Skype is SkypeKit’s adoption barrier

Skype is readying SkypeKit, a component programmers can put into their software. I interviewed a software CEO about this idea.  Paul Grayson runs Alibre Inc., makers of professional 3D CAD/CAM at a $99 price point.

You’d think there would be a strong need to build collaboration tools into the app. So about 2001 he did. IM, document/view sharing, voice chat, etc.

Five years later he ripped it out. Customers didn’t want it. The nuts and bolts of design is solitary, hands-on, heads-down work. All the conversations were taking place outside of the design tool between hands-on moments.

Alibre’s customers were using IM, conferencing, and desktop sharing tools from many sources. Tool choice was dictated by their social network; who in their network used Yahoo, MSN, Skype or an enterprise product for IM. WebEx or others for screen sharing. Skype or one of the toll-free conferencing platforms for voice. SharePoint, Zoho Office, and many other services for document sharing. Tungle, Doodle, Timebridge, Google Calendar, and others for meeting scheduling. DropBox, Box.net, Gmail, or Skype for large file transfer.  I won’t even try to list task list, project planning, and progress tracking systems.

Meanwhile, 3D design had become part of Do-It-Yourself manufacturing. Designers were now talking with a more people, in more companies, in more countries. The range of tools continues to explode.

Paul determined it was better to leave communication, coordination and collaboration outside of the design app. Better for the company to invest scarce development funds on core capabilities.

There’s no need for Paul to embed SkypeKit. Skype serves his customers better as one of zillions of tools they can choose outside of the design system.

More talk within the DIY Manufacturing value network is great for Skype as a network.

Less than great for SkypeKit as an embedded solution.

SkypeKit’s features may fit an Alibre perfectly.

Features are not enough.

Three obstacles, inherent in Skype’s offering, stand in the way:

A user must have a Skype name. Registration creates a conversion barrier and a huge complication for the software publisher. A user can only contact Skype users. SkypeKit’s value is limited to talking only within a large but far-from-universal pool of Skypers. A user, having paid for the SkypeKit features along with the rest of the product, must pay again for an outside suite when even one of their colleagues doesn’t use Skype. When comparing two products, one with Skype and one without, the SkypeKit’d product can look bloated and distracted from its central value proposition.

Skype has a few strategies for improving its chances.

Allow SkypeKit publishers to create private Skype namespaces. A Skype name that looks like AlibreInc123456789, a unique publisher code and a string. Let publishers map those names to their proprietary namespace or to third-party namespaces. So your Alibre ID and your Skype ID are linked, and you can be found in both networks using either ID. Skype lets you map your MySpaceIM ID to your Skype ID, but only for that one network. Permit developers to store user logins; many applications would work better if there was no need for any mention of Skype and no added step to log in each time you want to be connected to your peers. Enable interop through gateways. This could be offered as a centralized service, connecting SkypeKit-powered apps to thousands of independent identity, calling, metawork, and collaboration networks.

Be Everything To Everyone is a losing approach. Skype believes this; you can see it in Skype’s focused product discipline and in its investment in developer products.

That same focus by independent software publishers means Skype must offer value beyond its features. 600

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