Thursday, August 16, 2007

On the surface, one would think that I'd be a big Skype ( proponent. It provides voice calls over the Internet using a decentralized, peer to-peer system. Certainly. I find the concept appealing. What I dislike is the company's business model. While standard Skype services are free, the company charges a fee for premium services, despite their absolute inability to assure any level of quality.

The Skype system is peer-to-peer in the truest sense. They have no servers under their control to route calls. Instead, user computers running the Skype application route all the calls. They may have their own computers running Skype all the time, but ultimately user computers do all the work. The system actually works better when there are more users online. Conversely, fewer users means lower quality.

So while it makes sense for Skype to charge a fee to communicate with people outside the Skype system, they don't do a thing to control the quality of those calls. In theory, they could supplement the service with their own servers to assure a minimum level of quality, but they don't. Instead, they let user computers handle the entire load. While I think it is a fair trade to use their free service, I believe it is poor practice to offer no quality assurance to paying customers.

If there is a failure in the network, Skype can do little to fix it. They have no servers to reboot or replace; the network is the server. In order to examine the failure, the network needs to be connected, just as I'd need Internet access to examine a problem with my blog. Their software forms their network. They can't fix it unless it's running, but why would anyone run Skype if it's not working?

And that's what happened today. Skype went down. By default, it's a software problem because they don't back it up with hardware. And they're asking users to keep the Slype application running, even though it's not working, because they can't find the problem if the network isn't running (although they haven't yet admitted that).

Again, don't get me wrong! I like peer-to-peer and Skype is a worthwhile service, but I knew their whole hog reliance on users to power their system ("crowdsourcing" ( would bite them in the ass. Someone commented that users should have a backup in case Skype goes down. (,guid,fcd20189-f47b-4cad-bdca-5572d9a8e310.aspx#commentstart) Well, I say Skype should have had a backup in case Skype goes down. The outage doesn't hurt occasional users like me, but it sure isn't good for paying customers, like Marc Orchant ( who made SkypeIn his office number.

CateGoogles: general_tech
Mood = unimpressed


Skype lives down to my expectations


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