The revolution has begun!
Well, when you’re talking all things internet and video conferencing, it’s more a revolution within a revolution–because despite its growth over the past 20 years, video calling is still yet to win over everyone on planet Earth.
Still, the recent news that VC monolith Skype would open up its service to people unwilling to hand over their personal information is something of a giant leap for video calling-kind.
It’s important because Skype has so far pretty much bragged about how much personal contact information is available on its online directory. Agreeing to forego adding to that cavern of secrets is a sure sign that Skype is feeling a little pressure to modernize a service that is actually only 13 years old.
Which is where the revolutionary element comes in, because it’s small startup video calling providers that tend to drive the innovations like subscriber-less, anonymous video chat.
Unfortunately, watching a mainstay like Skype adopt an if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em philosophy means those little guys have just lost one point of differentiation.
How to Make an Anonymous Video Call
It’s really not that long ago that Skype itself was a little-known Scandinavian startup, born out of a music sharing program and busying itself with pioneering free video calling.
Of course, once it was bought by Microsoft and started gathering 40% of the entire video calling market, its general perception changed and the service’s shortcomings became more infuriating to people who have dabbled with other services.
But the old dog still has an element of its youthful exuberance left.
To use the service all you need do is head over to Skype.com, select “Start a Conversation” from the splash screen, and choose a snappy name for yourself. You don’t get access to the full range of Skype features, and the link that hosts your video call lasts only 24 hours. But that’s a tiny price to pay for not handing over a phone number or email address in exchange for access.
All that’s left to do is get that link into the inbox of everyone you want to talk to face-to-face, and you’re away.
Why Anonymous Skyping Is Useful
The biggest benefit of this leaner service is it lets you bridge the device divide that prevents some platforms from linking iOS and Android smartphones. Skype can be a pain on iOS phones, and having an Android-using friend text you a link that immediately opens a video chat seems far easier than fussy with signing up for Skype on your iPhone.
For small business owners, the disposable nature of the link could let you talk face-to-face with customers without asking them to sign up to your preferred service or making them hand over personal information. Just get the Skype link into their possession and you can chat instantly. Perhaps you could add a quick chat box to your website so a customer could make contact and request an anonymous link.
Similarly, if you wanted to remain anonymous while seeking out a private counseling or medical service, you could have a third-party refer your case to the practitioner and have them pass along an instant link.
Why Anonymous Skyping Is Bad News
Of course Microsoft is using the initiative to drum up even more business. It’s the simple marketing principle of “get ‘em in, and get ‘em hooked.”
The emerging VC world doesn’t need more people getting drawn to ubiquitous market leader Skype. With Facebook’s billion-user service WhatsApp adding video calling, Google leveraging its name recognition to launch another VC platform, and now Skype making things easier for everyone, there’s a shrinking pool of casual and small business customers left to be impressed by the next up-and-comer, and we’re not sure that’s a good thing.
For young developers, selling out to their bigger rivals is always going to be a road to fast revenue, but if the big fish can court users without any dramatic changes to the underlying tech, then video calling evolution could slow. Big time.
So, while it’s great to see the biggest VC player adopt a feature common among smaller services, let’s hope the emerging generation of developers still finds a way to push the field onto the next big thing.