Big Developments for Skype and Microsoft

This has been a big week for Skype. According to press releases, Skype, one of the most popular VoIP services out there (especially for PC-to-PC calling), has officially been brought on as a replacement for the old Microsoft messenger. The Windows Live Messenger system is going to be retired (as soon as 2013), and Skype will come in as a replacement. The Microsoft Messenger was introduced in 1999 as MSN Messenger, and has been able to hang on since then, but in recent years it has become evident that Messenger was being unseated by newer services like Skype, and fewer people were using the older chatting technology. Microsoft bought Skype several months ago, so in some ways it was to be expected that they would be replacing some older systems with the very popular Skype service. However, many bloggers and editorialists have expressed surprise at Microsoft’s ambition. Some have gone so far as to suggest that they are being foolhardy, and that the 2013 date is far to near at hand to give them time to successfully implement the switch. However, it appears that the user experience won’t be too different from using Skype as it is now. The main difference, it seems, is that users will need to sign into their Microsoft accounts to see their contacts list. And later on in the week, Skype announced the introduction of a new program specifically for small businesses, the In the Workspace platform. The purpose of this tool is to give small business owners a way to stay in touch with their remote partners and associates, and to connect with other business owners for free. By the sound of it, it seems that Skype is trying to build something like a big social network for small businesses. The idea is that small business owners join a “community” of other small business owners, each of which maintains a presence on Skype. The Skype users can then put forward a mission statement, advertisement, product, etc. to represent what their business has to offer. Then, if a business owner is interested in what another small business has to offer, they can contact them for free. This is a great way for businesses to share information, host conferences, and share ideas for free. Users can also rate the service of other businesses after working with them. So for example, an owner of small independent grocer could join the community and connect with a baker who bakes artisanal bread and a local brewery that makes their own beer. The grocer could then begin selling the bread and beer in their store. This is a great way for small business owners to connect with other businesses that they might not otherwise have been aware of. VoIP providers love to give out free promotional deals like the In The Workspace program because they encourage users to then buy their phone service for their primary phone system. For example, Phone.com is reportedly giving out free year-long memberships to local New Jersey businesses who have been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. These kinds of free promotional services are great for the small businesses who benefit by them, and they help create a good reputation for the company as aware of their local community, and willing to give back. So, when it comes time for these small business owners to choose a new phone service or renew their current service, they will remember how much they benefitted from the original promotional service, and will be more inclined to resign, or to start up a new service.