Making Skype More Profitable and Ultimately Better

SkypeThere have been a few articles floating around talking about the fact that eBay is considering selling Skype. Although the talk is mostly related to new Skype CEO John Donahoe referring to “synergy” and weather or not the two business are complimentary. I think this might be cover for “profit”. The acquisition of Skype by eBay was a curve ball in most commentators eyes and there is no doubt that it has likely had a negative impact on Skype’s revenue and image.

That discussion made me think about what is it about Skype that is stopping it from being a giant (a bigger one). Number one in my book is the fact that most users don’t pay for any calls they make. They use it as a communication tool while online. They take advantage of Skype’s free calling, which is great. But there is no profit to be made from free. This is despite the fact that paid calls are cheap and deals like “Skype Pro” were top value for money. Indeed the new “flat rate unlimited calling” is also feature rich and again cheap. So if the majority of users are not taking them up on these great offers what can they do?

Charge for the use of Skype. That’s right charge for it, make Skype a subscription service on a per year basis. Before you go screaming your butt off hear me out. If you are screaming you must use and value Skype, I hear you. Skype is one application that I could not live without.

One of the strengths of Skype is the user base, it is massive. Used by an estimated 30% of all internet users and accounting for 95% of all VoIP traffic. Watching the total users online I see a constant + 10 million. There are questions about “active” users on Skype, given that total registered users is reportedly over 100 million but that is what I see on a regular basis so lets use that in our math.

With this huge user base Skype is in a great position to use that market share and economy of scale to charge a minimal subscription fee and make a very large profit. Consider this:

Skype have 10 million active users. Charge $10 per year for the use of Skype free calling PC to PC, therefore outside of SkypeOut. Given the fact that some people won’t pay this and ditch Skype lets be conservative and say that they lose 50% of current users. Now we have 5 million users paying 10 dollars a year. That is 50 million dollars a year! That is profit that they just don’t have coming in right now that could make Skype a whole lot better. Skype’s revenue is currently running around 500 million, subscriptions then would account for 10% of total revenue, that is a lot for any business.

I don’t think that they would lose 50% and I think that it will benefit users and Skype. I would pay 10 bucks a year. I might consider paying more. Why? I think that it is that good and I don’t have a problem paying for a quality service. I have used a number of VoIP services and none compare to the quality that I get from Skype, especially for recording. Generally speaking Skype is constantly reliable and stable, making it easy to use and dependable. Ten dollars a year is a very nominal fee for a great service.

In addition if I knew that the addition of a fee might make for a better Skype and encourage more development, great. They could even concentrate on working on some of my gripes:

  • No record feature native to the software
  • Bloatware like Skype Extras
  • Creating a stripped down version for optimizing call quality

I know that many people will disagree with me and strongly. I may even get flammed for putting ideas in their head. But quite frankly I don’t want to loose Skype. I sure as hell don’t want to lose it to the likes of Microsoft or some other web company that will pollute it with rubbish… “Yahoo! toolbar will be installed with Skype” (in fine print at the bottom of the EULA). Skype should concentrate on being a VoIP service, not a games platform, not aan application client, not anything else.

I will say though that subscriptions without value adding to the application and development of more bloatware would be a disaster. But the opposite would make for Skype to develop and maintain a platform for which there is no equal. As long as they add that record button.

Would you pay 10 bucks for a killer app?

Existing Technology Could Make a Difference, Why Re-Invent the Wheel?

The following article is my personal opinion and does not reflect those of any health care system in Australia. I am not speaking for or on behalf of any facility or department or person. These are my own views and opinions as a member of the public, in relation to new technology and embracing those technologies for the benefit of patients.

Digital Pen Camera

I really hope that some politician somewhere is paying attention right now. Today I read an article about a new USB camera. It is called the Digital Pen Camera. This camera is special, what makes it special is that it is a small, very small. This means that the applications for medicine are exciting.

Measuring 14cm in length and 12.2 cm in diameter, so it is shaped like a pen. With this size comes the fact that it is also capable of really clear close ups up to 9mm from the subject. I could go into the rest of what makes this all possible but that would just be reiterating Dan’s Data’s excellent review, which you should read if you are interested.

While the technical specifications of this tiny camera are interesting even amazing, what is more interesting to me is what sort of things are possible with it, especially in regards to medicine. Here is an example of what this camera is capable of:

(This video has no sound)

Not sure if Dan knew what he was looking at inside his own ear, but that is a video of his ear drum. In fact it is a pretty good quality image that, in my opinion; any doctor and most defiantly a specialist could view that video to make a diagnosis or treatment decisions based on it. Or at the very least have an idea as to what is going on. That is vitally important. It is also worth taking a look at some of the other images that Dan has captured to emphasize the point of what I am about to say.

In Australia we have isolated communities that are a long way from specialist medical care. Lots of families live on large properties in the middle of no-where. Say a child has an ear-ache. The family might make the trip into town to see the doctor, this might be an hour or two (maybe more). They tell the doctor about the ear ache and he or she takes a look but they are undecided as to what is the best treatment so a referral to a specialist in a major center is made. Now the health care system is paying for that family to fly to the closest ear nose and throat specialist, accommodation and the flight back. The specialist takes a look and decides on a treatment and maybe a return visit. Or maybe the trip was unnecessary all together and the treatment could have been prescribed and managed by the local doctor.

