Business-wise, Skype is a basketcase. But that’s just one of the things that makes it one of the most emblematic companies of our time – a real, Ur-Web 2.0 company.
Like so many internet companies, Skype has millions and millions of users. Like these internet companies, too, it can’t make very much money off all these users. Hello, Facebook! And like these internet pin-ups, it owes a great deal to utopian power fantasies.
But what makes Skype so very of its time is the peculiar relationship it has with incumbent telecomms companies.
Think of Skype as a kind of parasitic virus that threatens to bring the host to its knees – but which can’t survive without a living host. Bloggers and mainstream newspapers are another good example.
Well, Skype has no network of its own – it’s simply an open protocol (SIP is more than one protocol, but bear with me) wrapped up in some proprietary bits. Apart from a few authentication servers, its only real asset is its “brand” – which isn’t the most concrete or tangible line item to have on your balance sheet.
Continue reading “VoIP is Dead. It's just another feature, now”
A Voice over IP service was to blame for a man in Massachusetts bursting into flames at the weekend.
The man, David Reed, held an executive position at Lotus in the early 1980s, and was a Fellow at HP Labs. He is said to be recovering from the spontaneous human combustion at MIT Media Lab, where he’s on the faculty – and where, we hope, the presence of alarm clocks that run away from people shouldn’t hinder his recovery.
We’re speaking figuratively, of course.
Reed was responding to a discussion on David Farber’s IP list that prompted by last week’s publicity stunt by Skype. We reported this here, but to summarize: Skype, notorious as a closed system, asked the FCC to open its networks to so any device can be attached (which it already can), and create a new standards body so it could nobble the cellular operators’ own standards bodies, and tell them what to do. A fine case of the pot calling the kettle black, we suggested.
But the discussion rapidly turned into a conflagration.
Continue reading “Spontaneous human combustion: Skype to blame”
eBay’s proprietary VoIP service Skype wants the Federal Communications Commission to change its rules on how cellular networks operate.
It’s demanding that the US regulator extend a 1968 legal decision, which permitted any device to be attached to the AT&T network, to apply to mobile operators. It also wants a new industry body to decide the standards for the networks, and ensure they comply: effectively bypassing the 3GPP (http://www.3gpp.org/), 3GPP2 (http://www.3gpp2.org/) and IETF standards bodies.
“After you”, the operators may well say.
For Skype is a closed system itself, using a proprietary signalling protocol, in contrast to the open SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) family of industry standards. In addition, the Skype client is closed proprietary software – in contrast to the software libre WengoPhone (http://www.openwengo.org/) project, and in contrast to much of the core infrastructure used by VoIP service providers, which is often based on Asterisk (http://www.asterisk.org/), which is available under GPL.
But is the claim justified?
Continue reading “Pot, dial kettle: Closed Skype wants open networks”
“eBay looks less fearsome when you’re upside down,” says the young CEO behind the online auction house’s great Chinese rival Jack Ma. To encourage new hires at his Alibaba.com, Ma asks them to perform handstands. Maybe that won’t be necessary for much longer, as eBay is a lot less fearsome – and a lot poorer – after splurging $2.6bn on Skype (and $4bn in total if Skype hits the numbers).
Couldn’t eBay have done something more sensible with $4 billion – like give the money back to its shareholders – or to the Katrina relief fund?
Continue reading “Meg Whitman's $2.6bn spam goof?”