WebRTC Expert Feature

October 09, 2013

Those Who Don't Learn From History are Bound to Try to Kill Skype

I am still ranting against the thinking that Google could possibly have any interest in killing Skype as, in my humble opinion, the whole idea is completely off the rails, ignoring completely everything that led to the creation of Skype.

Before there was Skype there was Kazaa (or KaZaA, as it was so stylistically written in the dark ages of the early 2000s), a popular peer-to-peer file sharing application that users leveraged to share music and video and occasional viruses, which became popular worldwide (because, he said half-jokingly, it was not a U.S.-made piece of software). Also in the mix prior to Skype was ICQ, an instant messaging application that came into being in 1996 that was soon after acquired by AOL and later folded into that company’s AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). 

Image via Shutterstock

At that time, due mostly to settlement charges between carriers (which included embedded taxes), the cost of an international phone call was excessively expensive, while in stark contrast the Internet was making global communication virtually free via email. Along with this, there was a burgeoning online community making new friends worldwide via the Internet, many of whose members were accustomed to using the phone to communicate in real-time and who were dealing with the fact that they had to get off the Internet to make a phone call (the telephone line connected the computer to the Internet, making it necessary to abandon voice to communicate globally).  

So the consumer demand was there and it was increasing, and as such it stands to reason that this would lead to prioritization in getting the cost of voice down. But let’s continue… 

Of course, some people were talking about using the Internet to connect voice calls, such discussions usually turning to the concept of making the voice compression work in a way that would allow for connection to the PSTN. Skype, though, was the first serious mover that promoted the idea that connecting to the PSTN was not essential. After some time, it did develop gateways to the PSTN, however at the start it built its system to stand-alone. Thus, in effect, Skype solved the following issues: You could talk for free while being dialed into the Internet, to anyone any place in the world, and you did not have to understand a thing about the codecs.

Skype solved a consumer demand problem that was worldwide. So what problem are we trying to solve today?

Today, on the codec side, it feels like the WebRTC people who just focus on the consumer and ignore the codec discussions are probably the quickest movers. On the voice and video side, though, it feels very much like-for-like, and as such little has changed.

Whether it is a need-to-have or a want-to-have, WebRTC can bring voice recognition to the entire Web. This is the best opportunity for generating an international community, as I see it, particularly if it deals with the expanding markets of transcription, translation and annotation. I also see the same opportunity that Google likely sees in WebRTC-enabled ad words. For instance, as with the browser highlighting of phone numbers that can be used to directly connect calls via Skype, imagine a keywords highlight URI that uses WebRTC to connect you to a brand or store in Web page text?

So, bottom line? We can innovate and leave Skype – like the PSTN – to die on its own.

Hopefully I have now gotten this rant out of my system, though if you would like my monologue to continue I invite you to prompt me at alwaysoncarl on Skype. ;<).

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