Tuesday, May 03, 2005

IMminent doom

A couple of my own observations about some of the interesting recent discussion related to Skype's impact on IM incumbents. This is indeed an issue of intense interest and one with a lot to play for. Precise numbers are sketchy, but with something like 450m IM users worldwide, there are an awful lot of people to be converted. Even if we assume that a substantial number of users may use more than one flavor of client, we're probably talking about 300 - 350m unique users worldwide, i.e., 10x Skype's current base.

What are the triggers for shifting to Skype? Noting some of the comments to the post linked to above (via SkypeJournal, to give everyone their propers), there appear to be equal arguments for and against the view that inertia may protect the IM incumbents for some time to come. However, here are a couple of testimonials which I find interesting and challenging:

  1. A youthful French reader told me recently that virtually all his friends had gone straight from ICQ to Skype, suggesting that for young users, Skype may be the second (and probably increasingly, the first) port of call in search of an IM service. The fact that it does voice on steroids may only be an added plus.
  2. A more mature favorite client and mega-value reader, who purports to use all IM clients but has remained skeptical about Skype so far, called me this morning to rave about Skype, which I had encouraged him to have another look at only last week. Seemingly what made it click for him was his realization that, spending more and more time with his PC, he needed something which integrated IM and telephony in a way that made sense and was easy to use. So, hello Skype. I look forward to talking with him about his changing IM use in future as his Skype use evolves.

Lastly there's myself. I was never a huge user of IM before Skype, limited to MSN Messenger, and through the excellent RealTunnel, achieved some genuinely Skype-like functionality. I would be happy to continue with that scenario, but the disincentive for me was my paltry list of contacts. Almost everyone I know with any propensity to use IM is already on Skype, my MSN contacts continue to turn up on Skype, and I am softening up the few remaining stragglers still exclusively using the Big Three.

I think that the Big Three increasingly have grounds to be concerned. I noted with interest a press release I received via email a couple of hours ago (though it is still not on the website as I post this), announcing that Level(3) is "expanded its relationship with MSN to enhance the audio conversation feature of MSN Messenger, an instant messaging (IM) service with more than 155 million active users each month." There is also a reference to enhanced firewall traversal and a more "seamless experience" for MSN users. It looks like Skype has rung bells in more than just a few Bellheads...

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