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VON Canada: Skype API Session

I am sitting in Jon Arnold’s panel for Skype Developers.  I’m here to hear from the horse’s mouth as it were.  iotum has wanted to work with Skype for some time, but not yet been able to get a successful relationship going.  I’d like to hear more.

Jon’s got Goren Gershon of WebDialogs, Andrew Hansen of Virtual Communications, Ben Lilienthal from Vapps, and Bill Tam from EQO communications.

Each of the speakers is giving a brief overview of what they do.  Andrew, of course, is on his third application at this point, which is Skylook.  He’s let us know that it’s just been Skype certified.  Congrats!  Goren has shown Unyte, a web collaboration tool built around Skype.  He makes the funny comment that "Skype has an API.  It might not be the best API, but it’s an API, and none of the others have one".  Ben is showing his voice conferencing solution.  He’s talking about his experiences working with Skype, and emphasizes that it was an iterative experience. Good to know.  Bill is talking about how EQO set out to extend Skype to the mobile phone, to extend the social networking experience of Skype to that phone.   It’s amazing that EQO was able to deliver their application in just 40 days, which Bill attributes to the quality of the Skype API.  He says that he couldn’t have done the same with MSN, or AOL.

Interestingly, Jon points out that none of the panelists have businesses built solely around Skype.  Jon asks where Skype fits into their business plans.  Goren answers basically that their original concept was to build brand awareness with Skype.  What they’ve done now, though, is to keep the free version, and have now introduced a pay version. 

Bill comments that in the last 18 months, Skype has begun to focus on business model.  He recommends that you find a way to impact Skype’s core business.  Drive minutes across their gateways.

Andrew also noted that shortly MSN, AOL et al will also have APIs, and at that point there is an easy port.  And, of course, I wonder about GoogleTalk.  It has an API – just not the customer base.  Andrew says that the API of GoogleTalk is so low level that it’s just plain hard to build applications.

Ben asks a very basic question:  how do you prevent rapid commoditization of everything.  Voice is free.  When does when web conferencing go that way? 

I ask who’s using the APIs from competitors.  Nobody has yet, but Goren provides some interesting insights.  He likes the AIM API.  Thinks it’s a much more modern API than the Skype API.  He has also seen the Yahoo! API, and believes it’s probably richer.

There’s a fascinating discussion going on around about what might happen if, say, Google were to step in and start to throw money around, buying developers loyalty.  The panelists dismiss the idea, but this is, of course, a classic #2 player tactic.   The discussion shifts back and forth, pretty regularly, to the topic of how to build products that Skype won’t just integrate into their platform in the future.  There seems to be some pretty deep scars here, and a reasonable degree of paranoia.

My takeaway: Skype seems to be playing the platform game pretty well.  It’s still a very small company, and it’s still a relatively immature platform.  But they’ve managed to tap into a latent need in the developer community well.

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