Skype Grows Up With Devs in Mind

The four-year-old company adds a Web service to let developers know it's more than just a place to make cheap phone calls.

By Larry Barrett | Posted Sep 28, 2007
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Skype has 220 million users, but it's still looking for more attention. For that it has turned to developers.

Paul Emery, director of Skype's developer program, pitched the company's plans to further its transformation from an intriguing curiosity in the VoIP market to a full-fledged communications platform and announced a rash of developer tools.

First up is Skype's first Web service, which will enable external applications and services to access the company's new Unified Directory. It will provide developers' applications with greater search capabilities beyond the VoIP player's existing Skype Find user listings and Skype Prime service provider listings. Access to the Unified Directory's premium listings, users and public conversations will enable Skype developers to build greater numbers of communications applications that leverage the platform.

The hope is to engage a wider audience of developers and users. Emery, speaking at the company's North American headquarters here on Thursday, said Skype, an eBay subsidiary, has more than 6,000 community developers and about 50 professional development partners. Together, they have produced more than 130 integrated applications that garnered more than 32 million downloads this year, he added.

"The perception is we're just a low-price way to make phone calls," he told InternetNews.com. "But we've got a number of e-commerce products to offer and more on the way. Without sounding too corporate, we're trying to offer a rich communications experience that you just can't get with a landline or a mobile phone. And we're delivering it all through the Skype client."

The new Web service project will initially involve a small test group of application developers, some of whom were in attendance during Thursday's meeting. Emery, who this week was also meeting developers in London and Tokyo, said the company plans to begin building the Web service's foundation in earnest during the fourth quarter, and expects to roll it out fully to users and developers in the first quarter of 2008.

Those efforts will coincide with plans to simplify its developer tools and broaden its e-commerce platform. That involves incorporating more payment options for users who want to play games or buy widgets and applications developed on the Skype platform.

"The Skype service is the suit," Emery said. "Our job is to provide the accessories."

During his presentation, Emery also showed off several successful application mashups already developed by companies like JiWire, the Wi-Fi hot spot directory service, and TownKings, one of German's largest social networking sites. JiWire, based in San Francisco, was recognized as the winner of the company's U.S. Mashup award for developing an application that lets users find available Wi-Fi hot spots through the Skype client's chat box.

Emery said Skype hopes to double or triple the number of such applications within the next year. He also cited Salesforce.com's AppExchange platform, with its hundreds of Salesforce-based applications, as the model Skype hopes to emulate.

The company also plans next week to launch a certification program for professional developers, designed to better meet growing demand from users looking for specialty applications that Skype's own developers simply don't have the time to meet. Developers versed in Skype's APIs and willing to take the outsourcing assignments will be given Skype's badge of approval as Skype Approved Integrators.

Skype developers at the meeting responded to the news with approval. Mary Stuyvesant, vice president of marketing at Emotive Communications, said Skype's effort to extend its platform for application development demonstrates the company's maturity and commitment to enhancing the user experience.

"It's a fantastic opportunity," said Stuyvesant, whose firm developed an application that pushes media such as music, video or chat to Skype users. "We're happy to see more people come in. It's a slightly different perspective, reaching out rather than pulling people in. People originally came to Skype to save money on phone calls. Now, we're trying to get them to spend money."

Emery also briefly discussed last month's outage, Skype's first substantial loss of service, which left the vast majority of its 220 million users disconnected for the better part of the day.

"The outage sucked by anyone's standards," Emery said. "The one positive thing about it was that it was such a shock to users, because we've had such a history of stability. It's interesting that Skype for so many people has really become a utility."

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