Today we feature a Skype developer community member — Dick Schiferli, the author of Skype’s oldest and one of the most successful plugin [Pamela](http://blogs.skype.com/directory/pamela_basic/view/) (website at [pamela-systems.com](http://www.pamela-systems.com/)). A lot of interesting insight into what a developer expects from Skype, how are new add-ons born, what we can both do better to bring a better experience to users, from someone who has been around in the IT industry for more than 20 years.
Download this interview as [MP3](http://download.skype.com/share/audio/dickschiferli.mp3) or [OGG](http://download.skype.com/share/audio/dickschiferli.ogg) (length 19:18).
]]>The interview audio file sounds funny at times as the streams are overlapped. No, we didn’t really talk like that it’s just that the recording solution mixed the streams a bit off-position. But since the audio quality itself is exceptionally good (or shall we say, as good as an average Skype call should be), rather than re-recording parts of it, we just bring it to you as-is. You can work out the wacko parts using the transcript below.
**This is an interview with Dick Schiferli, who is the author of one of Skype’s oldest and probably most successful plugins Pamela. Dirk is representing the Skype developer community. The first thing I’d like to ask is to tell just in your own words, how and why was Pamela born, what were the motivations why you started making it, when did it happen and what good does it do to the user?**
OK. Pamela started back in December 2004, just after Skype released the API which was, I believe, end or mid-October 2004. The basic idea behind Pamela was that I personally had some missing features in Skype that I found resulted in Skype being less efficient to handle. And since these features were just really small productivity-type things, I thought about making an application for that. It was also at the time when Skype Voicemail was not that visible yet. I basically thought, well, I’m on the phone, for instance, with another person, and I get another call and it just keeps on ringing, it’s annoying, I have to go back to the PC, I have to quit that call, then the person will call again because there’s no notification that I’m actually on the phone, and so on and so on. So a lot of things that made me think “hey, there’s something that can be done here to make the Skype experience more rich and comfortable”. That’s how Pamela started. In the beginning of December 2004 we drafted the specifications.
We’ve been testing all the way up to mid-February 2005, and then Pamela 1.0 was released. After that, there were a lot of requests from people asking about additional functions and features, and that resulted in the release of the Pamela Standard version, which is a version with a little bit more features and adding more comfort functions to Skype. And then there were even more feature requests and that resulted in Pamela Professional version that was launched end of June. And that version is really a top-notch type of product that adds a lot of functions to Skype.
**Do you know or do you want to broadcast details about how many users does Pamela have and who are using it? Is it business people or home users or…?**
Well, the thing is that contrary to Skype, Pamela does not require user registration. The Pamela Basic version is just a free download and anybody can just download it. From that point of view, it’s hard to say, although I do think that the majority of feedback that I’m getting on the Professional version are indeed people in business environments. So these are people that have websites, for instance, because Pamela will actually enable you to Skype-enable your website, so somebody can call your website, leave a message, and that message will then be automatically be published on the website through an RSS feed. Those are usually bloggers, audioblogging-type people, business people, where I’m getting requests from. That is the majority.
In total, Pamela has been downloaded about 55 000 times since its launch which for five months that Pamela has been available, plus the fact that we’ve had 1.0 and 1.1 versions, is quite amazing. The download itself consists of downloads from the pamela-systems website, but also from some magazines that host the solution themselves, plus of course CD-ROM distribution. For instance, Pamela was distributed on a CD-ROM of the German magazine ComputerBild which you probably know, and that magazine had a total number of CD-s of 1.3 million. That was distributed in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. So it’s been quite massively distributed.
Just like Skype, also Pamela has a survey on its site so if you uninstall the software, so we are able to kind of measure, just like Skype does, the reasons for uninstalling, and how many people have uninstalled. Up to now, that ratio is very-very positive for the product.
**What’s with the Pamela name? We at Skype all like it a lot and we think that it’s a very appropriate name for a product, but what’s the story behind that?**
Well, Jaanus, I guess you know that story best of all as you’re a Skype employee. As you know, the wife of Malthe, your marketing director, did some activites in the beginning of the Skype days, and she was given the name Pamela, right? So I thought that was a very appropriate name. Also, since the product itself is positioned as kind of a digital or personal assistant to Skype, just to handle all your communications on Skype, the voice area, the chat area, so I thought that’s a pretty good name, that it’s a name that came from the beginning of the Skype company, and so I just chose that name.
**What was your first contact with Skype before you started developing Pamela?**
The first contact came, I think it was somewhere in the beginning of 2003. I live in Germany but I’m a Dutch national, I’ve been living in Germany for almost 19 years now. Originally, my contact with Skype was through Jevgeni who was at that time responsible for the website, and I did some website translations for Skype. Originally, I also looked at the Skype product and had some ideas on how the localization file could be improved. So I started working on that, got in touch with the other guy in Germany that does the translation. So we’ve been doing the official German translation with Skype office and that’s how that contact came about. Then the API got announced and some people had some ideas about that it might be interesting to do something there. So from one thing the other thing came.
**I imagine you spend a lot of time around Skype, just hacking it and testing it with Pamela, but does that leave any space and time to use Skype also as a regular user? Do you speak to people a lot or do you use the chat or file transfer feature? What kind of stuff do you do with Skype?**
Well, let me put it this way. Pamela or the entire project would not exist without me using Skype. One of the main important things here is that I use Skype very-very extensively. All parts of the product. I use chat, file tranfer, voice, conference calls, multichats, everything. One of the reasons is that I’m always looking for areas where I can improve Skype from a functional or productivity point of view. So looking at the sense of a business user or a consumer user or podcaster or any other type of user that might be out there, I’m looking at Skype and using it and with that in mind, thinking about hey, how could Skype be used in other scenarios, so that I would be adding that functionality too. To be able to do that, I need to very intensively use the product.