Now that very scenario utilizing new technology and services that the Internet provides is a totally different one. The family may still have to visit the doctor. But once there the doctor is not sure of the best treatment. The doctor then starts Skype and plugs in the Digital Pen Camera. Starts a call to the specialist at the major center, tells he or she what the symptom are or the family can talk to the specialist directly. The specialist obviously needs to take a look in the child’s ear, so the Digital Pen Camera is employed and using Skype’s webcam features gets a great look in the ear. No trip to the big smoke necessary, or the trip is not a wasted one when it is decided that they need to go to get the best treatment, possibly a procedure.

Alternatively, if the specialist is not available at the time then the video could be recorded and sent via email or placed on a server via ftp and viewed when convenient. There are a number of possibilities for sharing this information and getting the best treatment to the most remote places.

This set up requires no building of technology, no massive investment in infrastructure. Yet the health care system is hell bent on building hardware or buying it at great expense setting it up and maintaining it and then not even using it in the way that they should be. Medicine needs to start adopting what us geeks have been doing for years and incorporating it into their practice. In doing so the struggling health care system would be saving thousands and thousands of dollars. There are many other costs built into the above situation other than what I have mentioned, I just wanted to keep it simple, but they could all be mitigated or reduced by using existing technology for the benefit of patients. In addition the families that are totally inconvenienced by the whole system get faster better treatment without being temporarily relocated.

I am sure that the government is probably saying things like it is not secure and it is not done that way, I have heard all the rhetoric before. But Skype is encrypted and we need to rethink some things! Seriously, wake up to yourselves.

Skype Application = free

Skype to Skype call cost = free (bandwidth excluded – they are paying for that anyway)

Digital Pen Camera = $90 (AU and excluding GST)

Most of the medical equipment that I have seen that can produce the above video quality are worth 10’s of thousands and some 100’s where such magnification is required. The 99 dollars that this little camera is capable of costs nothing in comparison, especially considering that it could benefit more than just one patient. Therefore, based on that calculation the thousands of dollars that it would have cost for little Johnny to see the specialist would be ZERO. It does not take a genius to see what we could be doing for a very small cost.

I admit there are some things that need to be looked at in order to really apply this to patients. One thing that comes to mind is the attachments and having enough available for each patient or the training that might be required. But I don’t think these are major hurdles at all.

Te application for this small camera are numerous, wide and varied, not only in health. But I am convinced that the application of the hardware to health at such a small relative cost is exciting. This technology could benefit any number of patients in many different situations. If you are a health professional then you will know what I mean by that. The benefit to patients would be measurable and the benefit to the system and the limited resources also of great significance.

I really don’t know why this is not being done right now. I am at a loss as to how I can influence the decision makers in order to change the way that we do things, or even just to evaluate what we do. I want to make things better for patients and the system. Maybe then I can make a real difference.

The Digital Pen Camera is available to anyone that wants one (even the government):

They are available in Australia for $99 including GST from Aus PC Market.

I am sure that they would consider a bulk discount, anyone for a trial using this very cool piece of kit?

Recording Skype :: MX Skype Recorder

We went to record The Global Geek Podcast last week and something came up and Knightwise was unable to attend the recording. Knightwise usually records the show on his Mac using Call Recorder. So as you might appreciate, him not able to be there and nobody else with a spare Mac at hand we were stuck. We needed to find a method to record the show and fast!

We went through a few dirty hacks. The worst of which is to change your audio source to Stereo Mix. This mixes everything that you hear back through the sound card. This means that you can hit record on any recording software and record Skype. While this works and flawlessly it has one major and limiting side effect. The other person gets their voice feed back to them with a slight delay. For some psychological reason it makes it nearly impossible to talk properly.

We also considered doing a double ended recording. That is I record my end locally and Tim his. This gives great quality and awesome control over levels. But the drawback here is that you have 2 huge files and one of those files has to get to me to edit it. Because there are 2 files it also means that I have to splice the two together flawlessly to sync the audio. Easier said than done. Extra post production editing is never a good thing.

We checked out a few options that I have checked out before. None are stunning or perfect and most are well below par in every respect. Tim though found a gem that I had not unearthed. MX Skype Recorder. Not a plugin but a separate program that enables you to record Skype with the great quality that we demand and expect for the show. It also has some features that make it ideal.

MX Skype Recorder Interface

Once you have downloaded MX Recorder you need to run the application then run Skype or make the call. You can not start recording mid call. It is as simple as hitting the record button to record a call once you have done this. By default it records an .mp3 with average quality settings. Fine to just capture the call but no good for podcasting. Enter the options.

