I am old enough to remember when sixties and seventies rock bands such as Eric Clapton's Creem and the Allman Brothers covered blues classics by dressing them in a rock beat. By doing so, they raised the profile of the great blues artists who wrote those tunes. Soon, lots more folks than before knew who Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Robert Johnson were.
After reading Steven Levy's piece eBay's Bet: The Skype's The Limit in the current issue of Newsweek, I've come away with this loopy-sounding but plausible-when-you-think-about it thought that eBay CEO Meg Whitman can be the new Eric Clapton.
The deal, Steven explains, is more signficant than just another way for Internet users to make free phone calls. "It means using the digital nature of VoIP to take voice communications in formerly unimaginable places, built into all sorts of software applications," he writes. "Think voice mail in your e-mail in-box, and instant teleconferences. It means using the technology to establish 'presence' (the ability to know who's online), since people will now indicate whether they're logged on and willing to talk.
Steven then quotes Internet telephony pioneer Jeff Pulver as saying that the deal "is the triggering of a transformation where telecom merges with software applications."
Steven thinks that because eBay is such a "mainstream" Internet application, the way in which it presents Skype to their users can catapault consumer familiarity with Internet telephony from the current anemic 13 percent to a significantly higher level.
Popularizing a phenomenon unknown to the masses? That's what Clapton, the Allmans, and OK- Deadheads - them too - did (and Eric still is doing, BTW).
And what eBay has a chance to do.