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Skype CEO Outlines Platform Ambitions, Hiring Plans

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s010_ga_c03.jpgSkype, with its spinout from eBay (s EBAY) complete and its legal troubles with founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis settled, is looking to the future, where it wants to become a ubiquitous real-time communications platform. And that means thinking about the next-generation Skype architecture and hiring a lot of smart people, CEO Josh Silverman said in a conversation earlier today. “We are looking to hire engineers,” he said. “Especially those who want to live in Estonia.” In addition, the company is planning to ramp up its Stockholm (Sweden) office. “We are going to be ramping our presence in the Bay Area as well,” Silverman said. Skype currently has 700 employees and wants to hire engineers and product managers to help it expand as it seeks to transform itself from just a voice-based service to a multi-feature real-time communications platform.

“While Europe is going to remain our base, California is going to be a big presence for us,” Silverman said. Skype recently added SIP Guru Jonathan Rosenberg as its chief technology strategist, and he is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company had built up a substantial team in the Bay Area over the past few months as it was trying to build a route around the JoltID technology. With that need gone, the company now has enough engineering talent to start transforming itself into a platform.

“We want Skype to be embedded in more and more devices, and we want to offer our APIs for developers to embed into their applications,” Silverman said. That is going to be a tough sell considering the company’s history of throwing its developers under the bus, the most recent example being the Skype Extras disaster. Silverman was candid enough to admit that the Skype Extras program wasn’t working. “APIs were hard and the extras-software uptake was low, and it is important for us to have a great platform that is built for success,” he said. “So starting off a bad platform wasn’t a good idea.”

When I pressed Silverman on the embedded ambitions, he outlined a future where Skype would be embedded in connected game consoles, televisions and video phones. Skype could be embedded into different software offerings as well. The company wants to be a big player in the enterprise, but knows that it can’t do it all by itself. “We need to open up our platform in order to expand it,” he said, “Our aspiration is ubiquity.”

Silverman declined to offer any specific dates (and details) on when Skype will launch a platform for others to leverage. One thing is for sure, Skype can pose a serious challenge to some of the upstarts such as Ribbit, TringMe and Twilio that are all trying to make it easy for application developers to embed voice-related functionality into their offerings. Skype’s ubiquity — over 500 million subscribers — makes it a fearsome agent of change in the Internet-based communications arena. (Related post: “How Skype Can Quickly and Easily Become a Social Network (and Clean Facebook’s Clock))

Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Silverman about the next generation of Skype architecture, and he said the company was working on it. “It will work with SIP; it will have P2P, but we won’t come to it with a religion,” he said. And that includes offering Skype via a browser and making it even more savvy about video conferencing.

Photo of Josh Silverman courtesy of Phil Wolf via Flickr. Skype desktop photo courtesy of IPVEO.

17 Responses to “Skype CEO Outlines Platform Ambitions, Hiring Plans”

  1. Ironically, I’m beginning to think that it will take Skype delivering a multi-chat video/screen-share service to create the long awaited SMB demand for this type of service from other providers. There are reasonably good options out there today for multi-chat video, yet not many with really significant traction yet in the SMB space. So, in the same way that Skype p-p video made one-on-one voice calls seem low impact or ‘lite’, it may be them who does the same for the 3 person voice conference call. The question will be whether they charge for it (I’d pay something) and if they will crush or create a market while they’re at it.

  2. I just spent a few months working closely with some ex-Skype guys on a start-up which revolves around an embedded Skype client. Reality is, Skype seems to be a long way from the openness & ubiquity they’re discussing here. There are numerous pieces missing both technically and commercially, plus they seem unable to keep to a schedule.

    They need to get their act together or the developers will just move to another platform. Google uses open standards & have everything ready-to-go. People won’t wait forever, and in-the-end Skype’s just a another network.

    • Agreed… I think they realize that and are working on putting together a plan that might actually work and attract more attention from the VoIP community. My view on this is is – they have 18 months before Google Voice and at least one other small player gets a bigger following with the web developer community.

      On the technical aspects, Josh was clear about the missing pieces and recognizes that offering a lame platform can actually be more damaging than not having open APIs. Well let’s see if they can deliver something developers love.

      • Skype for Asterisk is an example of the way they should be heading.
        We’ve used it to enable useful skype-in-a-browser functionality
        (within googlewave no less ).
        The royalty-free licensing of SILK is another step in the right direction.

        The question is if they can get folks on-board and an API out the door within your 18 month timeframe.

  3. We’ve already got the equivalent of Skype which runs in a browser (as well as any phone and any mobile)….and at cheaper rates……and no downloads!! And no peer to peer consuming your personal computer power. What’s all Skype fuss about?