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Innovation

Skype Roundup - Skypecasts Get the Axe

The top of the news from last week was once again that Skype is taking something away from their users. Last week it was Taiwan and Asia calling plans; this week Skypecasts - one-to-many user broadcasts on Skype - are being discontinued, as of today.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor on

The top of the news from last week was once again that Skype is taking something away from their users. Last week it was Taiwan and Asia calling plans; this week Skypecasts - one-to-many user broadcasts on Skype - are being discontinued, as of today. Oh yes, they truly "love their users"! This taking unilateral action with little or no advance notice seems to be becoming the norm at Skype. I suppose the idea is, do whatever you want, whether your users like it or not, give minimum advance notice (in this case 5 days, a record even for Skype), and then just keep your head down until the noise abates. However, it seems to me that the twisted logic at Skype is getting more and more bizarre. Here is the first paragraph of the announcement in the Share Skype blog:

At Skype, our aim is to offer products that delight people and enable the world's conversations. Part of our vision means coming up with new ways for our community of more than 338 million registered users to stay in touch

Ok, first you have to get past the idiotic squawking of the "338 million registered users" garbage. It reminds me of a poorly trained parrot in a pet shop. I mean, honestly, has there been some sort of directive issued at Skype which says that no one may make any public statement without including that silly number? Those numbers have been disputed, and ridiculed, repeatedly - even by bloggers who are very supportive of Skype (for example, the Skype Numerology blog and the Skype Watch blog).

The twisted part, though, is that Skype's aim is to "offer products...", and they are doing so by dropping one of the more popular ones? Hmmm. Somehow the logic behind that escapes me.

There has been quite a bit of comment and speculation about this, including the VoIP Watch blog, where it is suggested that Skype is pairing down non-core business, and the Skype Watch blog, where it is simply stated that whatever the reason, it isn't what Skype is saying publicly (nothing new about that).

Surprisingly, the Skype Cheerleading Squad that comes the closest to my opinion of why Skype did this. The way that I see it is:

1. Skypecasts have had problems for a long, long time, with people being unable to join them - even unable to join a Skypecast that they just created themselves. The Skype User Forums are full of complaints and questions related to this, but conveniently since the "reorganization" of the Skype User Forum into the Skype Community, it doesn't appear to be possible to search the Forums to get a feel for how many such complaints there are - very convenient indeed. The Skype Cheerleading Squad puts this more diplomatically, by saying the service just did not have the robustness to provide the reliability and quality of service that users would expect. Translated into plain text what that means is that no business, or serious user is going to build a service based on this when they know that they will have problems with it.

2. Skypecasts are not likely to produce any direct, short-term revenue for Skype, and that is the only thing they are interested in now. Therefore, they are not willing to put any effort into fixing it (they have already proven this anyway, by ignoring the problems for over a year).

One other point of interest, in the VoIP Watch blog, Andy Abramson mentions something that I said on the day that the new COO was announced: The new COO came from Motorola and clearly he's totally familiar with how businesses get smaller, not bigger. As I said it on July 1st, Considering the performance of Motorola in the cell phone market recently, it seems to me like it should be a good fit.

The other newsworthy happening, of course, is the 5th anniversary of the release of the first Skype public beta. I wonder if it would be possible to look back and figure out where, exactly, Skype went wrong, lost track of what their users really want, lost the ability to adequately maintain the product that they had developed such that it functioned properly and consistently. Was it when they were bought by eBay? Or when the original founders and technical talent left? Or when eBay had to write off several billion dollars of what they had paid for Skype? Or when their "SuperNode" system became so overloaded that it could no longer function properly? Maybe some day it will be clear...

The Skype CEO seems to be pushing the much-disputed user claim himself; in his blog about the 5th anniversary, he inflates the number even more, when he claims close to 350 million users. I guess that depends on your defitinion of the word "close", but if you are going to hype your product using numbers that are, at the very least, questionable, adding "close" isn't a big deal... but why not really go for it? 338 million is "close" to 400 million, isn't it? For that matter, it's "closer" to 500 million than it is to 0, so why not just round up in your public statements?

It will be interesting to see if there is a post-mortem on Skype in the next five years, and if so what it says about where things went wrong.

jw 1/9/2008

P.S. If you want some really sad reading, try the comments to the announcement of the Skypecast axe. Then read the follow-up from Skype, where they basically say "thanks for the comments, but we are going to do as we please, so deal with it - and oh yeah, sorry about the short notice, but deal with that too". I wonder how long it will take before Skype spins this into "80% approval" according to their own internal surveys...

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