Blog Post

Is Skype Neglecting Its Developers?

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Like many other large technology companies with a sizeable installed base and big developer communities, Skype Technologies, a division of eBay, habitually takes the innovations emanating out of its developer community and reinterprets them under its own label.

Today thousands of developers are looking to create software and hardware for Skype and hope to end up making some money from their efforts. Companies are touting everything from streaming video over Skype, to sharing documents over Skype with Unyte from WebDialogs, to avatar-based video skype, with CrazyTalk from Reallusion. Skype says in a press release that 300 software products and 100 hardware products have been created with support of the developer program in the past year.

While the company might announce an occasional deal with say, a start-up like iSkoot, Skype’s track record is prompting some developers to pause and wonder if the P2P telephony company actually cares about its developer community. Despite hosting a lavish developer conference in Las Vegas, the fact is that many developers are worried about Skype. Om touched on this in his post from last December, Skype eats its young.

Update: Check out Alec Saunders smart take on the benefits of a solid developer ecosystem, and some of the positives and negatives of Skype’s own program.

Some third party Skype developers say that the company still has one of the worst developer programs out there. Developers complain that there is little help from Skype in bringing in users to the service, including poor or no placement of links or applications on Skype’s site. Skype’s former product manager Lenn Pryor has previously pointed out that the company hasn’t done a particularly good job of explaining to the developer community how they can make money with their Skype applications.

That’s in comparison to Microsoft and Apple that lavishly (and smartly) court their developer communities. We contacted Skype about the complaints and their response was to forward us a press release from the Vegas Developer Conference.

British startup Connectotel abandoned its Skype to SMS service a few months ago, while Skype started working on its own Skype-to-SMS application (Connectotel still has an SMS to Skype application.) EQO, is another company that had cast its lot with Skype, and didn’t fare as well. Its application allows consumers to install a small piece of software on their phones to make calls via their Skype client, but users unfortunately have to leave their personal computers running to use the service – that has so far generated less than 100,000 users.

Fastforward into the future, and EQO learnt that Skype had cut a deal with iSkoot, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based competitor. EQO, is adding more applications beyond its initial Skype service, but isn’t alltogether pleased with its Skype experience. EQO’s CEO Bill Tam says the Skype developer program has a lot of maturing to do.

How that will happen, we don’t know. Lenn Pryor, a much loved executive and a developer favorite, recently left to work with parent eBay, so that certainly won’t help. And Skype’s developer program has gotten bad reviews before, including a “D-“ from Skype Journal last year. But we thought the program was getting better.

If it’s not, that’s a significant problem for the company. The innovations of developers can insulate a company against various market hardships. If you’re a third party Skype developer, and you have any feelings – happy, ecstatic, mixed or downright disgruntled about the program, send us your thoughts! We’ll air them here.

17 Responses to “Is Skype Neglecting Its Developers?”

  1. jccodez

    open is a relative term…just exactly what do you want to do that skype does not let you do…the channel stream is wide open…however, i wish they would give the access to the avitar for users…compared to the plugin interface to yahoo, the non-existant msn channel streaming that microsoft refuses to open up, I would say in regards to peer 2 peer streaming over a channel, skype is wide open…there really no limitations to what can be sent accross the channel. I would like , as mentioned , some more access to things like avatar , for user experience. but as a whole, they are doing way way more that their competitors at opening up their “channels”.

  2. Alex Kazim

    So as painful as it is for me the read this feedback, I can’t disagree with some of the comments. Our API and Software Developer’s Program is still in the early stages, and we’re working hard to improve it as we grow.

    It was tough to lose Lenn to eBay corporate, but at the same time, I’m excited to see some Skype DNA heading into eBay Inc. We’ve just hired his replacement, Paul Amery, who recently ran the developer program at Symbian.

    At any rate: stay tuned. We’ll get better at this.


  3. Skype was great, till the UAE and China blocked it. Sure would be nice if they fixed that little problem. Working in the UAE and having to pay expensive phone bills sucks. Now my kids call me on skype…

  4. Hey Katie – I wanted to add some context to our discussion. As I said to Alec Saunders, there’s an evolutionary process to all developer programs. Skype’s done a great job in supporting an API that allows third parties like EQO to build apps on top of. It continues to get better. Since the beginning, we’ve enjoyed a great relationship with Skype and their support has made us the top mobile app in their developer zone. Like any ecosystem build out, there’s room for multiple partnerships and Skype will continue to be an integral part of our program for extending online communities to mobile phones.

  5. As Kendall remarked below, the major problem with their developer program is their API is not open, and Skype as a company is not an open company. In my experience they are extremely tip lipped about anything and everything they are doing.

    Regardless of whether they “steal” or not, their developer community will never get better and stand out until they open up to the community allowing the necessary information and ideas to flow in order to drive innovation.

  6. I think you’re seeing here what we see all the time from Skypes parent company eBay. We’ve been developing for them for 5 years now, and time-and-again we see them take our (or other third-party devs) ideas. It’s very very tiring and annoying.

    What I think you’re seeing in Skype is just what has always happened at the parent company. Hopefully they come to realize how great of an asset they have in their third-party partners before they leave.

  7. christian

    Going out to the press and whining about Skype not being “fair” to their developer partners is not a great PR strategy. Like it or not, folks, Skype is bigger than most of the rest of the consumer VoIP market COMBINED. Maybe they’re disfunctional, maybe not. Who wouldn’t be after a multibillion dollar exit??

    Comparing the eqo web site and the iskoot web site it appears pretty obvious why Skype played favorites there. Eqo is lame! eqo requires you to have a PC up and running and installs all kinds of goofy plugins, iSkoot is a network service that just requires a little applet on your phone. if I’m @ Skype I’m going to certify tools that work properly.

    AIM and MSN and YAHOO don’t have great developer programs but they’ve been hacked and are essentially open.

    The best thing that can happen for the Skype network is for someone to hack it open, though this wouldn’t be (short-term) so good for Skype the company.

  8. jccodez

    Great stuff…I am currently developing a skype hook to our application that turns it into a communications platform…am I making a mistake? I could easily do a google talk/jingle hook instead…The problem here is msn does not allow app2app streaming like skype…skype is ahead of the curve in app2app streaming and it works well. googol does have p2p via jingle, but their userbase is very small compared to skype…if it grows, which it will eventually, they would be a better target…but googol would do the same damn thing…microsoft has done this for years…zip, they now natively handle, video, graphics , you name it…

  9. Skype achilles heel will be its closed proprietary protocol, its crappy closed API with close to nothing functions (I hope SIPphone leanrs and opens their own API to allow SIP calls to other domains).
    Theirdriect competition with their developer community is nauseating and please why does every one have to skype runing in order to use the API.

    They need to get a good skype to sip bridge cos SIP is the way to go.

  10. Although we provide services complementary to Skype, they are the last company we will talk to because of their history of stealing from their developers.

    Their developer program, as it is, is a joke. It is nothing more than free R&D. If you build a successful Skype app, they’ll just take it.

    In my view, there is no incentive to build extensions to Skype, because no users will pay for them, and if they are popular, they will just copy the service. The iSkoot deal is the most prominent example of this.