Friday, June 10, 2005


Well, Om had the scoop (via Rodrigo, via Michel), which was then picked up (completely lacking in attribution) by Engadget, and I can now also confirm that this scenario is the story I heard and referred to in this post from last month, as some perceptive readers might have already figured out. If it comes off, it is going to seriously rock some telco worlds.

UPDATE: This is all very interesting. Just as this story starts to break, we get a feature article on Reuters Newswire regarding Yahoo!'s interest in voice, in which the company appears to be expressing loyalty to Plan A, the partnerships with telcos:

"For what the future could hold, Yahoo points to its deal with Britain's BT Group, which sells the BT Communicator -- a version of Yahoo's Messenger that can not only handle voice calls between computers but make and receive telephone calls. 'We view voice as a fundamental aspect of the instant messaging experience,' said Brad Garlinghouse, vice president of communications products for Yahoo, in an interview Thursday with Reuters. 'We will continue to enhance and expand the voice functionality within Messenger.'... Garlinghouse declined to offer specifics of Yahoo's future plans for voice services. But officials at SBC say they were considering a Skype-like service that could be sold with Yahoo. 'We could put one together real quickly,' said Scott Helbing, senior vice president for consumer marketing, in a recent interview with Reuters.' We don't have that service right now, but we're interested in it and we're investigating time to market and the services that are out there.' Garlinghouse said Yahoo preferred to work with telephone companies like BT and SBC instead of pursuing
customers independently."


Reasons to think something might happen:

1) Relative to MSN and AIM/ICQ, Yahoo! is a more marginal player in IM, and may be looking for that critical leg-up.
2) Yahoo! may be looking at Microsoft (LCS, Groove Networks, Xbox 360, Sylantro deal) and getting paranoid.
3) Yahoo! may be pre-empting a move by someone else (my money has always been on Google to take out Skype).
4) Yahoo! may have rightly appreciated the potential value of the Skype user base, and more importantly, the developer community taking shape around it.
5) Maybe this is not an acquisition, but an interconnect agreement, though I can't see Yahoo!'s telco partners (BT and SBC) going for that one (or maybe Yahoo! doesn't care about that).

Reasons to think nothing is going to happen:

1) As is apparent in the quote above, Yahoo! has so far committed to telco partnerships (though the latest iteration of the Messenger client demonstrates just how divergent their thinking actually is likely to be - besides, if you had a choice between teaming up with a couple of old telcos, or enabling millions of users to connect/transact via your painstakingly-collected database of contacts, which would you choose?).
2) Yahoo! has only just released the latest version of Messenger, which is already moving closer to Skype in terms of user experience (though interestingly, this now does SIP, which we know Skype can accomodate), so why cannibalize that investment/effort?
3) I sense, as I've said before, that Skype is still in a relatively early stage of its development, with more to come, so selling at this point would be premature (then again, if we agree that Skype faces growing distractions/costs from compliance issues surrounding 911/112/data retention, maybe it makes sense to run into the arms of someone with the resources to weather it all).

On balance, I can come up with more reasons for why there may be something to this story than not - but what do I know?

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