Skype is one of those faces that launched a thousand ships! Its big bang acquisition and open developer program led to the formation of numerous VoIP startups. But the company itself got entangled in a loveless relationship that â€¦. as expected â€¦. never proved synergetic. At this juncture when eBay is understood to be exploring different options for Skype, I am going to suggest a couple of places where Skype could find love.
Let me first touch upon the reasons why the eBay-Skype synergy never materialized. eBay acquired Skype in order to woo large retailers into setting up their storefronts on eBay. That did not happen. Even if it had, the kind of click-to-call capability that Skype would have been able to bring in would not have sufficed. The reason for that is the missing third â€˜Câ€™. The Context. Click-to-call in a consumer driven environment is what some of you would call a Web 3.0 application. We are not quite there yet. Translation: Suppose a retailer such as Apple set up a storefront on eBay. In order for its customer services agent to better serve the click caller, the agent needs to know the profile of the caller as well as the caller activity on the site prior to the call. That piece of info flashed to the agent screen at the time of the call is Context.
That Context is completely missing. In the business world, if your customer calls, you get the profile on screen to better serve the customer. In a consumer world that has not happened yet. For that to happen, the phone directories today need to evolve into something like a Facebook kind of directory (Directory 2.0). And then further evolve into a system that dynamically takes input such as callerâ€™s surfing in the immediate past on your site. When that Directory 3.0 becomes available, the eBay-Skype synergy will be born. In short we are taking about something several years from now.
In the meantime, which direction should Skype pursue and what should be the eBay criteria in deciding the future of this business unit? If the criterion remains synergy, you will not arrive at many options simply because your thinking will not be flexible. I think the criterion should be future growth of Skype itself. Skype will grow and develop through independence only. An independent Skype will foster an even stronger developer program that in turn will take Skype to places that it has not explored itself. So I think the first choice should be to spin off Skype as an independent company rather than selling the asset at a substantial loss to some other company.
If, however, selling Skype to another company is the only choice, I think a telco acquisition could make sense for Skype. First off, Skype is a telecom asset that telcos understand better than a search company or an e-commerce company. The other reason why I think telco would be a better option is the ongoing Voice 2.0 activity or the development of communications aware mashups at the telcos. While most of the telcos that are working on such projects in-house are essentially trying to offer more productive applications to their existing subscribers, some of them (especially BT with their Web21C program) are quite aware that the Voice 2.0 will drag them into a global market beyond their own in-country subscribers.
Telcos may not be suitable to provide 100% of the Voice 2.0 applications. Certainly the location based services are only possible within their own footprint, but most of the Voice 2.0 applications that telcos like BT and their developer partners have engineered can be offered to customers worldwide, beyond UK. In fact with PoPs worldwide they will be able to offer just about all Voice 2.0 services including location specific apps. The question is whether someone like BT has the â€˜bandwidthâ€™ to serve a global audience. This is why, I think, a full blown Voice 2.0 program makes sense mainly for large telcos such as BT, France Telecom, AT&T, and Telefonica. If they are to leverage investments in Voice 2.0, they have to have a global ambition. The two aspects will go hand in hand.
Now, how does a Skype acquisition help a telco? Well, Skype happens to have the best Voice 2.0 developer program out there. Through Skype acquisition, not only does a telco get the most popular telephony interface on the Internet, it also inherits a large pool of developer partners that a telco could only dream of. Most of all, what one of the above mentioned telcos would get with Skype acquisition is the ability to realize a global ambition if it has one.
Since the post is getting too long here, I will do another writeup later this week on the subject.
Follow up entry here.