May 10, 2011

Finally Microsoft does something exciting. Buys Skype.

You know, I really thought it was going to be Facebook that bought Skype. Perhaps they couldn't afford it.

Anyway, this is really the first good big move Microsoft have made on the internet since buying Hotmail. Cringley thinks it's purely defensive. And it might be, but he makes a good case that even that's a good (or necessary) idea.

But it could be so much more. If M$ don't fuck it up.

Here are a couple of observations :

1) Skype is a great brand.

I always thought that M$ had a good brand in Hotmail, but they proceeded to throw it away, continually trying to turn it into MSN / Windows / Live blah whatever. People still call it Hotmail. They still use that in the address, but M$ did everything they could to confuse and destroy the "Hot" brand.

It will be ULTRA idiotic of them to try to rename Skype as LivePhone or MSN Talk or something. I mean, really, really, really, really dumb.

Contrariwise, Skype is much better brand than anything else M$ has when it comes to cool contemporary internet stuff. Other technologies that M$ are developing could well be moved under the Skype name. For example ...

2) Skype is a social network.

It really is.

Like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And unlike either Google, Apple or any of Microsoft's previous efforts, Skype is a pretty meaningful "social graph" which can be used for all kinds of interesting experiments in social communication.

At the moment, Skype is very much focussed on synchronous chat / phone call. But it would not be hard at all to add asynchronous capabilities to the client. Some kind of pub-sub, status, wall. Allow Skype users to tag their contacts, or group them into themed lists. And then to watch the posts from a particular list. Let them add photos, links, video. I think within 6 - 8 months M$ could build a fairly plausible and compelling rival to Twitter. Especially if they allowed groups to create private workspaces and channels.

In fact, if I ran Microsoft (here it comes ...) here's exactly what I'd do. Find two or three great programmers and UX designers who are hungry to do something new. Pay Dave Winer to go and talk to them about instant outlining. Pay someone from Google's Wave project to go and talk to them about what they hoped for from it, and what went wrong. Get the designers to mock up some forward looking ideas about how a future Skype client could incorporate asynchronous communication, "narrating your work", private tweet streams, etc.

3) Skype is collaborative work

"Skype" is what people in business say when they mean "conference call".

And Skype could be another chance for M$ to get into collaborative work. Word and Excel need to support shared editing of documents. And it needs to be easy to understand. So bundle the Skype client into Office. (Not exclusively, of course). And have a menu option on Word and Excel saying "Share this document via Skype" which immediately allows you to invite skype contacts to work on a document together.

What if they don't have Office? Well, the Skype client should at least have the free document viewer built into it so that they can follow what you're doing. (I'd go further, why not allow some restricted editing facilities? And yes, this should run everywhere the Skype client runs, ie. Mac, Linux, iOS etc.)

More importantly, hello? App Stores! Have a one click "buy and install Office" built into the Windows Skype client. Make it all work smoothly.

4) Skype is a subscription service

On the subject of one-click buying, remember that Skype is a paid relationship / service. (And likely they already have the user's credit-card number.)

Apple had one of those with iTunes, and look how that worked out for them. Amazon has one, and it's managed to take the Amazon account from selling books to selling virtual servers on AWS. And it's why Amazon are a serious contender to rival Google's App Store for Android. Being able to take people's money easily is an amazingly valuable asset that none of the other social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) have. Even Google are struggling with this problem.

Get creative here!

5) Skype and Windows Phone

Yes, build Skype into Windows Phone. But I'd go further.

I'd immediately offer a discount on Windows Phone contracts to anyone who's put money into a SkypeOut account. It's a way of paying people to use WP7 that a) might actually encourage some undecideds but b) importantly, doesn't look (too) desperate - it is, after all, a reward for buying into the whole M$ ecosystem. Go further, a single plan for renting a Windows Phone AND SkypeOut calls.

6) More brand extension

SkypePad : it just sounds a hell of a lot funkier than Windows 8 Tablet Edition doesn't it?

Skype 360 : better than RoundTable? (Don't even start me on "Unified Communications"!)

You get the idea ...
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