Skype Technologies hopes to make its lesser-known IM (instant message) service as popular as the company's widely used VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service by offering toolkits to developers to integrate the technology into their own Web sites and applications.
The company's announcement on Wednesday to provide developers with APIs (application programming interfaces) came shortly after Google unveiled plans to expand beyond its core Web search engine and offer an IM service with voice communications, muscling in on Skype's territory.
IDGNS spoke with Skype co-founder Janus Friis about the company's IM plans, acquisition rumors and possible VOIP regulation and taxes.
IDGNS: Why the move to open your platform now?
Friis: We have always been about openness and about enabling communications. We want to create an open communications Web and network, where it's not about walled gardens or islands of communications but about hooking everything together. So we're now extending this openness to the rest of the Internet and Web and making it possible for anyone to hook into Skype.
The ultimate goal is to help people develop Web sites and applications that interact with our user base. With SkypeWeb, we are offering a set of tools that allows developers and others to embed communication functionality into their Web sites, auction sites, social networking sites and even blogs. We understand that people want more communication functionality in blogs. They want to see whether bloggers are online and how they can contact them - whether by phone or IM. So this is basically about connecting the whole Skype network of 51 million users to the Web, which hasn't been done before.
And what about the other offering - SkypeNet?
SkypeNet is like SkypeWeb in that this product also aims to extend our reach. SkypeNet is an API toolkit that allows developers to incorporate Skype communication functionality into their applications, whether it's another IM service or a game or a media player.
Both seem very similar. Where's the difference?
Yes, both products are similar in what they're trying to achieve - namely, to extend our platform into the Internet. But they do differ. SkypeWeb is, as the name suggests, focused on the Web. It's a set of tools to integrate into Web sites, something users will interface with via a browser. SkypeNet, on the other hand, targets applications; it's a set of tools that developers can use to integrate Skype communication functionality into their own applications.
Is this type of collaboration with developers something new for Skype?
We already have a developer zone, where people can go and get code and interfaces. Over the past two years, we've developed a thriving developer community. Voicemail is a good example of how people have taken our APIs and developed their own applications on top of our platform. We'll be posting examples of what they can do with our SkypeWeb and SkypeNet tools shortly.
Your announcement comes on the heels of Google's plans to expand into IM and VOIP services. Is your announcement a reaction to these plans?
I had heard some rumors about Google's plans, but we've been working on SkypeWeb and SkypeNet for several months.
But aren't both companies moving into each other's markets?
I wouldn't say so. We're not moving into a different market; we already have an IM offering. It's about exposing this to others. To this end, we're building an ecosystem of developers and working with numerous hardware manufacturers. We are constantly focused on extending the number of devices and platforms that Skype users can use to communicate with.
I'm aware of some of your deals with handsets makers, such as Motorola, but what about PC makers, like Dell and Hewlett-Packard?
We're talking to manufacturers all the time.
Change of topic: your independence. There are lots of rumors about Skype being acquired. Do you plan to stay independent?
There are always rumors. All I can say is that we built the company to be independent. We're expanding by adding new products and moving into new regions with local partnerships. And we're doing well.
What about Google buying you up? It has money and clout.
Lots of companies out there have money. Google is a great company and is offering great products. The company is growing but so are we. We're happy with our position and plan to be a major player for years to come.
And yet another topic: regulation. Aren't you concerned about all this talk of possibly taxing communications such as voice and IM over the Net and requiring 911 emergency emergency service in the US?
There is a lot of regulatory talk. Incumbent operators have extreme power and are busy lobbying. We're talking to all regulators and they seem to understand, as a general rule of thumb, that communication is good and if it is free, that's also good. So they shouldn't do things to stop free communication and innovation. We don't have any major concerns.
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