Skype Journal

Unbound Spiral: Skype Voice Messaging

January 18, 2005 05:18 PM

I've been trying out Skype's latest voice mail beta. It demonstrates to me just how important beta testing is. It's also better than specing the product to death before trying it out. So, despite right clicking the mouse and obtaining a "send voicemail" option, after using it I'm more convinced than ever that this is "voice messaging" (See also Future of VM) under development.

First a compliment. I keep saying that the audio quality is one of the things that differentiates Skype. Now it differentiates their VM capability too. It sounds better than what I get on my cellphone or pick up on the home answer machine etc. Skype adoption continues because the audio is better and thus conversations are ultimately more enjoyable.

Next, Skype voice messaging may get me leaving more voice messages. There are many messages I'd like to leave that I don't write, or can't call in because it is too late at night etc. A voice message that doesn't interrupt the other person is less invasive, while at the same time not necessarily tying me to a long conversation. Unfortunately in Skype's current beta test case you are limited to one minute. Making messaging to time a little more difficult is the lack of an elapsed timer.

This little VM feature may get many Skyper's paying a small premium for the service. By contrast a third party answerphone still rings, and unless the "recorder icon" is visible, exchanging VM rather than leaving voice mails with the person is impossible. You also have to leave your PC on for it to work.

On playback it's easy to find the message in the call list. Push to play and similarly for delete. You can play messages back in any order. A right click and you can respond with a VM or chat etc. Playback is instantaneous, the VM's is by this time resident on your machine, there is no waiting or server delay.

On the technical details. I only have a few observations so far. After the VM is uploaded by another party Skype appears to downloads the file as soon as you log back on again. I'm not sure to where this file is uploaded as part of the connection routine. I'd guess that Skype has a server(s) that only holds a file if the user is really offline. These messages are held in an encryped format, so whoever holds them couldn't break them open easily in anycase. Legally I'm sure Skype doesn't want to be a phone company and it's quite possilble they they never ever handle the voicemail. The software merely passes encrypted data in different file sharing formats.

This encouraged me to look for the voice files in the Windows/Documents & Settings/User/Applications/Skype/Voicemail/. Here you will find the compressed voice mail files. They are compressed roughly 10 to 1 vs a .wav file. What's interesting is viewing this folder while sending a voice mail. You can watch these files build and then one leaves. First you get apparent encryption information (while listening to the greeting of the person you are sending to), then your VM builds and then it leaves...

I've not tried running VM on two machines with the same profile concurrently, to learn if they synch etc. The latest chat does. I'm not sure what happens to VM.

A few things still need sorting.

  • There is no time indicator for recording the message. With this there is no preview of the message. You blow the message it is gone! There is no getting it back.
  • There is no confirmation that the other party got the message or when. If this is to be voice messaging focused rather than voice mail that may be a useful feature.
  • Even when I look in the VM file I can't tell who I may have sent VM's to or how many may still be outstanding. There is currently no "call list" update of who VM was sent to. I sense that I should get to retain a copy. On the plus side the encrypted nature of the file means it isn't going to be playable anywhere else. At least in the original format. I could send it to sound recorder etc.. but that is different.
  • It probably makes sense to put the VM record function under File/Options. It did take me a minute to find it for the first time.
  • Fix the in-bound call crisis. When I am leaving a VM for someone else an inbound call is simply a killer. It takes over the screen, you lose verbal traction and that message is going anyways... you can't stop it.

    Dollar Impact?

    Overall the VM product intrigues me. I think it is probably a must have. As a service it is clearly chargeable. So lets make some quick notes on marketing impact.

    Price? Say 10 Euros per year. Current user base (I hesitate to use the current 17m as I have at least 10 profile names myself) Still we are seeing downloads at 80000 per day. That's up to 2 million new users per month. By the end of 2005 30 to 50 million Skypers easy.

    So what's the deal here. You give it to everyone free for three months. You get a 20-30% "desired" must have conversion rate. On 40 million Skypers that 10 million who must have VM. You offer them the deal of three years VM for Euros 20. A thirty percent discount. You raise $200 million just like that.

    Just makes me think about Skype with half a billion dollars in the bank! As a competitor what would you do? How far away is that day?



    Comments (3)

    As you noted, the number of downloads isn't an accurate reflection of the number of *users*. To track the success of Skype, simply follow the peak number of users online, which Skype conveniently shows in the client. Last I checked, this was 1.5M concurrent users. These are the active users that may have interest in value added features. The RBOCs see about 40% penetration of VM in the US, so the potential for Skype VM might be up to 40% of this base, though you need to consider that only 10% of Skypes base is in the US. Using 10 Euros per year, the current base could produce 10*1.5M*40% = 6M Euro. Not that interesting. As I've stated before, Skype cannot scale revenue until it works on the device we carry in our pockets everywhere -- mobile phones.

    Posted by: Chris Dury at January 26, 2005 8:47 AM

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the 40% uptake reference point. I'd agree with you that the numbers currently aren't that interesting. However the growth path makes the potential for services and the value to be captured more interesting.

    Like you I tend to look at the "user online" number. I see it peaking daily now at 1.7 -1.8 million relatively during the morning PST. However that number understates active daily users as many log off or log on at different times during the day.

    I've not kept a log of how many log on and off during a day. However I'd guess the number on my buddy list usually varies between 30 and 60 out of 145 .... so my feel is your active users should be up at least 2x and probably 3x. I think I see close to 90 different names on that list each day. That's just my guess. Thus closing on 5 million using it on a daily basis and still more on a weekly basis.

    I also suspect that SkypeOut has about 500k users. So that would mean that 10% paid at for SkypeOut. Buying minutes hasn't been easy and the incentive for it varies by country.

    Various numbers have recently been circulated on 2008, I take all those with a pinch of salt. I'd prefer to question what happens if it really accelerates, or else what will come in its place. I think it's quite possible from the 80K new users per day to that the number of active users is well over 10 million by year end. It could be twice that.

    Possible issues re VM uptake.
    You must have it to have the complete Skype package. Ie it is not cool not to have it. (needs family accounts)
    Multiple profiles mean the uptake is much lower that your 40%
    SkypeAPI enabled apps provide solutions that do it better than SKYPE

    Lastly is VM just another free app?

    Finally I agree that we want everything in the mobile phone! We also want the mobile phone to do everything Skype does and more.

    Cheers
    Stuart

    Posted by: Stuart at January 26, 2005 2:36 PM

    Hey. I was invited to the beta, but it looks like its only Windows. There is a Mac version of Skype suitable for leaving messages, but I get timed out trying to access it. Maybe millions of others are trying too.

    Posted by: Stowe at February 2, 2005 6:49 AM