Pondering the ubiquity of Skype

A few days ago I came across a tweet by Anil Dash referring to his tweet from four years ago.


Funny how he’s still right, isn’t it? Certainly for printers and video calls, tasks I encounter a few times a week. Almost a year after getting a new laptop, my printer is still very fickle when deciding whether to answer my pleas to print… and 90% of the time the answer is no. But I digress, I wanted to talk about video calls.

Yesterday, a new contact asked to talk to me either “on the phone or via Skype” and I was surprised that Skype is almost singularly identified with video calls. I haven’t used Skype for a long while (at least a year) mostly because of that new laptop and Google Hangouts. Hangouts are easy to install, initiate, and use and most everyone I know has a Google account. It also has (objective opinion) better video quality than Skype. Yet, Skype is still the app people most associate with video calls.

Skype has been around for more than a decade and after it launched it became the standard for video calls on the desktop. In 2014, especially during the World Cup, Skype had days with more than 80 million concurrent users online. Today, though, there are so many other alternatives: FaceTime for Apple users, Google Hangouts for everyone, lesser known applications such as Viber and ooVoo, and even Facebook Messenger.

I’m still wondering why it’s application most people go to for video calls. Is it because:

  1. The first-mover advantage? After all, Skype was here first. Brand recognition?
  2. The network effect? Everyone is there but you can say that about Facebook, too, and even Hangouts.
  3. It’s platform agnostic? Skype is neither Apple or Google/Android (though calling Microsoft, Skype’s owner, neutral is, well, absurd.)
  4. Products aren’t different enough? All the other apps provide video calls and that’s the only “must-have” feature for many users. Maybe group calls, with multiple participants, come in second, yet Skype charged for that service for a long time and with Hangouts it was free right away.
  5. The social protocol? With asynchronous messaging apps for text and photos the flow is first to determine what service a friend is using and then send a message. With Skype it’s an alternative to a phone call, not messaging, it’s a different use pattern.

    Skype permissions. There's also "Device ID& call information" on the bottom.

    Skype permissions. There’s also “Device ID& call information” on the bottom.

  6. Call quality isn’t as important as we think?
  7. All of the above?

I did think of installing the Skype Android app for the sake of this post (and my new acquaintance) but their list of permissions turned me away, fast. I’ll ask her to meet on Hangouts instead… Google already has all my data!

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