It’s been quiet here on the interviews front for a while, but let’s change that and bring you another Featured Skyper — Andy Abramson. He’s been following Skype, VoIP and technology in a broader sense longer than a lot of Skype staff, so a lot of interesting insight here.
Download this interview as [MP3](http://download.skype.com/share/audio/andyabramson.mp3) or [OGG](http://download.skype.com/share/audio/andyabramson.ogg) (length 16:13).
]]>Another thing to be said is that you hear some busy office ambience in the background, as it suited both me and Andy to chat during the high hours of the day in a Skype office and the microphone picked some of that up. And since he was using a Bluetooth headset, the call quality fluctuated a bit at places.
**This is an interview with Andy Abramson, who’s a blogger, who’s very interested in Skype and what’s happening around us. The first thing I would ask Andy is just an open-ended question. Please tell us your story — who are you and what do you do?**
I’m an accidental blogger, a recovering PR professional and a news broadcaster all into one. It’s very interesting that I’m able to cross all lines and use everything I’ve learned to communicate to others either my views or what client companies ask me to communicate for them, as well as be able to articulate what’s happening in Voice over IP, as well as technology space. For the last seven or eight years, I’ve co-hosted the World Technology Roundup on [Kenradio](http://www.kenradio.com) with Ken Rutkowski. We’re probably the most listened to daily technology show in the world right now, with well over 200,000 downloads. And about 18 months or so ago, I started to write VoIPwatch because I felt Voice over IP was going to get very hot. Skype was already out there. You had a lot of other efforts happening with SIP. H.323 was dying. There was a new thing called Vonage that had been out for about a year here in the US. I just saw a lot happening with Voice over IP. So already being rather familiar with technology, I felt someone needed to articulate what was happening. And that’s how I pretty much ended up writing the blog VoIPWatch which people can find at [andyabramson.blogs.com/voipwatch](http://andyabramson.blogs.com/voipwatch).
**For our younger listeners, it might be interesting to know that you have been around this whole technology space for quite a while already now. I took a look at some of your articles (see [this](http://cgi.gjhost.com/~cgi/mt/netweaverarchive/000150.html) and [this](http://cgi.gjhost.com/~cgi/mt/netweaverarchive/000071.html)) dated around the year 1985 or something like that, 20 years ago. So has anything changed since then?**
It’s very interesting. I forgot that those articles were there. I did a Google search for myself one day. I remember writing them back in the 80s when I was working in professional sports. I worked a public relations and marketing group, overseeing an entire division, and got very into technology because nobody else was. Being a visionary or forward-thinking person, I got online. Some of those people back then are still kicking in the industry like Joichi Ito in Tokyo. Joi was a friend 20 years ago and I remember actually having lunch with him in Philadelphia when he came to town. Very forward-thinking individual as well. So when I look back at what I wrote, one of my articles is about an interconnected society, how everyone’s always gonna be in one neighbourhood electronically or digitally. I don’t think really much has changed conceptually, because the Internet was in its early form then. What I think has happened is the advance of broadband and higher rate processors that allow us to do more more simply. It’s just gotten faster and better and we’ve eliminated text chatting and gone voice chatting with tools like Skype that are out there. I also think that the world has become smaller and borders are meaningless, we’re able to communicate and work together very efficiently and very quickly. Those are some of the things that have changed, but the basic premises of person A in location 1 talking to person B in location 2, that always existed, it’s just how efficiently and economically and elegantly we do it today.
**Have you been giving any thought to what’s gonna be happening over the next 20 years? Is Skype still gonna be around?**
I don’t know if Skype will be around in 20 years. If you look at the history of technology, ICQ is still around. That was probably the first real massively adopted chat tool. There are other chat tools around that were being used. I remember using online chat in a system called PARTI which ran on a DEC PDP-11. It was useful, but ICQ became the first mass-adopted chat tool. ICQ is still out there, but it has been surpassed by tools like Skype and Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger, and even ICQ’s sister company’s AOL’s AIM Messenger. So will be foundation that Skype is laying for people going to be around? Absolutely. Will Skype be around? It depends what direction Skype morphs into and how well they’re able to articulate and execute on their strategy over the 20-year period. The way technology is advancing — today’s hot flavour could be tomorrow’s cast-off, especially with products that are largely free. They tend to have less staying power than products that you pay for from marketing perspective. Because the people who don’t pay for things are always ready to move to the next hot thing. And that’s the fear I would have for a product like Skype. I love Skype. I mean it works very well, it’s very simple, it does what says it’s going to do. 3 million users online right now can’t be wrong. It serves a great purpose, it allows people to be connected on an extended basis. But right now from a business standpoint, Skype’s revenues from what I know, are limited and they’re still running on VC capital. Take away the VC capital and let’s see what happens.
