Skype Voice Mail & Swarming

December 16, 2004

in Skype Journal

Another little discovery in the Skype Beta 1.1. As with many innovative changes you have to try it or have it put right in front of your before you say WOW! Almost from the beginning we have known Skype will introduce voice mail. Well…. seeing visually how it will work I immediate thought this is going to be very different. Anyone who thinks voice mail on Skype will just be a crippled form of telephony still doesn’t get it. In fact voice mail on Skype is another telephony revolution. For what is emerging is not an application that is one to one telephony rather it is really many to many communications. Each step forward on that course further separate Skype from the telephone. It also makes going back impossible.

In the new beta right clicking on a contact provides the opportunity to send a voice mail. I seem to have a few contact for which it is active although it remains turned off and they don’t go through. With a few Skype enabled Answering Machines emerging and ongoing developments in presence it’s useful to think about how integrating voice mail into Skype will change behavior and build it’s business.

Some Observations:

Voice Messaging: Voice Mail on the phone is a failure case. It means you didn’t get through and were unable to complete the details of your call at that time. Voice Mail on Skype means that was the least intrusive medium to leave a message. It’s friendly and brokers a better introduction than just using a text (now chat) message. As I can leave a message directly I may choose to use voice rather than text or write an e-mail. My perception is that Skype removes a barrier to sending voice messages. Thus I’d expect Skype voice mail to rachet up efficiency. It also further differentiates Skype from IM systems (re-establishing it’s voice-centric nature.)

Voice Broadcast: I’ve never mastered the art of sending broadcast voice mails on the telephone. With the behavior learned in Skype to create both conference calls and now multi-party chat, Skype is training you in the one step method to send multiparty invites and greetings. Think it is not a big deal? Look at Swarming on SMS and now click fifty buddies and broadcast a voice message that says “party”. Your friends come running. On the enterprise side… message from the CEO. It’s huge and it will be adopted by both kids and companies alike. (It may just get the kids off AIM!).

Viral Subscription: Skype Voicemail is also likely to be viral. If I buy voicemail then you will need it to for the added benefits. Two immediate features. 1) Sending a voicemail may be more “polite” and less intrusive. It also enables all the broadcast features above. Thus corporate and mulit-profile / person accounts are on the horizon. 2) The voicemail function must enable differentiation between “buddylist”, “registered skype accounts” and “free accounts”. VoiceMail can intercept all non buddy list calls as a matter of course. Second, as it is less intrusive to leave a voice mail (and it won’t be ringing on their desk disturbing them) in many instance a voice mail will be more appropriate than a text message. Example an update they don’t need right now. Via your account you may also want to control the duration of the message that can be left. eg max 30 seconds and no repeat messages from the same caller within 10 minutes. We don’t know what it will cost. (Voice mail should always be available to “buddies” for a paid subscriber!)

Social Useablity:
Note that everything is virtually one or two clicks. When I blogged SAM I pointed out how it was a more intelligent answer machine, simply by enabling one-click call back and the ability to select the listening order. Voice Messaging on one click for many will be easier than sending an e-mail. Recently I’ve ended up on some conference calls where we are chasing the last person via SkypeOut on a mobile. It’s been amusing to leave a multi-party voice message. With the voicemail functionality it will be possible to close a four-way conference call and leave a call wrap-up in a voice mail. Then it will be interesting to see how voice messaging becomes more social.

Timing: At the moment it is hard to time schedule a text message. They go in real time unless the other person is offline. However, voice mail (like sending a birthday wish) will make this potentially a simple matter. It’s another service that builds on the premium service capabilities. It’s also a good way to operate. For example in a department… understanding. send me… “want to see you about” chat messages at 10:00 am. Meeting beginning… agenda. etc.

This emerging functionality may be the piece that means enterprises can’t ignore Skype. With voice mail and premium accounts the whole system becomes more effective. Concurrently with the Skype API pulling presence enhanced corporate directories is a relatively a simple matter. The global nature of these many to many conversations will also encourage the development of new translation services.

I still believe the premium services will be worth about 25 euros per annum (needs to enable multiple profiles eg five so I can deal with my kids!) with SkypeIn line charges extra. I’d think the voice mail only capability could be even cheaper. Skype may just be the first mass IM client to work out how to make money without advertising.

Previous post:

Next post: