Kevin Werbach has offered some additional thoughts on the Skype / EBay deal. He’s focused on the synergies between the companies, and the direction that this might go. He writes:
Don’t get hung up on the fact that eBay is an "auction company" and Skype is a "VOIP company." Think about eBay as a radically efficient virtual platform for moving goods between people, and Skype as a radically efficient virtual platform for moving real-time communications between people.
Traditional telecom companies face two huge economic anchors that prevent them from innovating and growing new revenue opportunities. (They also have to struggle with regulation and internal cultural limitations, but I’ll put those aside for the moment.) The biggest economic challenges for a telecom carrier are the costs of its physical infrastructure and its billing system. Skype solves the former, by virtualizing the network into peer-to-peer links between end-users riding on top of the broadband Internet. And PayPal solves the latter, by virtualizing the financial system into similar peer-to-peer links. If Skype wants to realize its potential for generating real revenue and profits, it’s going to need a cutting-edge billing infrastructure capable of scaling to hundreds of millions of users. It just got one.
It’s an interesting take.
Traditionally, application vendors targeting the telecom space have had to integrate with the carriers billing system. Billing systems have been the achilles heel for many carriers, slowing the pace of innovation in other areas. A common hold-up to deploying any new application is "can we bill?". PayPal, with it’s public payment API solves that one. And Skype, with it’s public API, makes it possible for innovation to flourish on a de-facto standard platform.
Werbach then goes on to talk about the potential for creating a global communications platform (something which, in 2003, I predicted would emerge, although I believed it would be built on a Vonage-like model). He argues that the "primary accumulation" phase of the Internet is done, the large players established, and that every one of them sees value in being the communications platform.
No one knows how exactly this story will play out. What is clear is that every major player will want to have communications capabilities as part of its toolkit. Users will get converged communications services from multiple providers: it will sound as awkward to talk about "your phone company" as it would to identify "your e-commerce company" or "your search engine company." Get ready for some creative disruption!
Bingo! The upshot for applications developers? Our lives just got a whole lot easier in one respect, because rich platforms for communications are emerging. On the other hand, which toolkit is the right one to use? For the moment, it looks like Skype has the commanding lead.