Happy Birthday Skype. 10 years ago I became a “Skype Evangelist”, independently blogging about a product I believed would change the world. Over 10 years Skype did change the world. Not just communications, that is almost an afterthought. It changed business, journalism, love and friendship, group chatter, and literally shrunk the world. In a nutshell Skype reduced friction by making calls free (effectively) and thus enabling long-distance exchanges never before possible. It also changed how we heard each other. The clarity of a voice call over the PSTN had never been as clear, and later the video call added additional nuance as we looked at each other and shared the world around us.
This quote sums up my beliefs and the tragedy of Skype’s 10 years.
“I would suspect that [Skype] could have achieved more if it had been an independent company,” said Danny Rimer, a partner at Index Ventures, which invested in Skype in 2004. via Skype’s first decade and a trail of missed opportunity – FT.com.
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. That’s can happen when founders move away.
In fact, early on Skype was too successful for its own good. I suspect today (on reflection) some of the early investors lament Skype was sold so young. The what if picture of how could Skype be in the world today if independent, still P2P at the core prevailed could be leading us into a very different world.
Consider if Skype had:
- Generated shareable detailed profiles and wall posts
- Turned status messages into published short messages
- Migrated Skype to being a Mobile Operating System
- Enabled video recording and distribution
- Launched a secure email alternative – DM private posts
- Opened up their API
- Enabled a marketplace
All of these were possible and promoted as ideas. In years to come the biggest loss we may feel is Skype’s capitulation to privacy and security concerns. In todays world that could have truly differentiated Skype from telecom carriers. Skype made the founders rich beyond any dreams and thus for a few is a success. Skype for a time has made the world a better place. Yet today 10 years on there is no apparent direction, no sense that Skype will impact the next 10 years like it did the last. And realistically most of that innovation came before eBay.
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.