Microsoft + Skype != open standard for video chat

Over the last 24 hours, it seems like everyone on the planet has had something to share about the announcement of Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype.  Opinions have been voiced on everything from the price paid by Microsoft (too high?) to the potential product integrations (everything from Outlook to XBox.)  However, one commenter really struck a chord with me when they started to voice a perspective of what this acquisition means for the future of face-to-face video communications.

ZDNet went beyond the mere facts of the acquisition to ask whether this move would actually enable the video communications industry to move beyond “the spaghetti mess of platforms that can’t talk to each other”.  A good question.

To date video communication has operated within a series of closed environments. Skype users can talk to other Skype users, iPhone 4 owners can use FaceTime to talk to other iPhone 4 users (if they can find them), and so on. The most broadly adopted video communications tools have bypassed the relevant standards, which are stuck in the relative dark ages, and closed environments are the result.  ZDNet argues that today’s news could herald the arrival of an open video conferencing standard. I’m not so sure.

Sure, the integration of Skype with Microsoft will open up video communications for the consumer, simply due to the pervasive nature of both businesses.  Microsoft’s market presence alone will enable Skype to expand both their user base and their use cases.  That said, a more broadly available solution does not equate to a truly open platform for video communications.  It’s “clo-pen” at best.  As a consumer you still live within the walled garden, even though the garden might be the size of a football field.

What I want to see is the complete demolition of the walls, enabling users to video chat across platforms and devices, with no regard for environment.  This is why back in November 2010 we launched OpenTok, our video chat platform and why I believe in the vision that we have set forth of “bringing people together from across the web for face-to-face communications.”

OpenTok launched as a web-based API that enables any developer or website owner to integrate live video chat in their web experience. At first, OpenTok was available only as a JavaScript API; but since then, we listened to your input and made it possible to access OpenTok from within ActionScript as well.  In the last month, we have launched a simple HTML embed (built on the OpenTok API) to make it even easier for website owners to add video chat to their experience.  And next week we will be launching an OpenTok plugin that will enable any of the 30,000,000+ WordPress.org sites to add group video chat too.

Each of these innovations take us one step closer to creating not just the infrastructure behind video communications across the Web, but also a means by which to connect people across the Web for face-to-face communications.

But we’re just getting started.  We call it “OpenTok” for a reason:  our goal is to open up our video communications platform at every conceivable layer – from browser to the cloud – and make it possible for anything and anyone to connect and interoperate with it, leveraging the capabilities of the intelligent cloud we are building.

We believe that this is a movement that is bigger than one (or two) companies. We need your help – the help of developers everywhere.  We have already had some great contributions from our community of developers (Drupal plugin, jQuery plugin, Node.js SDK, .NET SDK and Ruby Gem) but we would love you to join us in extending the reach of the OpenTok platform.

You can find out more about OpenTok here and you can share any contributions you create in our Gallery.  Every contribution made in the month of May will get a fancy OpenTok t-shirt.  We look forward to seeing what you create.

We have also released a more formal statement for press purposes.  You can see that statement from Ian Small here

  • Brendan

    I think it has the potential to be a good thing. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I don’t think it will seep into the web platform as much as one would expect.

    I definitely see them integrating MSN and Skype together (I wish they’d kill MSN, but I digress) in a way similar to that of Google’s Gtalk and AOL’s AIM platforms.

    What worries me the most about this acquisition is how Microsoft plans to change or “improve” the way they monetize the platform. This could end up segregating Skype customers into a “free basic video chat” vs “premium video chat” environment, which would not be helpful to anyone. If their premium chat only means “no ads”, then I’m fine with it… but if not…

    At this point though, I think it is too early to say what will really become of the service. Here’s hoping it turns out positively for everyone!