Monday, March 12, 2007

The good and the bad of Skype Prime

Last week Skype announced Skype Prime. In a nutshell, Skype prime allows individuals to run their own pay-per-use or pay-per-minute VoIP services. I have not tried this service yet, but I can already realize how this is both a great and potentially bad thing:

What makes it great? It makes it very simple for you to offer premium phone services to the Skype community. You could offer tech support or homework help for $0.50 a minute or you could offer a daily joke for a $1 a call. Or, you can charge certain people more money to call you so that they don't call you every 3 seconds. While not necessarily good, although not necessarily bad, I wouldn't be surprised if this turns into a huge porn venue (heck, you can charge for video calls, I would be surprised if someone didn't start such as service already). But then there are the downsides.

Imagine if you will that you initiate a call legitimately to a 'Prime' provider and you accept their fees, but then feel you didn't get what you were promised? Or you agreed to a high per-minute rate and felt that they were prolonging the call? What is your medium for dispute? How are both buyer and seller protected? (funny, doesn't this sound a lot like eBay issues?)

Worse than that, I am sure that it won't be long before folks find illegitimate ways to profit from this. For example, a malicious user could theoretically force you to download a skype Plug-in that randomly calls a 'prime' service and eats away your credits. They wouldn't even have to rob you blind - they could extract 10 or 20 cents from a few hundred thousand people and still make some serious cash. Or, they could offer prime services in some obscure currency that masks the real rate and makes the service seem cheaper. In the former case, it would cause skype to change the rules and permissions for writing extras, thereby eliminating some of those skype extras that are legitimate.

While I think that this has a lot of potential on the upside, the downside of it is really scary, and I hope the Beta Period Helps Skype figure out how to address some of the security concerns.

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