**Could we speculate a bit about what’s the technology and experience going to be like for the user? There’s currently a lot of discussion going on about desktop moving to laptops and laptops moving to mobiles. You have your mobile rich experience always with you. We’re seeing cars and fridges and all those gadgets coming out with broadband integrated into them, so do we have any way of saying where it’s going to get over the next 10 or 20 years?**
I think that’s exactly the roadmap. Desktop to laptop, laptop to the mobile or PDA is already occurring. In countries like South Korea, you have more mobile users than you have desktop users. In Japan, people are constantly going and looking for devices that are smaller. There’s higher mobile penetration in Europe than there are desktop or laptop PC-s. The US is kind of backwards, we go from big to small, not small to big. In other countries, you might have people have a mobile phone and they might not have a laptop or desktop computer. They may share one or they may go to Internet cafe when they need to get online, but for the most part, the mobile is their endpoint. What we’re going to see is a change in concept of what an end point is. We start seeing more broadband-connected devices that work more elegantly. You’re already seeing that with a concept of something like Windows Media Center, now you’re starting to see some built-in TV-s that have Internet capabilities so you can receive broadband broadcast. What we’re going to change is the form factor. As we’re trying to force content or media through a computer or computer-like device, you’re gonna see other devices adopt computer-like capabilities. The end points — TV-s, radios, stereos etc — will all include processors that allow them to manage and replicate the signal that comes in and then act as end point, so you can play back a video, a movie, a voicemail message etc. The idea of the Internet answering machine — I may have a dedicated device with an IP address that is my equivalent of my answering machine in my kitchen. I can play all my voicemail messages. It will still be a computer, it will run on a processor, it will have a thin client. I will be able to update the device and configure it using a remote keyboard and my — for lack of a better word — television monitor. That way I can say, “check my Skype voicemail”, “check my AT&T CallVantage voicemail” etc etc. So I think you’re gonna see a blending and morphing of end point devices, and those will be very inexpensive. At $19, it will be just a chipset and an end point, it will be a very limited-use device, but it will still play your messages and you can call people back using your Wi-Fi phone. Again, end points are what’s going to change, and the technology in the end points will change. Now Skype’s doing a lot of that right now with relationships with various companies.
**What was your first contact with Skype? How did you find out about it? I understand you’re based in the US and we’re seeing that US is a behind in Skype usage compared to other places, so how did the word reach you?**
Someone I knew mentioned it to me. I was already interested in Voice over IP. At that point I didn’t know anybody else who was using Skype so it had no use to me and she was on dial-up. But as I kept monitoring what was going on and when enough people who I knew who were already using AOL’s Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger client preferred to migrate to Skype or get Skype usernames, it made sense to finally install it. I think part of the Skype phenomenon is you have to have other people who you know, otherwise you have software that you can’t use to talk to anybody. I’ve been calling it Internet intercom, so I’m able to communicate with people who I may work with or collaborate with and want to be able to reach them. The beautiful thing, just like our call today, I was able to see you online and briefly say, is this a good time to talk? Have a conversation with you and then duck out. That’s the way I look at an intercom. Remember, I’m 45 and I’ve been online since 1980 or 1981, been working since 1974, so I’m kind of veteran in dealing with communication skills. In the office environment, you press a button to talk to your assistant or your staff or your colleague. I look at Skype as a way of doing it today and thus limiting the need for an intercom or picking up a regular phone to find somebody. They can see that you’re online because it combines presence technology, I’m able to initiate a session with you and quickly move from text to voice. However, if you weren’t there or you weren’t available, I would have left you a Skype voicemail message or text message saying “get back to me when you’re free”. It serves the exact same function as the secretary writing down a message that I had called, so it’s eliminating labour. In a lot of ways, it’s a modern version of secretary/answering machine.
**What would your message be to the person who, as you were a couple of years back, has just heard about Skype and happens to stumble across the website and considers whether or not to download and check this out? What stance or position should they take?**
First, it’s good to have friends who are also on Skype. Otherwise, unless they want to go into the Skype-Me world of random calls which some people like to do, you really have no one to talk to. Number two, if you are a travelling executive wishing to stay in touch with your family, it’s a great inexpensive way to stay in touch. Third, if you’re someone in the podcasting realm, like I do a daily broadcast which pre-dates podcasting. It was casting before the “pod” ever existed. We’re able to record our show using Skype regardless of where we are in the world. Now the quality is not always perfect, but again, it’s free. So we keep using it until something better comes along. So it’s there to be used. I think they should experiment with Skype and look at Skype as a playground of techonology and use their imagination to develop next-generation applications that are good not only for business, but more importantly for society. The Skype phenomenon is something which is important for all technology historians, technology users and developers to understand. It’s a great business case in that Skype’s spent very little money marketing up until recently. Most of what they generated was word-of-mouse. Not word-of-mouth, but word-of-mouse, in order to draw attention to themselves. They’ve amassed a very strong and apparently loyal user base. And as a result, I think we’re gonna see a lot of other companies become interoperable with Skype in order to communicate with the Skype user base and vice versa. So all things considered, Skype is a very useful technology.
**OK. Thanks for that!**