure for devices and services". Tell use more:

JS: We're incredibly lucky that almost everyone in the world wants to do something with us. That's fortunate because we need to be everywhere. For Skype to be successful and to fulfill its full potential we need to be part of every device and every communications experience. We can't do that on our own. We need a really robust platform that allows us to be part of other people's experiences or devices and allow other people to be part of us. We all recognize that we have a long way to get from where we are today to there. With the relatively small program we have and small investment we have made we have 15,000 partners who have signed up for our program today. I think that's a great indication that if we really invest behind this we can do something magical.
SJ: What would that future platform look like?
JS: What we want to do is lay out a set of principles around the platform that say:
  • we want people to be able to incorporate Skype into their experience.
  • It should be the full Skype stack of functionality
  • it should include all of our feature set and not just hive off one piece or two pieces.
  • When you use Skype you should know you're using Skype and
  • you should have a SkypeID which works across all of our experiences,
So somebody who wants to take Skype and build it into their experience but create a walled garden of "only within their experience" doesn't build value for the greater ecosystem. If you start with Skype on one experience and then you go to another experience with another platform partner, you still need to be able to communicate. There needs to be one SkypeID that works everywhere and then it needs to hold true to some basic sense of brand principles around what the Skype brand should be. Beyond those principles we really want to allow people to innovate and use Skype and do what they will to extend the functionality for our users.
SJ: Has the architecture for this started?
JS: Right now we have created the job of GM of Platform; I hope to very soon name a GM of Platform. That person is going to have to really work on what does the architecture need to look like to support this, what are the API's going to be - reference UI's, technical documentation - as well as evangelizing to the broader community forming some of our partnerships, so we have some work to do.
SJ: Is the job posted on your job board?
JS: Not yet, we have some candidates; but if there are folks in your community that are excited by this and we haven't already filled this in the coming days [faded away but implication was to apply].
SJ: Is there a timeline?
JS: I don't want to speculate too much. We do have a API [set] today, we do have lots of people working with the API's so we have something to build from. I'm not an expert. I wouldn't be able to lay out a timeline but we are going to get an expert who can lay out a timeline. ... As with everything at Skype, we want to be fast but also make sure we do it well, in particular with a platform. It's got to be well thought through so we support our partners really well. We know there's a big responsibility in there and we take it seriously.
SJ: Would you be looking at getting the partners involved in helping design that platform and getting some feedback on it?
JS:I think that would be essential. One of the things I'm pretty passionate about is always bringing the voice of the customer in early to anything we're trying to do and I think that, for the platform, that would be absolutely essential.
SJ: What are you looking at to address ongoing partner communications issues with respect to the partner program?
JS: I take the partner program really seriously and we're aware that we've not invested adequately behind it and want to do more. The first thing we are going to do is hire an experienced, capable leader of that organization who will pull together for me a plan for what resources do we need to invest in -- engineering, partner support, evangelism, technical documentation -- to make sure we build an organization that can support our partners robustly.

What I don't want to do is over promise. Step one is, when you get somebody good in, lay out a plan and then when we're ready to announce some more forward looking things we'll do that.

Changes are not going to happen overnight when Skype is acquiring 300,000 new registrations per day and profitable. But, based on the strategy and principles outlined by Josh in this interview, going forward we should be looking to see within a three to six month timeframe:
  • Announcements of the appointment of two key senior executives who bring along experience in building platforms and partnerships
  • A platform architecture and developer roadmap
  • Revamped plans for Skype's hardware and software partner programs
It will also be most interesting to see what forums or other means Skype provides for input into the platform architecture and developer roadmap strategy. Execution is everything, especially at this stage of Skype's growth within the IP-based conversation space.

(For background on Skype's partner program history check out: A Primer for Skype's Direction - Skype's Extras Gallery and Developer Partner Program. And for an example of what attracts developers to Skype as an ecosystem check out "On Spotlight: Don Kennedy AKA TheUberOverLord".)

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