Just recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, Skype now has more than 300 million users. What they have in common is they are drawn to the service because – as long as they have an Internet connection, computer, telephone, tablet, television or game console – they can talk to anyone anywhere for as long as they want.
“People trust Skype for some of their most intimate, personal conversations and moments,” Mark Gillett, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Skype and Lync, said in a recent statement. “They look through Skype into the eyes of the people they care most about.”
There are some more unusual uses of Skype, too. For example, in August, Michael de Roos and Jody Christopherson debuted “The Skype Show, or See You in August” at The New York International Fringe Festival. It has an actor on stage and another on a live Skype call.
Looking ahead, in November, Fabien Cousteau – grandson of explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau – will spend 31 days underwater. Students will be able to see the habitat via Skype.
“The trends are changing as people have more mobility with Skype,” Lisa Gerould, director of Skype’s Brand and Campaign Research, said. “We’re seeing people sharing not only precious life events, but adventures – seeing things for the first time and wanting to share.”
Skype traces its roots as an Estonian startup. In 2001 and 2002, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis were developing peer-to-peer technology. They worked on Kazaa, a peer-to-peer file-sharing company, and were working on their second startup, Joltid. Skype was born out of necessity.
“We were spending a ton of money on calls communicating between Stockholm, where I was, and Copenhagen, where Janus was, and Tallinn, where the engineers were,” Zennström recalled. “At some point in time we realized, ‘Hey, maybe this peer-to-peer technology we were developing could be a solution.’ Phone companies were charging so much for international phone calls as well as for roaming.”
Among the early developers were also Estonians Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn.
Skype launched in August 2003. It saw a million users in just the first month.
“We watched as people started using it in more and more countries. It went viral,” Zennström said. “That’s when we knew – Skype was going to take off.” Skype saw 19.8 million users during its first year.
One of the most important steps took place in August 2004, when Andrei Jefremov started efforts to offer video calling at Skype. The first public Skype video call was made in June 2005, and video calling launched in December.
In 2006, eBay acquired Skype for $3.1 billion. But eBay never really understood how to incorporate Skype technology. In 2009, eBay sold Skype to investors.
The investment group changed Skype, making a network for mobile phones and added partnerships. The company has also opted for to use the cloud and use “supernodes” in data centers.
In 2011, Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion.
Now, the company is looking ahead.
“There’s a chance for us to reinvent Skype today as long as we keep thinking about users, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re putting users in the center,” Jefremov, who is now the principal architect in Microsoft’s Real Time Media group, said recently.
“A lot of friends ask the question of why are we writing code if Skype works so well on the PC,” he added. “The answer is: we are solving for today’s generation of problems and tomorrow’s, like making Skype and the mobile work together, and Skype and the cloud. This is where people are moving in their communication. It is extremely challenging, interesting and a lot of hard work. We look forward to solving it for our users.”
“Technology has evolved so much in the last 10 years that the next generation just thinks being next to each other on video wherever you are is simply the way life works,” Elisa Steele, chief marketing officer for Skype at Microsoft, added. “Now it’s about making that connection very real, very easy and incredibly simple. Skype has to continue to disrupt to continue to be successful, and we’re up for the challenge.”
Microsoft also is continuing to look for ways to incorporate Skype technology into Windows, Xbox, Outlook, and in its other offerings.
“Our move to Microsoft really accelerated our ability to move many of Skype’s functions to the cloud and to be better for your mobile devices and to work across all of your devices from the cloud,” Gillett said. “There’s a real focus as we move forward on sharing and breaking down boundaries – between the personal and the professional, between home and work. The future stretches out ahead of us, and I think it is a really exciting one.”
To see a collection of remembrances on Skype and its outlook for the future from Microsoft, please click here.
Edited by Alisen Downey