Opinion: Dear Skype: It’s over between us

skype microsoft conversation adsThis is going to be tough, but I think we should break up.

I know that we’ve been together for a long time. I fell in love with you in 2007. You were incredible. You gave me an office phone line, an answering machine, and even video calling, all for just $60 a year. You were one of the things that made my computer such a powerful device, and that made me feel so much smarter than everyone else.

The years since have seen nothing but bad decision after bad decision. Your latest announcement in particular — to incorporate “Conversation Ads” into the calling experience — is simply unforgivable, and an indication that we should go our separate ways.

Today, I resent you as one can only resent something once loved. So: we’re through. However, it’s not me, it’s most assuredly you.

The final straw

In hindsight, your latest monetization plan is only the latest of many questionable moves. It is unquestionably the worst of them, though.

“Conversation Ads” are a laughably bad idea. Phone calls are intimate experiences. Your new advertisements will be nothing more than a distraction. The worst part of this — distraction is actually your plan.

With Conversation Ads, “[Skype] users will see content that could spark additional topics of conversation,” or so said your GM/VP of advertising and monetization Sandhya Venkatachalam in the blog post announcing the new product. Unbelievably, your goal is to derail the discussions we have with friends and loved ones. Frustratingly, this nearly-unprecedented departure from the traditional telephony experience is based on completely wrong-headed assumptions.

Skype’s users are not the type to react to or even see online ads. Research from the marketing agency Greenlight recently showed that up to “44 percent of Facebook’s users say they will ‘never’ click on sponsored posts or display ads on Facebook.” Won’t Skype’s users behave similarly, tech-savvy bunch that they are? How many of Skype’s users will completely ignore ads shown via the service?

These ad units are even less valuable when you consider that they will not be displayed to users who have purchased Skype credit or a subscription to its services. Paying customers — many who use the service every day — will never see Conversation Ads. Offering an ad-free experience on premium plans should infuriate your advertisers. In this situation, what are advertisements other than an annoyance that people can pay to remove? Considering all of these things, what are you really offering your advertisers?

From the consumer’s side, framing advertisements as somehow additive to the calling experience is entirely ridiculous. How often do you think consumer reactions to advertisements are strong enough to spur positive conversations about the brand advertised? Maybe 1 percent of the time? Even if I (charitably) agree that 5 percent of advertisements will be that effective, then 95 percent of the time the ads will be an unwelcome distraction or ignored entirely.

This is what you think is unobtrusive advertising?

Your customers should be the most important people to you. Offering those customers — whether they’re users of the service or advertisers — a lousy experience is an exceptionally poor long-term strategy. How could I be with you if you treat the people you’re supposed to care for like that? Maybe you’re just not the bright, forward-thinking company I thought you were.

A history of failure

Your most-recent ill behavior proves that we’re on very different paths. In hindsight, though, we’ve been on different paths for a long time. Maybe I’ve been in denial, but it’s clear now that you’ve joined the ranks of the “once promising but now out-of-touch.”

I remember how you used to be. You were fantastic in your utility and simplicity. All your application offered was a window listing contacts in a single column. There was nothing there that didn’t need to be there. Your Spartan interface provided an excellent — if under-appreciated — experience.

Then, things went awry. You were distracted by the allure of “social,” and added features accordingly. Never mind that users have about a dozen more-useful, more-trafficked social networks to use. You grew enamored with visual contact identification (apparently), and redesigned the call list experience. Never mind that, outside of caller ID, a single column list of contacts with names identifying each contact is the contact-selection mechanism used by, I don’t know, every other digital telephony interface?

This lack of vision is as apparent in long-term strategy as it is at the user-experience level. If you need to make more money, why not differentiate your services? I don’t really need video features, but Skype worked great for me as a phone substitute. Audio must use significantly less data than video, so why not offer a less-expensive audio plan in addition to a video plan?

Also, what are you doing with Microsoft? What do you both hope to accomplish together? After last May’s purchase, Microsoft should be able to integrate Skype’s technology better than any other company, and therefore, deliver a Skype experience that no one else can match. Where are these announcements? Echoing a question explored here by Geoff Duncan last month: It’s been a year: What has Microsoft done with Skype?

Your prospects are all the more bleak when recent idiocy is considered against this backdrop of failure. I don’t think I like where you are going. Maybe it’s better if you go there without me.

Skype-free future

My computer assists with the bulk of what I do. It’s where I do both my personal and professional work. It’s where I view and listen to the bulk of my media content and where I play too much Diablo 3. It’s the system that I prefer to communicate through. It’s my amazing everything device, and you’re screwing that up, so you have to go.

Don’t worry about me. Some friends have introduced me to something called Google Voice. I think we’ll be happier together.

With fondness, 

Louie

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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