Boris Mann

Open Source. Community. Decentralized Web. Building dev tools at Fission. Cooks & eats.


Skype turns 5

Phil Wolff of Skype Journal contacted me (over Skype, of course!) earlier in the week to ask about posting something for Skype's 5 year anniversary. I didn't get to it earlier in the week, but when I was chatting with him I had some ideas around Skype and the identity space that I've continued to think about. So, here is a belated birthday wish to Skype. Check out Dan York's post for a lot of the same items that I'll be mentioning here.

I was really annoyed with Skype when it launched. Annoyed because I had spent the previous 5 years working in the VoIP standards space at Nortel, having seen MEGACO and MGCP fall by the wayside so that my favourite, SIP, could reign supreme. And here was Skype, with its proprietary protocol. That just worked. And nary a cool SIP service to be seen (other than the Gizmo Project, which is still the only cool SIP project around...).

I wouldn't say that Skype is an integral part of my work flow today (lots of people use it much more heavily than I for all of their voice communications). But it is one of the communications channels that I do need to have open most of the time, primarily for group IM chats. 3 years ago at Gnomedex, we started a Skype backchannel group chat, and it's still running today -- the "Vancouver Swarm". For various groups and companies, multi user chats are just an add to channel and bookmark away. Oh, and of course, the way that chat history "flows" to you if you've been offline for a while: persistent chat!

And I'm still not talking about the audio and video features :P

My dad is a heavy user of Skype, especially Skype Video. Whether it's sitting down and "sharing" a coffee with my sister in Italy, checking in with relatives in Germany, or showing off the snow up at the cabin at Deka Lake, he uses Skype all the time. He continues to "evangelize" Skype to people he comes across.

I started by mentioning the concept of Skype and identity. With sites like Twitter and other social networks and services exploding into general consciousness and discussion, I'm (still) thinking about identity.

Each of these services are an identity space. Systems like Facebook are rooted in your real identity -- you use your actual name and such -- while others like Twitter have you using nicknames or shortened forms. These nicknames become your identity within those spaces. Phil Windley talks a bit about this namespace federation -- in response to Craig Burton ho humming it. Yes, there is a friction with federating so that a single namespace is very valuable.

Are phone numbers, especially international phone numbers, a single or federated namespace?

In the past, our phone number was a large part of our identity. e.g. my parents have had the same home phone number for 29 years. I still remember the last 4 digits of my childhood friend's phone number (the whole island has the same 6 beginning ones, so the "local" identity space only needed the last four...). Now, less so, in part defensively. I give out my Vonage VoIP number which rings all the numbers I need it to. Of course, when I then switch to text messaging, my cell number shows up (and shows up as "unknown" for those that know me by my home number). Traveling between countries and switching SIM cards, you have multiple numbers.

Skype is a portable voice identity. It doesn't care what country you are in or what SIM card you happen to have inserted. It is Internet voice. One could argue that federation and open standards are needed (and I would agree ...), but no one else has reached the same "just works" level of functionality. Here's hoping that we get at least another 5 years of innovation and disruption out of the Skype juggernaut. Happy birthday!