One thing I've always wondered is why Skype doesn't embrace better statistics. Many years ago McDonalds actually counted the number of people served. Then one day it became billions and billions and all of a sudden that statistic no longer was relevant. Yet in the early days it provided a nice measure of success. By contrast Skype's number of downloads, registered users and number online is not enough to fuel a community and give it perspective. Communities play an important role in both generating and providing statistics.
The statistic that Skype and users don't have is "total minutes" we spend Skyping. With the advent of SkypeOut Skype can clearly monitor the number of PSTN interconnect minutes and controls the account billing function as well. However nothing tells me whether I Skyped PC to PC for 20, 200 or 2000 Skype minutes last month. It's in the call list but unlike my cell phone there is no total minutes. At a minimum the start tab should have a "minutes" this month number.
Two days ago I blogged about the SkypeOut rates backlash. In the forums many were just taken aback. Since then Skype has provided beta testers with a 5.00 Euro bonus. Something they didn't have to do, and unfortunately it still backfired or didn't completely quell the raging in the forums. I think what many wanted was a trust statement Skype and simple apology. "We screwed up." How can we fix it? Then gather the feedback. Then test solutions in a this is what we are thinking. The result would probably have been the same althought the community would have participated.
Not having statistics is an opportunity lost. The reason rates are not as low is likely to relate to both Skype's commitments (how many millions of minutes, their interconnect approach ( SIP? or are H.323 minutes cheaper?) and what their data and best guesses were. What Skype had was some guesses at minutes but little factual data. Then they had to take some risk and sign a contract.
If Skype had been more upfront in the forums about negotiating the best rate on behalf of the community they could create two value equations areound statistics in one shot. One, I know how many minutes Skype saves me a month. Then some paid minutes vs free minutes also provides additional information. SkypeOut is unlikely to be too important to me in the short-term. However the number of minutes I make PC to PC simply dwarfs my interconnect minutes. At the risk of someone saying you spend all your time on Skype I'm pretty sure that Skype now has the majority of my telephone minutes. Many of those of minutes I would never have had at one time. In that sense Skype has really grown my minutes and thus the market for minutes. These statistics would also confirm the "value" that Skype creates for me.
Skype could consider incorporating a minutes update report --- "number of minutes connected" each time clients re-log on. Given Skype's founders background and the animosity to spyware this could be a real PR nightmare. It could also be a PR win. Skype should consider exploring in the forums under what conditions they could collect additional user data. For example in the next software update install a minute counter and number of calls counter and enable users to turn it off if they want. The case is simple Skype needs this data if it is to grow. Like the "users online data" it will be available to all. A radical step would be to take this one further with "paid minutes to lower rates". This would be like public television in the US. You might show it at certain times every month urging people to call to get to a new lower threshold. May also encourage some to use it more.... rather than wishing they had when only on vacation or business overseas. Similarly, even if a percent turn off the statistics counter you can then measure and provide a number on the percent of people participating. You actually only need a very small portion of the community to participate to get reasonably accurate numbers.
I'm not focussing on the rates anymore. I know they are still fair although not as disruptive. The whole discussion has become too focused on the "penny" and not enough on the value added for using the services. PSTN interconnects make it too easy to forget the audio quality, conference calling, and presence. Plus there are many additional value added services that could be worked in. I'm sure the new "account" page provides even more opportunities to stimulate growth from gift cards to multi-party accounts etc.