Reader Bob Estrada links to Andy Abramson’s excellent analysis of Yahoo! voice offering, which concludes that it may be Skype that is soon checkmated, not everyone else. Key to the argument is pricing power (Yahoo!, AOL, et al can undercut Skype), pre-existing messenger user bases, and full immersion of voice capability in Yahoo!’s community-oriented content.
Andy’s the expert here and has seen a detailed briefing on Yahoo!’s offering (which I have not). His analysis is thoughtful, careful, and persuasive. His arguments again make me think that of the big five–Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, Google, and eBay–eBay was the worst-possible Skype partner from a strategic perspective.
This said, many of the arguments applied to previous products and services in which Yahoo! (and others) seemed poised to dominate and then found gaining market share frustratingly difficult. Two examples: auctions and search.
In auctions, back in the late 90s, Yahoo! had a huge cost and community advantage over eBay: (Yahoo!’s auctions were free, and eBay offered nothing else). The assumption, therefore, was that Yahoo!’s roll-out of the auction capability would quickly erode eBay’s early market lead. Secondly, when Yahoo! finally clued into the fact that Google was eating its lunch on the search side, the response seemed a simple matter of upgrading algorithms and adding Overture. And, in both cases, now look where we are.
In my opinion the biggest potential advantage Yahoo! has invoice is that voice is probably best viewed as an add-on capability to messenger–an application that should be directly linked to one’s address book, email, and IM capabilities. As a Yahoo! user, I’ve been waiting around for the voice capability instead of getting established on Skype, and I suspect others have as well.
This said, many others have not, and Skype’s biggest advantage is its current rate of new-user growth, its existing user base, the network effect, and the fact that its brand has already become a verb. The more folks who build Skype buddy lists and the more mindshare Skype grabs, the harder it is going to be for Yahoo! (or anyone else) to dislodge the company, even if users would benefit from having all their communications capabilities built into the same platform. Skype’s cost, furthermore, is already so low, that offering a cheaper service won’t likely be a powerful competitive advantage (and, if it turns out to be, eBay can cut prices, too).
All of which is to say that the next few months will be critical.