In the options you can record a call in either a .mp3 (lame) or a PCM wav. The latter is what you want for recording a podcast. As I have said before you should not edit a .mp3 due to it’s lossy format. So I set to it to record a .wav. Now there are two options record as a “mixed” input and output or as a “dual channel”. Dual channel gives you one channel for input and one channel for output. So you have left with one person and right with the other. This is great because with any good audio editor you can get the levels right for each one. Once you are happy with the levels mix the audio into a mono mix then if you usually produce your show as stereo split it into a stereo mix. It might require some amplification after this process, just be careful you don’t clip the audio. I would suggest using a compressor to do this as it is a more balanced method of getting the volume right. Then just edit the show as you normally would.

MX Skype Recorder Options

There are many settings for outputting to a .mp3. Including changing the kHz and sample rate. Use this if you are into doing a raw unedited podcast. Your output is your show. Add ID3 tags and change the file name and you are done. Nice seamless experience.

One tip that I would pass on. Initially the levels were off, by a long way. I was very soft the incoming track was fine. But to try and fix this was a bit of a nightmare as I had already performed the above mixing procedure and edited the show. Now what we found out was that MX Recorder uses the levels that are set in Skype for the outputs. Do a few test recordings and get them right before you record. We also found this went part way to making it perfect. I needed to increase my output locally. We got a magic recording by taking the time to tweak these settings. Use the inbuilt level indicators, get your audio equal. Doesn’t matter it it is too soft you can adjust this in post production. But make sure you are not clipping, you can’t fix that!

The end result was great MX Skype Recorder is a winner in my book. It has a very small footprint and is easy to use. It compresses the file fast and outputs where ever you want it to and stamps it with the date and time. This little app works with multiple callers as well. But remember you have one channel for all input. Everyone that is conferenced in will be on that one channel. Do a test recording and get participants to adjust their output as needed. The mess that would result otherwise does not want talking about.

This program performed well and is one of the best recorders for Skype that I have used, if not the best. One drawback might be that the software is not free. There is a free version that will only record for 5 minutes. But for $14.95 US for the Standard Version it is a small price to pay in my opinion. Nice work by these guys and until Skype get their act together and give us a record button it will do the trick nicely.

Here is the show that I recorded with MX Skype Recorder. I am sure the next effort will be better still as we had a few settings that we could have better tweaked.

As a side note MX Skype Recorder will also record other VoIP applications such as Google Talk and Yahoo! Messenger although I have not tested these applications.

MX Skype Recorder Homepage

Skype 3.1 Released

Those that use Skype will be happy or not so happy to learn that Skype 3.1 has been released today. I have noticed one glaring omission in that they forgot to put the record button in. But in essence it is still the same old Skype.

I am not about to review this version, there has been plenty of posts about it. One thing that I have noticed is that there are a few bugs. One of which is the out of focus alert flag. It remains active after the alert has been checked. That is the most annoying one at any rate.

One the positive side it looks like they may have improved the file transfer somewhat. I have usually resorted to using FTP rather than use Skype for transfers, due to the fact that it is crap. Skype file transfer should be excellent, but it is far from it. The speed that I get is usually measurable in the bits per second (…no it is not my connection). This limits what you can or would want to transfer, considerably.

Tonight we gave this version a test with a 2 MB file and we got 12KB/s, which is still crap but compared to what it was it is a vast improvement. I hope that future releases will continue to improve in this regard because it is substandard to say the least for what overall is a very capable VoIP client. It would be the killer app with that record button.

File Transfer Skype3.1 Screenie

callto:user Skype Links Hack for WordPress.com Users

When I was rebuilding this blog with a new theme and looking at the presentation and such I revisited the ability to use call:to links for the blog. Users of WordPress.com will know that many scripts and certain links are blocked. A callto:”user” link is one of them. But this blog has that capability now thanks to a workaround.

The old iteration of the blog listed my user name for Skype in a sidebar contact box. My actual username is: gonzo_001… the username was not a great choice considering what I do now. I choose the name when I first got Skype. I started blogging a while after that but started to build my contacts and did not want the hassle of changing my user name. But I wanted people to be able to contact me on Skype from my blog, minus the stupid user name. So with a little help from good mate Tim King we figured out a work-around for the fact that callto: links are blocked on WordPress.com blogs.

Believe it or not I am not going to spell it out for you. I am sure those that want it will be smart enough to figure it out. A hover will give it away, you are on your own from there. But it is a simple hack really and not really a hack as such because it uses a very simple technique and if you are a blogger you may well do it everyday.

I have voicemail so if you whack the “call me via Skype” button (sidebar button not the one in this post) to test it out to see if I got it to work, leave me a message! I really don’t mind talking to you and telling you exactly how it is done either. So feel free to test it out.

Once you have it figured out create a button and save the button as an image. The Java Script that the wizard generates will not work on WordPress.com blogs. Then upload the image to your blog and complete the coding required. Now you too can receive calls via your blog. Or if you wish you can have it as a chat button instead, this will open a Skype chat with yourself and whoever clicks it. I guess you could get creative as well and make your own button or have good friends that are graphic designers…

All the possible functions and types of links required for them are listed on the Advanced Skype Links, part of Skype Help.

Thanks goes to Tim King for the lateral thinking and the button that you created for The Rooster’s Rail. I should say as well that it would be good if WordPress.com considered allowing this type of link.