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Skype and Relevance in Communications

What do we do when our communication systems keep fragmenting? Alec and Ken comment of Skype losing relevance. The key point is "cost". What made Skype work was free P2P telephony that worked. Now the same proposition is emerging everywhere.

The result is even more highly fragmented communications. A colleague complained to me last week that I have too many numbers (time to try out Grand Central again!) and they were right I do. In fact I have way too many "handles" from phone numbers to messenger accounts and mail services. Really nobody needs them all. Yet what should I hand out? Often it is defined by the perceived relationship. Setting it right later may add to the confusion. Concurrently callerID becomes more irrelevant because it doesn't effectively represent me when I use a different number to call them. Don't believe me - then check out emerging profile aggregators.

I too have a sense that many in the early adopter group have moved on from Skype. With Wi-Fi handsets GizmoVoIP and Truphone have proven to me that I don't need to wait for Skype on the mobile. Also, massive exposure to shared presence (broken today) doesn't enable better access control. Nor does it enable you to manage your availability selectively. Yes a few companies are working on it.

Like Alec says. There is still huge potential in leveraging the desktop. I agree. While Twitter is broken, the opportunity for shared context has never been greater. Presence information will become disintermediated from the communication channels. There is absolutely no reason to think that your presence service should or must tie to a specific communication channel. What it reveals and to whom is another matter. As presence breaks off "numbers" go back to being numbers. The "Presence Dialer" will be under a user's control. This works when an "Abstract Identifier" emerges (Eg OpenID or similar with better authentication).

Sharing availability on the mobile is even more important. It's more personal than the desktop; even more intrusive when the wrong person calls at the wrong time. Skype provided a view that was part of the way there and has completely missed the boat on mobile. As such its "handles" will never become the number of the future. "Click to talk" is what we want. IM lists prove it. Jaiku Mobile takes this a step closer (but nobody keeps using it - another post in that!), while Skype and other IM presence data is too simple to be meaningful. Available says "channel is on", anything else means the "channel is off or may effectively be off". We don't live in an "on" or "off" world. You just have to sniff out the open channels for communications.

Thus what Ken and Alec really allude to is their connections have shifted. They are more available now on new connections and perhaps less available on others. My guess is they don't talk or message less. Probably it is more than ever; without the shackles of cost.

So when Alec says he's abandoned Skype for technical reasons, he's made himself a little less available to some. He's also making more use of "mobile" solutions that are more useful to him. Eg Jajah . I've done the same. There are some workplace issues (don't install that program on your PC) that encourage Meebo and the newer Yahoo Messenger on the Web. Skype doesn't have a solution for these.

So relevance relates to communications needs; Skype remains relevant although its lack of reach into mobile makes it less and less relevant when I am on the move. We underestimated the general goodness in the handset and the impact that "handsfree" with a bluetooth headset can provide. So when "free" communications are now available to me from any WiFi hotspot on my Nokia I pull the phone out before booting up a PC. I do the same at home.


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