Is Skype the new SmartTag?

Tonight I had dinner with Ajit Jaokar, CEO of Futuretext, a publishing company that publishes tech books like Mobile Web 2.0 and Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger (he writes a VoIP blog over on ZDNet, but also has political blogs and other blogging jobs over on Weblogs Inc, among others).

Anyway, during dinner we talked about some of the trends and things we were seeing. One thing Amit and I both noticed is Skype’s new “Click to Call” feature in its latest beta.

What does it do? Well, it turns a phone number like 425-205-1921 into a clickable number (using Skype of course). That’s pretty darn cool, right? But, I wondered what would happen if MSN Messenger started doing that? Who would win? The most recently installed? Or would you see two links for every phone number?

Why does that matter? Well, it’ll add up to big bucks for whoever gets their little utility installed on the most machines. Skype, obviously, gets installed on lots of machines so this functionality really takes over and makes it possible to do a lot more calls.

On my machine I forget that Skype is even there. I just take it for granted. I click the number and Skype calls it. I don’t even need my cell phone anymore.

This is really pretty darn powerful. And wait until it comes to your mobile phone.

Anyway, remember how we were all mad that Microsoft tried doing something similar in IE 6 betas? Yeah, we were pissed cause Microsoft was putting advertisements on top of our content.

How is this any different? Yes, it’s useful. Yes, its scope is limited to only phone numbers (today). But, aren’t we on a slippery slope here? I can just see a bunch of toolbars trying to do the same thing and the user experience going downhill. But maybe that’s just me. What do you think?

Oh, and Amit has a whole post titled “I am a tag not a number!” to further get you thinking about the implications of this new trend.

Comments

  1. Robert, in a VoIP call only one of sender or receiver needs to have the VoIP software. For an example you could Skype-in or Skype-out. In this case one side runs Skype software and the other is a regular line. Using this functionality, one can even have a VoIP call between two regular lines.

    Microsoft does have click to call feature on local.live. My unverified understanding is that this feature initiate two VoIP calls. One to the merchant and the other to the caller. Therefore Microsoft’s click to call feature does not require any any special software on client side. Also it is a very clean feature.

    I think sometime back even Amazon had a similar feature. I am not sure if they still have it.

  2. Robert, in a VoIP call only one of sender or receiver needs to have the VoIP software. For an example you could Skype-in or Skype-out. In this case one side runs Skype software and the other is a regular line. Using this functionality, one can even have a VoIP call between two regular lines.

    Microsoft does have click to call feature on local.live. My unverified understanding is that this feature initiate two VoIP calls. One to the merchant and the other to the caller. Therefore Microsoft’s click to call feature does not require any any special software on client side. Also it is a very clean feature.

    I think sometime back even Amazon had a similar feature. I am not sure if they still have it.

  3. Kamal: right, but Skype changes the number on my OWN blog to have a link to “click to call.” This is new, I haven’t seen anyone else do it. Maybe I’ve missed it before. I have lots of Windows Live stuff and IE 7 RC1 loaded and Skype still has control of my phone numbers.

  4. Kamal: right, but Skype changes the number on my OWN blog to have a link to “click to call.” This is new, I haven’t seen anyone else do it. Maybe I’ve missed it before. I have lots of Windows Live stuff and IE 7 RC1 loaded and Skype still has control of my phone numbers.

  5. There are two things here if I understand well:
    - the ability to find a phone number in a text and transform this to a link to a “phone application”
    - the ability to give a call from the PC….

    The second part is well managed now on PC but there is not yet any standard. Does not seems that there is the equivalent of mobile “tel://” URL description….

    The first part seems to be new on PC, but quite old in mobile industry. For instance, many manufacturer added automatically a link into SMS messages when the phone found something that looked like a phone number…Then, which application is launch (a VOIP, or standard phne call) should be a different choice, and managed by the user.

  6. There are two things here if I understand well:
    - the ability to find a phone number in a text and transform this to a link to a “phone application”
    - the ability to give a call from the PC….

    The second part is well managed now on PC but there is not yet any standard. Does not seems that there is the equivalent of mobile “tel://” URL description….

    The first part seems to be new on PC, but quite old in mobile industry. For instance, many manufacturer added automatically a link into SMS messages when the phone found something that looked like a phone number…Then, which application is launch (a VOIP, or standard phne call) should be a different choice, and managed by the user.

  7. Rob, I agree to an extent that yes if MSN (sorry Live Messenger) and other messenger devices start adding “call now” tags or other tags it will degrade the user experience but surely the user experience has to be controlled by the user slightly. For example selecting which programs which use tags and tagging etc etc and if the program does not let you switch off the tagging element then simply don’t use it! The companies will soon get the message! What do you think?

