Reseller News

The Skype is falling

I guess written apologies are supposed to be more thoughtful, but in this case, you think someone at Skype could have called.

In one of the clearest signs yet that the company has moving towards the big leagues of the telecommunications industry, Skype chose to explain the three-day outage of its peer-to-peer phone service by posting a statement on its corporate Web site. And it's a lousy statement, on several levels.

Take part one, which comes directly from CEO Niklas Zennström, who comes the closest to an actual apology. "We're very sorry that Skype was unavailable because we know how much people enjoy using it." Imagine if, say, the Toronto Transit Commission, which has to apologize for delays at least a few times a week, added "We apologize for the inconvenience, because we know how much fun it is to ride the Rocket!" A tip to vendors of all kinds: When you've screwed up, skip the rah-rah when you've manage to restore service.

The more detailed explanation can be found on a blog, which basically says the whole thing came crashing down because of Microsoft's regular security updates. This may rankle the many IT managers who became Skype earlier adopters. If they can get through Patch Tuesday without the sky falling, why shouldn't a firm that wants to be taken seriously by business users? Adding embarrassment to insult and injury, Skype admits that it uses self-healing software, suggesting that the automation of such networks is not necessarily a reliable approach.

"Skype has now identified and already introduced a number of improvements to its software to ensure that our users will not be similarly affected in the unlikely possibility of this combination of events recurring." What combination would that be? Patch Tuesday comes every month, and presumably users will reboot after using Windows Update. There's no point in going into the level of detail Skype does about its system failure if it's not going to provide real assurance.

Instead, we get self-righteousness: "We would like to point out that very few technologies or communications networks today are guaranteed to operate without interruptions," the post says. "We are very proud that over the four years of its operation, Skype has provided a technically resilient communications tool to millions of people worldwide." I would love to know what the people at Bell, Telus, MTS Allstream or any traditional phone company would say about a firm that attempts to justify its problems with such a short track record. In fact, plain old telephone service (POTS) is routinely bandied about by other kind of service providers are the bar by which they set their own efforts. If Skype really sees itself as a successor to POTS, it should be aiming higher still.

IT companies are defined by how they respond in the bad times. As Skype tries to prove it's ready for prime time, it might not want to wallow in its users' hand-holding. For example, the blog entry ends, "The Skype community of users has been incredibly supportive and we are very grateful for all their good wishes." If I used Skype, I'd be tempted to call around and find out what exactly those well-wishers were thinking.