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Skype blames eBay for killing 'our innovation buzz'

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eComm Skype has admitted that eBay put a cramp in its style. But it also wants you to know that those days are over.

Today at eComm2008, a Silicon Valley geek gathering dedicated to "emerging communications," one geek made the point that Skype hasn't exactly set the world on fire since it was swallowed by eBay back in the fall of 2005.

"Skype was the future, the leading edge - and then it went into eBay," said David Isenberg, a former AT&T Labs researcher semi-famous for his paper on "The Rise of the Stupid Network." Then he asked Skype if it had plans for going back to the future.

Jonathan Christensen, Skype's general manager for audio and video, was slow to answer. But eventually, he did. "I think that in some ways we stalled [after the eBay acquisition]," he said. "We got wrapped up in the M and A. There's almost always a period of integration where a lot of weird things are tried and some work and some don't, and then there's a re-focus.

"Now, I can say that this is the most exciting period for Skype going forward. The projects that I'm leading, that we're working on for the next two to three years, are ground breaking projects. And that sense of innovation and hard work and startupness is very much alive in the company."

As you probably guessed from Christensen's use of business speak like "going forward" and "startupness," he didn't actually tell anyone what these ground breaking projects involve. But thankfully, it looks like they won't involve eBay.

"There is less focus at eBay today on finding the place where eBay and Skype intersect on the web, on using mashups to create a new communications paradigm for eBay, and more focus on Skype growing its business and ebay growing its business."

It also looks like Skype's "re-focus" will involve some sort of attack on mobile devices. Now that the US airwaves are beginning to open up and the big US carriers are rolling out flat-rate pricing, Christensen believes, the likes of Skype will soon clean up the country's "mobile mess."

"We're seeing a paradigm shift where the smart platforms on the edge end point of the network are what’s driving innovation - not the stuff coming form the network-level provider," he proclaimed. "There’s some hope here, thanks to things like flat rate pricing and the option of the 700-MHz spectrum, where open platform conditions apply. This is one of the most exciting times in communications."

That said, he wants everyone to keep an eye on the likes of AT&T and Verizon. "There are lots and lots of hurdles. We have to make sure that these guys don’t do things to discriminate against applications - that the principles of net neutrality apply."

As you'd expect from a stateside conference dedicated to "emerging communications," the gathered geeks can't stand the likes of AT&T and Verizon. "I think that we all agree in this room," Christensen said," that there’s a natural segmentation of competencies - one that the industry has been fighting against for some time. We all know that the competencies associated with rolling network infrastructure and pipes are different from the competencies around application innovation at the end of the network. Let those competencies lay where they are. Let them blossom where they are." ®

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