Monday, April 11, 2005

The Ecology of Skype

One of the marks of success for any product or service is the emergence of communities, accessories, pundits, copies, and newsletters. This has happened with the iPod, Amazon, Google, and blogging.

The latest entrant to this level of interest is
Skype, the free VoIP service that lets anyone connected to the Internet talk with anyone else. There are now enough services, products, hacks, and activities that have come into in existence, to describe an ecology of Skype.

Any one who uses Skype regularly has sought out better hardware - echo cancelling microphones, comfortable headsets, physical phone interfaces.

There is a blog/forum called Skype Journal, which covers the service itself as well as the ecology and potential impacts.

The equivalent to podcasting has emerged as skypecasting, in which content is played back out over Skype, creating the ability to be your own broadcaster. More troubling, content can also be captured during Skype sessions and turned into MP3 files for playback and distribution. A good reminder that anything you type or say on the Internet can come back to haunt you.

I really wonder if the old-line telco equipment makers are going to survive this latest shift in their universe. They tried to ignore data for a long time, then scrambled to integrate IP voice into traditional PABX equipment, still charging millions for large systems.

Meanwhile, every desktop has a PC and it is just a matter of habit catching up with reality. You can't have cubicle dwellers in open plan offices all yelling at their computers, but you definitely can marry the idea of a handset with a PC.

Throw instant messaging (IM), calling regular phones, conferencing, and soon, video, into the mix , all also provided by Skype, and you have a genuinely disruptive change on your hands.

Apart from the obvious impacts on traditional businesses, there is also a change in the way we interact. Email broke the conventions of "proper" correspondence by turning written interaction from the formal to the casual. Speed also changed expectations of politeness, and the pressure to respond. IM ratcheted up the pressure even higher, because now you can have a continuous conversation regardless of distance.

A recent program on the BBC World Service had an academic talking about how his collaboration with a colleague in Japan had changed with Skype, because they no longer say hello and goodbye, they just talk when it is appropriate.

Since Skype can also work on PDA's and wireless devices, and people with way too much time on their hands have figured out how to put Internet access into airplanes, we have truly arrived at a permanently connected world.


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