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The future of Skype

May 11th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I find it hard to get excited by the mergers takeovers buyouts flotations and so on of the corporate computer world. But I am interested in the take over of Skype by Microsoft. Why? Because Skype is one of my key communication tools. And I certainly would not want to see it merged as part of the already over-bloated Office suite. Furthermore I do not have an X Box so the idea of integration with the MS gaming machine holds little out for me. Nor do I see myself getting a windows 7 phone even if it does have Skype integrated.

Generally it seems that when big corporations be it Microsoft Apple Google or Yahoo take over these products they at best stagnate. The original developer teams move on to new projects while the large companies struggle to integrate their acquisitions within their present offerings. And I think this is likely to happen to Skype. Microsoft have paid a huge sum to buy a loss making service and will probably spend the first year puzzling over how they might make some money out of it. Technical development will stagnate. Indeed even before the sale the release of Skype 5 is a dubious advance over previous versions (nobody seems to be able to find the toggle swicth between views in the new interface). In fact I suspect the driving rationale behind the Skype 5 redesign was an attempt to get people to pay for video conferencing. I haven’t (although I do pay for calls to landlines and mobiles) and I think I only know one person who has paid.

I suspect one of the reasons  that the paid for video has failed to take off is because it is only really useful if everyone else has got it. That is important. There are other competing services to Skype and it is a fair bet to guess that better competing services will emerge in the near future. Of course they too are going to have the problem of working out how to make any money out of the provision of what people have come to expect as a free service. But once more these services will only become useful if enough people adapt them – in other words if they achieve critical mass. And I have seen little convincing research into how social software services gain the viral take off to gain such mass – especially in the small business and academic research worlds.

Of course one answer would be a move to standards based communication platforms where one service could connect with another. But I don’t see that happening any day soon. So I suspect we are stuck with Skype in the foreseeable future and just have to hope Microsoft are kind to it.

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