  8. Rob, I agree to an extent that yes if MSN (sorry Live Messenger) and other messenger devices start adding “call now” tags or other tags it will degrade the user experience but surely the user experience has to be controlled by the user slightly. For example selecting which programs which use tags and tagging etc etc and if the program does not let you switch off the tagging element then simply don’t use it! The companies will soon get the message! What do you think?

  9. Skype is giving you a voluntary feature that you can control independent of the browser it would be happening on. Microsoft wanted to force your browser to show you advertisements where advertisements were not meant to be and share none of the money with you. Sorry, I fail to see the similarities beyond that both are clickable.

    There’s no slippery slope here. Skype is only capable of phone calls and messaging so that’s all it would be doing with your browser’s text. But whether it is Skype or some other app doing something you don’t like, UNINSTALL IT. The major difference between this and Microsoft’s smarttags is that if you uninstalled IE6 and that was your only web browser, you no longer had internet (and if you were successful in uninstalling it, you probably also destroyed Windows…)

  10. Skype is giving you a voluntary feature that you can control independent of the browser it would be happening on. Microsoft wanted to force your browser to show you advertisements where advertisements were not meant to be and share none of the money with you. Sorry, I fail to see the similarities beyond that both are clickable.

    There’s no slippery slope here. Skype is only capable of phone calls and messaging so that’s all it would be doing with your browser’s text. But whether it is Skype or some other app doing something you don’t like, UNINSTALL IT. The major difference between this and Microsoft’s smarttags is that if you uninstalled IE6 and that was your only web browser, you no longer had internet (and if you were successful in uninstalling it, you probably also destroyed Windows…)

  11. I’m happy somebody remembers my product, MSN SmartTags.

    And it was not advertising. It was useful information related to that word/phrase context. For example, for “Apple” we would show “Go to the Homepage”, “Support”, “Stock Quote”, etc.

  12. I’m happy somebody remembers my product, MSN SmartTags.

    And it was not advertising. It was useful information related to that word/phrase context. For example, for “Apple” we would show “Go to the Homepage”, “Support”, “Stock Quote”, etc.

  13. Robert, sorry I did not understand your original post but not I do.

    I do agree that it is a slippery road. I have two objections here.

    1. When you write a book, do not you want to have some control on the reader’s experience? Similarly when a website content provider publishes some content on the web he/she has some right to control the reader’s experience. Skype is only one tag. Another company may come and add tags to all postal addresses and yet another company comes add tag to every word to their own search engines. All the content remains the same but the integrity of the webpage is destroyed. Your blog will be full of tags in addition to what you yourself choose as explicit links.

    2. I find it inconvenient that the applications which are not primary to a web-browser change the configuration setting of the browser. Browser is the most important application on my computer and I do not want any software to change its setting, until I myself explicitly make a request to do so.

    Most of the commentator here seems geek, or at least among top 1% who feel comfortable with technology. I am among the other 99%. It is usually hard for me to revert back configuration settings. For an example, if you install Picasa, it changes your default search engine on IE. Picase, unlike a browser toolbar, is not a primary browser application. A software which does something which it is not expected to do is a form of spyware. At least Picasa by default should not have changed IE setting but give an “explicit” method for users to intentionally change the setting. On one of my computers, somehow google has become default search engine without my explicit knowledge, whereas I am a Live Search user. My guess is that since a part of Windows experience is “indirectly” controlled by governments by not giving full freedom to Microsoft (for whatever reasons, which is not a discussion topic here) in designing its products, it is hard for Microsoft to protect the sanctity of important applications, such as IE, for users.

    Since, tagging is a useful feature there must be a right way for users to have such features. First a user could take only so many tags on a web-page — I already hate webpages which have advertisement tags (two green lines beneath many words). So ideally such a functionality must be provided by the browser. For an example, browser internet options menu already has “programs” tab where you choose what applications to use. You could choose what tags to choose. Default should be “no tags”.

    Second method is that tagging could be provided by the web-page publisher. If you want your cell-phone number appears as Skype tag then you should be able to make it that way. If I have Skype and I click the number it launches the Skype application and if I do not have Skype, it may take me to Skype’s web-page. (I won’t mind if you even charge money from Skype to do so.)

    Third method is that “open tagging” could be enabled in HTML or whatever web language people currently use. So if you do not want your cell-phone number to appear as a tag fo whatever reasons (e.g., you may want only those people to call you who have more serious things to say and willing to make an effort to launch an application themselves), then your phone number should not appear as a tag. If you want your phone number to appear as a tag then you can express in your webpage as a tag opening, and then that opening is used as a tag of user’s choice (whether it is Skype, google talk or msn messenger — the user choose).

    If you allow people to change the web-page integrity without permission, then a possible “bad” method for AOL to fight against the ad model is to block ads by default for its users. If Google becomes serious in free wi-fi then this could also be a possible “bad” method for existing internet provider to protect their business. (Google already does that, it tries to block competing ad businesses). Of course, consumers will lose a lot of freebies. Hence, web-page integrity must be maintained unless a user request explicit to destroy it.

