Skype Says Next Generation Platform Will Embrace Developers

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I’ve had a couple of conversations with Skype exec Jonathan Christensen over the last few days to get a better understanding of just what directions the company plans to go with regard to third party developers. The recent announcement of the closing of the Skype Extras program seems to suggest Skype is heading exactly in the wrong direction.

As an aside, one of those conversations was extraordinary from a technical perspective. Jonathan called me via Skype, which forwarded via Skype Out to my mobile phone when I didn’t pick up. Since Google now controls my mobile number, it rang my cell and my home Vonage line per my rules. I picked up the vonage line and I had a crystal clear connection with no lag.

Christensen says that the Extras announcement is not about Skype backing away from a robust developer platform. Rather, he says, Skype is focusing on a next generation platform that will hopefully address the deficiencies of the old program and open many more opportunities for developers to build on Skype services.

Vague? Somewhat. But it’s a heck of a lot more information than we’ve ever gotten out of Skype before.

Eventually, we suspect, Skype will release a SDK that allows developers to integrate deep into Skype and make calls over the Skype service without opening the Skype client. In other words, people may start to think of Skype (voice, video, chat) as a service rather than a client that must be installed and used to communicate. Today’s tools, which include a public API and the now defunct Extras program, require developers to open the Skype client to make a call.

In the future we’ll see other third party desktop applications be able to make Skype calls directly, and possibly share in the growing Skype-out per minute charges that make up the bulk of Skype revenues. And sometime after that, we will see web applications leveraging Skype as a service, too.

A couple of things have to happen first, though. There are two reasons Skype has to run on a client today. The first is audio/video encoding at the client level that ensure high quality calls with low latency and minimal configuration. There’s a reason calls on Skype tend to sound good. The second is the p2p architecture of Skype, which also affects latency and cost.

It’s relatively straightforward for Skype to allow third parties to build both functions into their apps via a SDK, which is why we’ll see desktop applications integrate Skype as a service first.

But the real win is when you can initiate skype voice and video calls via web applications. It’s not clear that we’re anywhere near that being possible with today’s browsers, say experts we’ve spoken with. There will likely always need to be some desktop software to assist with at least audio/video encoding. But it’s possible this could be done via browser plugins, or even in Flash.

Anyway, we’re looking a ways into the future with all of this. But one thing seems clear – Skype, which is happily soon to be under new management, will someday open its doors widely to developers.

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