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Techscape: Skype beyond the hype

Whitman's future just got dimmer

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If Whitman was as clever as she’s relentlessly portrayed in the tech media, she would have resisted the temptation (which I acknowledge was strong - but for the telecoms industry, not an auction house) to overpay for this P2P/VOIP phenomenon and left it to the telcos and mobile operators to either crush under their boot heels like the bothersome gnat it is, or begin a bidding war to buy it, strangle it and be done with any threat Skype represented.

So as events have left it now, the “Technology Gypsies,” Zennstrom and Friis become the next Brin & Page, perhaps coming out of their Salman Rushdie-like hiding to spread some of their hundreds of millions around the bars of Europe in celebration. Their VC’s get an astronomical ROI for a two-year investment cycle, the jealousy of their counterparts in the “vulture capital” industry and the worrisome possibility that eBay execs will wake up some day soon to realize they’ve been had. These two groups come out smelling like a rose.

Coming out smelling like an organic matter of a different sort, will be eBay who loses by overpaying for the $60m-turnover Skype brand while their management and the eBay brand take an additional hammering when the cards are finally turned over.

The eBay customer loses when Whitman feels the heat to make this silly investment “perform” and starts getting desperate by pestering the eBay customer base with endless offers.

The Skype customer will lose in a multitude of possible ways, not the least of which comes when Skype is no longer “free,” said change coming very quickly indeed. They’re going to have to “monetize” these freeloaders and do it promptly.

If this transaction goes bad in a big way, as I believe it will, then look for Whitman to be out on her ear faster than “HP Carly.” AOL Time-Warner will look like a good probability merger by comparison.

Regrettably, this acquisition looks to be the concrete confirmation that in Technology, at least for the time being, the inmates are still in charge of the asylum. ®

Bill Robinson has appeared on CNN, PBS, Bloomberg and had his own segment on SKY News commenting on high-tech and marketing issues and has written columns and articles for FORTUNE Small Business, The Financial Times, Marketing Magazine (UK), Forbes.com, The Moscow Times, Cisco Systems iQ Magazine, United Airline's Hemispheres Magazine and Upside Magazine. Bill may be reached at bill@relentlessmarketing.com.

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