  14. Robert, sorry I did not understand your original post but not I do.

    I do agree that it is a slippery road. I have two objections here.

    1. When you write a book, do not you want to have some control on the reader’s experience? Similarly when a website content provider publishes some content on the web he/she has some right to control the reader’s experience. Skype is only one tag. Another company may come and add tags to all postal addresses and yet another company comes add tag to every word to their own search engines. All the content remains the same but the integrity of the webpage is destroyed. Your blog will be full of tags in addition to what you yourself choose as explicit links.

    2. I find it inconvenient that the applications which are not primary to a web-browser change the configuration setting of the browser. Browser is the most important application on my computer and I do not want any software to change its setting, until I myself explicitly make a request to do so.

    Most of the commentator here seems geek, or at least among top 1% who feel comfortable with technology. I am among the other 99%. It is usually hard for me to revert back configuration settings. For an example, if you install Picasa, it changes your default search engine on IE. Picase, unlike a browser toolbar, is not a primary browser application. A software which does something which it is not expected to do is a form of spyware. At least Picasa by default should not have changed IE setting but give an “explicit” method for users to intentionally change the setting. On one of my computers, somehow google has become default search engine without my explicit knowledge, whereas I am a Live Search user. My guess is that since a part of Windows experience is “indirectly” controlled by governments by not giving full freedom to Microsoft (for whatever reasons, which is not a discussion topic here) in designing its products, it is hard for Microsoft to protect the sanctity of important applications, such as IE, for users.

    Since, tagging is a useful feature there must be a right way for users to have such features. First a user could take only so many tags on a web-page — I already hate webpages which have advertisement tags (two green lines beneath many words). So ideally such a functionality must be provided by the browser. For an example, browser internet options menu already has “programs” tab where you choose what applications to use. You could choose what tags to choose. Default should be “no tags”.

    Second method is that tagging could be provided by the web-page publisher. If you want your cell-phone number appears as Skype tag then you should be able to make it that way. If I have Skype and I click the number it launches the Skype application and if I do not have Skype, it may take me to Skype’s web-page. (I won’t mind if you even charge money from Skype to do so.)

    Third method is that “open tagging” could be enabled in HTML or whatever web language people currently use. So if you do not want your cell-phone number to appear as a tag fo whatever reasons (e.g., you may want only those people to call you who have more serious things to say and willing to make an effort to launch an application themselves), then your phone number should not appear as a tag. If you want your phone number to appear as a tag then you can express in your webpage as a tag opening, and then that opening is used as a tag of user’s choice (whether it is Skype, google talk or msn messenger — the user choose).

    If you allow people to change the web-page integrity without permission, then a possible “bad” method for AOL to fight against the ad model is to block ads by default for its users. If Google becomes serious in free wi-fi then this could also be a possible “bad” method for existing internet provider to protect their business. (Google already does that, it tries to block competing ad businesses). Of course, consumers will lose a lot of freebies. Hence, web-page integrity must be maintained unless a user request explicit to destroy it.

  15. You can already use the extension from Jajah in Firefox to simply click and call any number that appears on a website or blog. Jajah actually works great and uses directly your phone line i.e. you are not dependent on the quality of your network.

  16. You can already use the extension from Jajah in Firefox to simply click and call any number that appears on a website or blog. Jajah actually works great and uses directly your phone line i.e. you are not dependent on the quality of your network.

  17. What about website callback buttons like -http://www.comxo.com/call2me.cfm?

    You enter your number and the provider will automatically connect your phone with the phone number for the website. No software is needed on the user’s end. Surely this is better?

  18. What about website callback buttons like -http://www.comxo.com/call2me.cfm?

    You enter your number and the provider will automatically connect your phone with the phone number for the website. No software is needed on the user’s end. Surely this is better?

  19. I’m no super tech and technology at the best of times is scary to me and takes me time to trust applications that seem to take for granteed that I know the latest. I find using Call2.com really simple and easy. It doesn’t need a PC, I can use from any phone to call anyone in the world and I know as there is nothing to download and install i’m secure in the thinking that my programs on my PC will not be effected. It does exactly what I need it to do, make cheap quality calls using real PSTN lines and I have full control. Isn’t this better….?

  20. I’m no super tech and technology at the best of times is scary to me and takes me time to trust applications that seem to take for granteed that I know the latest. I find using Call2.com really simple and easy. It doesn’t need a PC, I can use from any phone to call anyone in the world and I know as there is nothing to download and install i’m secure in the thinking that my programs on my PC will not be effected. It does exactly what I need it to do, make cheap quality calls using real PSTN lines and I have full control. Isn’t this better….?