**Let’s talk also a bit about Skype as a platform for developers and you representing that developer community. Do you think Skype is a good company to work with from your position? Do you think we are doing enough for developers? What do you think could we improve there? Also an additional aspect is that it has been commented sometimes that Skype doesn’t really provide a business model to developers, so Skype really doesn’t have a good way how other people and developers like you could make money out of it. How would you comment on all those things?**
As always, it’s a multidimensional question here. First of all, from a developer point of view, I always need to make sure that I choose the right type of functions and add-on functionality that make a product more rich and and allows a product to head into new user environments and communities. So I need to make sure that I pick my features very carefully and in that sense, Skype definitely has to improve on communicating the roadmap and what are you going to put into Skype that potentially could clash with some ideas that the developer community has at the moment. That is a normal thing to happen as Skype is a very young company recently started.
I think the way the API evolved now is not the way Skype had intentioned it to evolve, and so the API is moving in a certain direction not originally envisioned by Skype. So this means that the entire communication, support etc etc structure has to be adjusted to support this new evolving of the Skype API. In that sense, I’ve had many conversations with Skype. Skype is very-very clear in understanding that a developer community has to be built up which I think is a very valuable insight and step to move. Also, it can be one of significant unique selling points of Skype, if you compare them to other VoIP products on the market, because the API is the single one thing that actually sets Skype apart from their competitors. The API allows me to offer add-on functionality to Skype, allows me to integrate Skype functionality into CRM or business applications or SharePoint or other business-focused type of applications.
So on one side, the API is maybe a bit of a Trojan horse. On the other hand, I’m absolutely convinced that this can be one of the most strongest functionalities within the Skype product which will enable Skype to grow into more different markets. So from that sense, I’m looking forward to a new developer program where Skype will be able to unite the developer community. Right now, there’s not a communication platform. Skype is point-to-point communicating to developers at the moment. This needs to change and evolve over time where a certain program structure is put in place, where developers are united and where Skype can speak with one voice to the developers.
I think that being a developer, one needs to very-very strongly think about what is the ultimate goal that I want to achieve with the product that I’m developing. There’s been a lot of questions lately circling, “how can I make money with Skype?” I think it’s an interesting thesis because the Skype product is free, it doesn’t cost anything. So it’s bridging this gap from free to paid which I think also Skype is finding difficult to bridge. You set an expectation that a product offers an extensive set of features for free, but still, you need to get money out of it. The developer community is splitted. Some people just like to develop add-on products and distribute them for free, the GPL-type of model. Other people think “hey, I’d like to make some money out of it”. It differs.
Again, that’s a message to developers I would say: very-very clearly look at the market. Understand what product you’d like to develop. Make sure you discuss with Skype the product before just to prevent any sour feelings afterwards because Skype is all of a sudden coming up with a certain feature. I think transparency is the key. Generally, I’m very happy with the cooperation with Skype. I think looking at the amount of resources and the model Skype currently has I’m happy with the support I’m getting.
**What are the next steps in Pamela?**
Currently we’re looking at the 1.3 version. We’re at a stage where I’m actually looking for investors to set up a real company with developers and people behind it because the product has been selling extremely well, the number of downloads is increasing, the feedback we’re getting from people is very-very good.
Especially one interesting area is that Pamela is being used with Skype a lot in the educational area for online classrooms and recorded classroom sessions and things like that. Pamela allows Skype to grow into new communities, new usergroups that were not Skype-enabled before. Or podcasting area, for instance. No podcaster before was able to use Skype, but combined with Pamela they can. So that opens up a lot of new communities and I’m looking for further communities, but to do that, we’re considering to take some investors on board, so that’s the first step.
The second step is that we’re looking at the next 1.3 release, and one big component there we’re looking at is IVR. So to IVR-enable Skype. A lot of mid-size companies are considering to use Skype in an IVR environment. We’ve got some specs outlined for that. Also, we’re looking at bringing Skype into Microsoft Business Server environments, so enabling Skype to be combined with for instance the Live Communications Server of Microsoft or the SharePoint Portal Server. The scenario there is similar to audioblogging. It could be that there’s a Skype user who I call and I can leave a message for my team which is then automatically uploaded to the SharePoint Portal Server for people to listen to and maybe call back. So those are scenarios that we’re currently looking at increasing.
Also one of our translators — Pamela is translated into 32 languages which are included in the product — has made a Skype Tweaker program and we’re gonna launch that into beta pretty soon. It basically enables you to tweak Skype hidden settings.
I think Skype should very-very quickly get the Developer Program up and running, this is one thing. Also, like you are now selling hardware through the Skype Store, you should sell software through the Skype Store. I know Nils is working on that, but of course the structure isn’t originally thought for to also sell software, but with electronic software distribution tools that’s really a piece of cake. That’s something that’s very-very high on my wishlist.
If you think about how can one make money with Skype — I’m a little bit more seasoned guy because I’ve been in IT industry for 20 years. Like Lenn, I also used to work for Microsoft. I’ve got a lot of contacts in the world and I’m a commercial-focused guy. For me, it’s a different story than for a 24-year-old student who’s developing a little add-on for Skype. So to make those people all those people also successful with Skype and getting some kind of return, Skype will have to open up their marketing machine.