Experimenting on Skype Reveals More

September 26, 2003

in Accelerating Innovation

Some experiments using Skype enable a better understanding of how it works and what opportunities will emerge for “chargeable” versions. Let’s hold the pricing theories a little longer and uncover some systems architectural features that begin to identify “product upgrades” and innovations to come. Points covered:


  • Basic Skype Experiment

  • Synchronizing Skype Friends

  • Obtaining Multiple Lines

  • Multiple Accounts – Exchange On a Computer

  • Security for Your Skype

  • P2P Decentralized Messaging Approach

    This post began with the article in The Register which sent me experimenting. Let’s just say I was curious.

    “…creating a Global Index as a multi-tiered network where supernodes communicate in such a way that every node in the network has full knowledge of all available users and resources with minimal latency. Seconds after you log on your friends know you are there, rather like instant messaging”.

    Basic Skype Experiment:
    Well not always. If I download and log in to Skype on another PC it can activate my account but it doesn’t contain my friends list. This suggests that the only thing Skype centralizes is the account name, password and an email (should you want to retrieve the password). The friend’s list information is almost certainly encrypted within the program somewhere. Now that makes some sense for the super nodes are then duplicating my encrypted friends list information (see the Register article). No wonder when booting up another peer with the same name I can’t synch my friends list.

    In fact… Skype allows two or more peers into the system with the same name at the same time. Each new “install” is lacking a friends list. Unlike Yahoo or MSN if you log in on another computer Skype doesn’t log you off. In Skype’s case it can’t. The result both ring when called from another account. That is if you are running your account on two computers simultaneously one can ring in the living room and the other the office. If you answer on one… the other just logs it as a call unanswered. This must lead to one of the Skype paid version features that quickly links my computers and their logs. However, let’s stick with friends for a moment or two.

    Synchronizing Skype Friends
    So you have two computers ringing. However, the probable encrypted nature of the friends lists means that your duplicate running account doesn’t have a friends list. Guess what? To get it or import it I have to request authorization from all my friends again. NASTY! It’s also very SMART! They will be explaining that for a call anywhere account that can uplift /port your friends at/to another destination you will have to pay some dollars. In the Western world it means extra dollars for my WiFi – PDA, to match my Laptop to match my HomePC and enable frequent synchronizations. Otherwise…. Skype spams my friends with unnecessary authorization requests. Something I really don’t want. Those that do — well you will know they are being cheap!

    Obtaining Multiple Lines
    Now we know you can have two Skype (phones) with the same account ringing at the same time. Still I’m limited to running one account at a time on my computer. Some will want to run simultaneous accounts / names (there are industries already doing this). So the another element in the paid program is to enable you to have more than one ID feeding one account (multiple lines one account). Eg a Personal Line, Family Line and a Business Line. This starts to look a lot like breaking one of those sacred telecom cows… It’s also different to MSN and Yahoo which only allow one log-in at a time. Trillian does allow more (but then consolidates the address book). Why different lines? The opportunity for different profiles and possibly different directory listings. It also enables customers to signal more about the type of relationship this number implies.

    In the IM sense I can order my buddy lists. In the Skype sense I begin ordering my ring tones and answering instructions. I could leave my home computer on and never miss a call picking up the chat (rather than voice at first) mail anywhere I go anytime as my WiFi PDA synchs with Skype each time it smells a free connection.

    Multiple Accounts – Exchange On a Computer
    However I’ve got another problem. When you share the home computer not everyone wants to share their IM account. Logging off my Skype Account means I no longer get my calls and dependent on the voice/chat mail application that’s lost too (at least currently the logging is). So I want my computer to handle multiple accounts (it was once called a party – line) Just means that when I’m calling the line will be busy for my daughter etc. Still if you have multiple computers in the house all but the one you are speaking on could be ringing. Could that be a mini-exchange of some sort?

    Security for your Skype
    This brings us to security. Under this type of strategy everyone has their own account number and likely customized rings. (Which creates another set of opportunities for phones headsets etc which won’t be addressed in this posting). As this looks toward a more personal phone future my multi-dimensional phone account requires some phone security. Cell phones have lock numbers, perhaps this should be an option as well. Thumb-reader? When someone comes to your Skype enabled house they can login… secure their ring tone (babysitters or night out) and only be answering their calls. That keeps your call private and the messages intact. Calls potentially can follow you around. (note a very simple new form of pager is also possible)

    P2P Decentralized Messaging Approach
    For me the real insight is that fact that Skype will never activate a centralized voice messaging system. Voice messaging requires an always on computer component. In version 1.0 it may require one of your computers to be always on even if it isn’t ringing. Thus may have to be a two tier home user pricing for version 1.0. For those that run dial-up connections access to chat mail will be difficult unless your e-mail is in the profile. Chat mail is the message you leave when your call results in no answer or away. For a dial-up account they may all go to e-mail. Perhaps a later version 2.0 will arrive when enough peers can provide redundant encrypted voice messaging capacity (low quality MP-3) Think Freenet. Your voice mail is automatically taken by three unknown peers all with a known record of online performance. In the first instance it won’t be voice mail, but chat mail. Stuart Henshall is not online would you like to leave a message? In 2.0 those peers may get a rebate on their monthly or annual software license. So if you’ve upgraded from free to a “synching peer” Your then you will always be able to access your voice mail. Perhaps also providing a consumer incentive to upgrade to broadband connection. Buy a small monthly fee for a “synched peering account” and even the smallest of global businesses are capable of having a voicemail and global reach via an internet café. Synched peering may also require a Freenet style backup. For example…. There is a power cut in California… my system remains working via backups in France, Japan and Arizona, all unknown to me. However this is getting a little ahead of the story line.

    The next posts will attempt the layout some initial and perhaps future functionality plans. Consider a Skype Basic and Skype Pro for consumer and then there will be some business options as well. More to come.

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