Hey Skype — can Yahoo play?

Not to beat the drum too much, but Skype’s world (or that of its new parent, eBay) seems to get more complicated by the day. First there were the rumblings — mentioned in an item below — about the company losing its cool, about internal friction with eBay managers, and about “power sellers” being cool to the whole Skype revolution. Now, Yahoo has joined the party by adding new VOIP features to its instant messaging software. John Paczkowski at Good Morning Silicon Valley’s headline is great: “Feeling a little buyer’s remorse, eh eBay?”

Yahoo already allows PC users to call other PC users for free — as Microsoft’s MSN and Google Talk do — but now it is adding the ability to call regular phones for as little as 1 cent per minute, and to receive calls from regular phones for as little as $2.99 a month. Both prices are lower than what Skype charges. Susan Mernit notes that this could be just the beginning. And it seems obvious that Microsoft and Google are likely to add features similar to Skype’s for next to nothing — or perhaps (in Google’s case at least) even for free.

This may not be terribly creative, as some critics have noted, but that isn’t really the point. The point is to win market share, and the “first mover” doesn’t always have an advantage (Exhibit A: TiVo). As lawyer and tech blogger Rob Hyndman observed recently, getting displaced in such a way is even easier in a world where technology changes rapidly, is either cheap or even free, and users are constantly looking for the next greatest thing. Is that good or bad? That’s difficult to say. But it does seem to be the new reality.

P.S. At least one reader has pointed out (in response to a previous post) that Skype does have some proprietary differences from other VOIP products, since it uses a “peer-to-peer” model developed by Kazaa founder Niklas Zennstrom. That makes it easier to use in some cases, because it can find its its way through corporate firewalls more easily. That’s also why some companies block the software, however — whereas “open source” solutions such as the Gizmo Project have the benefit of being, well… open. And that can mean a lot.

As noted elsewhere, the always excellent Andy Abramson has a great analysis. He also notes that lost admit the Yahoo buzz was the news that Microsoft is rolling out voice features in Windows Live Messenger.

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