Skype Sniffing Around Web Chat Startups

Skype has been in the news a lot lately.  Over the past six months, rumors swirled that the peer-to-peer telephony service provider was going to be bought back from eBay by its original founders, to be spun off as a separate company and then IPO, and ultimately to be sold to an investor group (which was confirmed at the beginning of this month). Now Skype founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis through their Joltid holding are suing eBay and the new buyers over copyright issues centered around core p2p technology used in Skype product which they have developed and own.

The rumors just won’t stop.

This time, however, it’s about the company’s product strategy rather than its general fate. A well-placed source tells me Skype management is actively shopping around for companies that provide web-based communication services such as browser-based calling and video chats.

To date, Skype has focused on desktop and mobile software to handle peer-to-peer based calling over the Internet. This is not surprising, because when Skype first started back in 2003 bandwidth costs were a an order of magnitude higher than they are today and desktop apps were the only way to go if they were ever going to make a decent profit from Internet-based telephony. But with bandwidth prices decreasing worldwide at a fast rate, it makes a lot of sense for Skype to at least consider moving into web applications and claim their ground. The fastest way to do that would be to pick up a startup with proven technology and early traction in that field, like TokBox, PalTalk or Tinychat.

Here’s another reason Skype might be looking at web-based communication service providers. What if eBay/Skype cannot develop a workaround that would allow them to continue the service without using the Joltid-owned source code powering its core peer-to-peer engine? It’s conceivable that might drive the company to consider purchasing companies with similar or related Web-based technology to speed up its move away from the litigation threat hanging over them.

Of course, companies talk to one another all the time and as far as we know there haven’t been any official acquisition offers from Skype at this point. But they’re definitely looking.