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Skype's Platform Strategy

Andy continues to dig for dirt on Skype.  In this lengthy post he reveals his talents as a full blown investigative reporter!  The integration problems I speculated about previously seem to be real.  I would imagine that these are unavoidable, in any merger.  But Andy’s right that it’s going to take a close relationship between top management in the UK and top management in the US. 

As a result of Andy’s post, I went back and reread Om’s post on the Skype 2.0 beta.  One point Om makes is that Skype continues to gobble up ideas that independent developers bring to the table:

The Video calling feature seems great, except when it starts getting mass adoption, it will start to choke the upstream part of your broadband, and for some odd reason that really makes incumbents mad! It also raises some crucial questions about the future of independent developers. As Skype continues to subsume great ideas implemented by its developer community, is it running the risk of alienating the very community that made it great. Today three companies that offer Skype plugins get impacted – Video plugin maker Festoon and DialCom that offers Video4IM. Skype now offers a new Microsoft Outlook toolbar which impacts another independent developer, the Skylook.

This is the perennial problem every platform maker faces — how to enhance the platform while impacting ISV’s the least.  A stark example of this would be Microsoft’s inclusion of IE in Windows.  At the time, the Mac had a browser called Cyberdog, and IBM had WebExplorer for OS/2.  Windows, without a browser, was simply uncompetitive.   We knew it, and we licensed the Mosaic code base from Spyglass in the fall of 1994. Then the phenomenon called Netscape happened.  So, should Microsoft have remained uncompetitive because an ISV had already implemented the feature?

If you intend to be an independent developing software for a platform you don’t control, then you need to be constantly vigilant about what the platform maker might do.  Some companies have successfully executed this strategy for years — Symantec is a great example.  Symantec is so valuable to Microsoft that Microsoft routinely consults them on all new major OS features.  This is especially valuable to Symantec because they get to see competing features long before those features are released, which provides ample opportunity to build competitive new features.

And similarly, the platform vendor needs to ensure that early information and builds are available to the ISV community.  In the case of this video release, Skype should have released the video components to developers early, and solicited feedback on API’s etc that would have increased the value of video to the ISV community, rather than compete directly.  It’s a small, but important, step in building a thriving ISV community.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Andrew December 6, 2005, 6:32 am

    Who said Skype was a platform?

  • Alec December 6, 2005, 10:00 am

    C'mon Andrew :) You're playing with me….

  • Andrew December 7, 2005, 6:29 am

    Seriously, where does Skype claim to be a platform for Voice communications? They are an IM client that specializes in voice communication and conferencing calling/video. Just because it is painfully obvious to us 'industry types' that Skype can be greater than the sum of its parts, it was built by young programmers who wanted to give away free phone calls, it wasn't built by telecom engineers. They didn't design it to integrate to PBX's and traditional telecom infrastructure, it was built with the aformentioned clear specification in mind, of giving away voice communication by any means necessary.

    They will (hopefully) make Skype more of a platform play for us eventually but the transition from VoIM client to Asterisk or a VXML play is not an easy one, and quite frankly they add 150-175K new users a day, so why should they care? Also the cheque for 2.6 Billion should quell and dissention amongst pundits that it won't be sucessful, cause' that is pretty damn impressive to me.

    Lets call a spade a spade, we want a platform that allows us to make money from Skype's userbase, we are chasing the dollars (and up until recently) Skype's play wasn't profit motivated. If you touch Skype's core business (presence .. cough), basic toolbars, video etc., or anything obvious that they will move into, then your business model isn't sustainable or fundable.

    The Skype API was originally built for hardware, not software – the add on's; some very impressive like Columbus CRM or the Unyte product, or even Jyve for that matter, are unintended benefits/consequences much like podcasting was to RSS. For Skype/Ebay to monetize these opportunities they need to add many people and support systems and this isn't going to happen overnight. P2P has little benefit for the end user, the client is the server etc., the only real benefactor is Skype, but therin lies it's biggest challenge, it isn't traditional and moving from P2P to platform is a biggie.. it simply can't be what we 'think' it should be.

  • Alec December 7, 2005, 7:07 am

    Andrew… you ARE playing with me :)

    Go to that link, download Meg Whitman's presentation from the acquisition announcement, and jump to slides 50 through 59. Note the claim of 1000's of developers, all the wonderful applications, and the language describing the ecosystem they are building.

    They are a platform in every sense of the word, despite the fact that they haven't provided developers with a means to monetize applications, or been open or… etc etc etc. They are executing a platform play.

    So… what we "think" it should be is critically important. They increase their value by increasing the number of applications using that platform. To do that, they need developers… and that means they need to listen to developers and understand how developers want to use their platforms.

    Yee gods and little fishes… I am sounding like Dave Winer.

  • Andrew December 7, 2005, 9:52 am

    If I just spent 2.6 Billon Dollars of someone else's money, I would paint that picture to. Skype is a good move for Ebay IMHumbleO, but the platform talk is misplaced. There are no traditional telecom scenarios I can think of that I would deploy Skype over Asterisk/IP PBX in. Anything you do would be a hack without QOS. This is by no means a critique of Skype, there is no bigger proponent of Skype than me. It just seems like everyone is trying to fit a round peg in a analog card slot…

  • Alec December 7, 2005, 10:23 am

    So what you're saying is that, despite Skype's claims to the contrary, it's not a credible platform. Right?

  • Andrew December 7, 2005, 10:38 am

    :) .. now whom is playing with who?

    Surely you're not extrapolating from a few hundred hardware devices a platform makes? A 'vibrant ecosystem' and a platform are two very different things. Skype is careful not to say the word 'platform' and refers to first class partners and applications that leverage the client.

  • Alec December 7, 2005, 12:27 pm

    Me? Never 😉

    RIM blackberry is widely acknowledged to be a platform. They have a few hundred pieces of software, thousands of developers, and some APIs. How are they different from Skype?

    How Skype prefers to market themselves really isn't germane.

    Quote from Wikipedia:

    In computing, a platform describes some sort of framework, either in hardware or software, which allows software to run.

    Is this not what Skype is?

  • Andrew December 7, 2005, 5:28 pm

    It is very germane, the criticism to which Skype is subject to is the result of people assuming they are your traditional platform play, which they have never said they are. As I said earlier, it is interesting to see them persecuted for not providing a developer environment, wherein they never said they would. Xbox is a gaming platform – RIM is a Messaging Platform ie. the new Palm Rim devices, Windows etc.. but Skype is an application. You can make applications talk to other applications (Skype), but are you building on it? or just sitting adjunct to it?

    It just makes sense for Skype to move towards what we all want and I know they will, but it is hard to be critical of them for not doing something they never said they would.

  • Alec December 8, 2005, 4:18 am

    I think I can settle this. Just go to the Skype press release page and have a look at Skype's own press release from August 24th of this year.

    Then look at the one from August 31st. In addition to announcing the Developer Contest, they announced the formation of the "Platform Advisory Council", consisting of 15 of their top ISV's.

    So, they market themselves as a platform.

  • Andy Abramson December 10, 2005, 12:50 pm

    Skype is a platform. It's also a pipe. It is a platform of change and a delivery pipe of media-voice, video and data.

    BTW, Alec–Thanks for the props about revealing my investigative reporter side. Most people fail to realize that my degree from Temple University is in Journalism, even if I ended up taking the Advertising sequence :-)

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