Come on Skype, tell us what really happened!

As you probably know, Skype went down on Thursday and didn’t resume to normal until sometime Saturday. Hundreds of bloggers have written about the outage, and the event has raised a number of really interesting questions, such as “how mad can we get when a free service goes down?” The answers may still be up for debate, but one thing is clear: Skype’s excuse is downright unacceptable.

Here’s what they wrote today on their blog:

The disruption was triggered by a massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they re-booted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update.

Skype loses points not only for failing to accept any responsibility for the outage, but also for making such an incredibly dumb statement. As Long Zheng pointed out:

Think about it. If Windows Update did in fact cause the restart of millions of Skype users worldwide, which it can do without argument, then how come Skype doesn’t crash the second Tuesday of every month when of course Microsoft distributes its Windows patches like they have for the past 3 years and years of unscheduled patches prior to that? As far as I recall, last week wasn’t any different.

Am I missing something? I’m not saying it was not Windows Update, but why only last week did it do what it could have done 36 times already?

I get the distinct feeling that Skype is unwilling to admit they did something wrong. Even if this particular Tuesday did something extra special with the updates, and even if it caused a flood of requests, shouldn’t Skype have been prepared for that? In their explanation they say:

We can confirm categorically that no malicious activities were attributed or that our users’ security was not, at any point, at risk.

Does that mean that Skype was open to attack before this happened? A flood of requests from Windows Update should be no different than a flood of requests with malicious intent. Actually, you’d probably assume the latter would be worse.

Something just doesn’t add up.

Read: Skype Heartbeat

Yahoo hearts PayPal

Post ImageIn a deal announced earlier today, Yahoo and eBay are teaming up around advertising, e-commerce, and search. Yahoo becomes the exclusive provider of graphical ads on eBay, and will also provide some text ads. They are going to make a co-branded toolbar, and they’ll work to make their respective VoIP apps work together (Yahoo Messenger and Skype). The biggest thing of all though, at least as far as I am concerned, is Yahoo’s adoption of PayPal:

Yahoo will make eBay’s PayPal service the exclusive third-party provider of its online wallet, allowing customers to pay for Yahoo services from bank accounts, credit cards or balances associated with their PayPal accounts. PayPal will also be integrated into product offerings for Yahoo merchants and publishers, including the Yahoo Publisher Network, Yahoo Search Marketing and Yahoo Merchant Solutions.

Yahoo using PayPal essentially removes any doubt that PayPal is the de facto payment service on the Internet. It will be very hard for Google to successfully introduce a competitor now. Two of the largest sites on the net in Yahoo and eBay, plus the millions of other smaller e-commerce sites all using PayPal is an enormous hurdle for any rival payment service. PayPal is the closest thing we have to a truly digital wallet. Incredibly smart move by Yahoo, and excellent outcome for eBay.

Read: CNET News.com

Skype 1.4 Released! Video coming soon?

Post ImageSkype launched the latest version of their Windows software yesterday, bringing the popular VoIP tool to version 1.4.0.71. I installed it on both of my machines this afternoon, and it appears to be running quite well. Here are some of the more noticeable new features:

  • You can forward calls on to mobiles, landlines and other Skype Names.
  • They have added downloadable ringtones!
  • There’s a bunch of new emoticons, 21 to be exact.

You can see the entire list of new features, changes, and bugfixes here. And the coolest feature of all? A feature that might be coming in as little as a month, according to a post by Roland Tanglao:

There you have it! Skype introduces video calling in November 2005 for Windows. So Mac and Linux Skype video calling will be there in 2006 which means 2007 is the year of video calling for the masses.

Definitely check out his post to see the picture he attached. Interesting indeed! You can download the latest version of Skype at their website, and be sure to keep your eyes open for that video version!

As the new version of Skype has call forwarding, and because the application seems to work fairly well on my Tablet PC, I have decided to have my “mastermaq” account connect automatically, and I have set the old “blogosphereradio” account to simply forward. So if you want to get in touch with me over Skype, please use my mastermaq account.

Read: Skype

Presence: Pipe Dream?

Post ImageI got thinking about “presence” today, after reading a comment from Dan Gillmor in light of today’s eBay-Skype deal (hat tip Larry):

It’s official, and eBay will now be adding something to its portfolio: customers’ presence online. The possibilities are endless. I didn’t get this at first, but now I do.

Unfortunately he didn’t “get it” enough to elaborate in his post. There are of course a few “gotchas” associated with eBay acquiring presence – eBay users need to be Skype users, and somehow the two need to be associated or perhaps merged (like Yahoo and Flickr recently started to do). I disagree that the possibilities are endless though. Adding Skype doesn’t give eBay users any capabilities they didn’t already have with other IM systems. Of course, if the two companies can integrate auctions with Skype in a new and interesting way, that may change, but there’s still only so much presence information can give you.

The Holy Grail of Presence

There has long been a goal among technology companies, business people, and many others to have “presence” information about users. That is, knowing when someone is online or offline, available or unavailable. The idea works best when combined with location – are you online at home or at the office? There are many supposed benefits to having such information, not the least of which is greater productivity and efficiency. That being said, I think presence is one big pipe dream – at least for the forseeable future.

From Wikipedia:

Presence is defined as the “availability and willingness of the user (presentity) for communication”. Presence information is published by individuals to other systems users, known as ‘watchers’ or ‘subscribers’, to indicate their communication state. Although not limited to IP communications, it has become synonymous with IP applications such as VoIP and Instant Messaging.

The problem with presence is that it’s inaccurate at best. I have two MSN Messenger accounts. One is online 24/7 unless there’s a problem with my connection or with MSN itself. The other one is for my tablet, and I sign in as “Maq@Location” to try and share both presence and location information. But even back in the days of ICQ, my “always on” connection is usually set to Away, even when I’m here. That’s not really accurate! What users really want is to be able to say “Jack can contact me at any time, regardless of my status, but Mary can only contact me when I am Online”. Unfortunately, almost no one is going to take the time to manually set those restrictions.

And what about when you get up from your desk to grab a cup of coffee or use the washroom? Unless you remember to switch your status, your presence information is no longer accurate! How about moving from the computer to a different device, like your cell phone? You’d likely have to sign out of the computer and sign into the cell phone. Not the best scenario in the world is it?

Presence needs to be seamless for it to work. My devices and applications should all work together to know where and when I am available. In the best case, my devices should know that if I am out and about with only my cell phone or PDA, I might not be able to respond, and could then share this information with contacts. Let’s say I am working on a specific project in Outlook – my devices and applications should adjust my presence so that I am available to people related to the project, but maybe not to others.

Can we get there? I think one day we will, as much of the technology needed to achieve “true” presence exists today; things like wireless communications, RFID tags, web services, and other base technologies. For now though, presence remains a pipe dream.

eBay acquires Skype

Post ImageI posted about the rumored deal on Thursday of a marriage between eBay and Skype. Today, the two companies announced that eBay would purchase Skype for $2.6 billion dollars:

Company executives said Monday that eBay plans to pay $1.3 billion in cash and $1.3 billion in stock to the global communications company. It has agreed to hand over up to an extra $1.5 billion, for a total payout of more than $4 billion, if Skype meets certain financial targets by 2008, according to a presentation to investors on Monday morning.

As I said previously, I am not sure how smart this was for eBay. Surely purchasing PayPal back in 2002 made a lot of sense, and they immediately saw a return on investment. And it was probably a rather large return, if I had to guess. Skype doesn’t make a lot of money, and might not ever make that much money.

If all the deal turns out to be is a communications network for eBayers, it’ll be pretty clear that it was a waste of money. eBay could probably have built their own system for far less. Who knows though, it might turn out to be a very wise investment. Maybe Meg Whitman knows something the rest of us don’t. Time will tell.

You can read the official press release here.

Read: CNET News.com

eBay+Skype – What about Amazon?

Post ImageThe big story today in the world of technology (or M&A, depending on how you look at it), originally reported in the Wall Street Journal, is that eBay is in talks to buy Skype for, get this, $3 to $5 billion (yes billion). Seems like anything but a match made in heaven to me. Mark Evans agrees:

eBay purchasing online auctions houses overseas makes sense as do moves into new areas such as online rental listings. But spending $3-billion to buy Skype puzzles me. If anyone can explain eBay’s strategic thinking, I’m open to be educated. For investors, eBay’s interest in Skype could be an alarming indication management is concerned about the growth prospects for the auction business, which may explain why eBay shares have fallen today.

Skhype!

Skype has become quite the media whore as of late, with rumored suitors in the last couple months including Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, News Corporation, and InterActive. Yahoo, Microsoft and Google balked at the purchase price, no doubt because they could build their own competitor for far less. Talks with the other two didn’t amount to anything.

Skype is horribly over-priced:

Om Malik has a post citing a Swedish newspaper that suggests Skype has annual sales of about $70 million. Doing a little quick math suggests a $2-billion to $3-billion purchase would give Skype a price to revenue multiple of 30 to 45 times.

And even more importantly, I can’t see how Skype and eBay result in any synergies. They are completely different businesses, and I don’t think eBay needs a communication network to grow. Furthermore, adding Skype to it’s portfolio may only create new headaches for eBay, who had to jump through hoops at times to get PayPal where it is today. Dealing with financial regulators is one thing; dealing with communications regulators is quite another.

What about Amazon.com?

So the question then, is what does Amazon.com do if the rumored eBay-Skype marriage turns out to be true? Surely there’d be some pressure on them to make a move, as their primary competitor these days is most definitely eBay.

One scenario: partner up with Google in a real hurry. eBay would have both PayPal and Skype under it’s wing, so it might make sense for Amazon.com to try and get in bed with Google and it’s Google Talk and Google Wallet (rumored) services. The other advantage for Amazon in this scenario is that it could happen very quickly, as opposed to building their own systems. On the other hand, Google is a competitor of Amazon’s already with Froogle and Amazon’s A9.

Another scenario would have Amazon build their own communications system, perhaps using Jabber. I don’t think Amazon sees itself as a development company so it would be a bit out of character, but if Google can do it, why not Amazon right? This scenario would depend very heavily on whether Amazon sees any advantage to having such a communications system. I would imagine they are scratching their heads a little right now about eBay and Skype too.

Any other ideas? It will be interesting to watch this one unfold!

MSN Messenger 7.5

Post ImageThere’s a new version of MSN Messenger out, with a bunch of cool features! This latest release, version 7.5, is part of the new strategy to release three versions a year. Here are some of the new features:

  • The UI has been updated again. The login screen now “matches” the rest of the program, showing your display picture, and a better view of your login options.
  • Voice Clips! Basically you can record short 15 second clips of audio that get sent to your contact and automatically played.
  • Apparently the audio has been drastically improved, though I haven’t tested it yet.
  • Patching! In the future, you’ll only have to download small patches to update the client, instead of a complete new program. Very cool!

Go ahead and download it now. There’s also a much more comprehensive list of features here.

I’m looking forward to testing out the new voice improvements. Microsoft has an enormous installed base for MSN Messenger, an installed base which seems to download new versions extremely fast, so they could create a viable Skype competitor almost over-night. Certainly MSN Messenger is a better VOIP platform than Google Talk, at least in terms of the user experience.

Read: MSN Messenger