Is Skype Neglecting Its Developers?

Like many other large technology companies with a sizeable installed base and big developer communities, Skype Technologies, a division of eBay, habitually takes the innovations emanating out of its developer community and reinterprets them under its own label.

Today thousands of developers are looking to create software and hardware for Skype and hope to end up making some money from their efforts. Companies are touting everything from streaming video over Skype, to sharing documents over Skype with Unyte from WebDialogs, to avatar-based video skype, with CrazyTalk from Reallusion. Skype says in a press release that 300 software products and 100 hardware products have been created with support of the developer program in the past year.

While the company might announce an occasional deal with say, a start-up like iSkoot, Skype’s track record is prompting some developers to pause and wonder if the P2P telephony company actually cares about its developer community. Despite hosting a lavish developer conference in Las Vegas, the fact is that many developers are worried about Skype. Om touched on this in his post from last December, Skype eats its young.

Update: Check out Alec Saunders smart take on the benefits of a solid developer ecosystem, and some of the positives and negatives of Skype’s own program.

Some third party Skype developers say that the company still has one of the worst developer programs out there. Developers complain that there is little help from Skype in bringing in users to the service, including poor or no placement of links or applications on Skype’s site. Skype’s former product manager Lenn Pryor has previously pointed out that the company hasn’t done a particularly good job of explaining to the developer community how they can make money with their Skype applications.

That’s in comparison to Microsoft and Apple that lavishly (and smartly) court their developer communities. We contacted Skype about the complaints and their response was to forward us a press release from the Vegas Developer Conference.

British startup Connectotel abandoned its Skype to SMS service a few months ago, while Skype started working on its own Skype-to-SMS application (Connectotel still has an SMS to Skype application.) EQO, is another company that had cast its lot with Skype, and didn’t fare as well. Its application allows consumers to install a small piece of software on their phones to make calls via their Skype client, but users unfortunately have to leave their personal computers running to use the service – that has so far generated less than 100,000 users.

Fastforward into the future, and EQO learnt that Skype had cut a deal with iSkoot, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based competitor. EQO, is adding more applications beyond its initial Skype service, but isn’t alltogether pleased with its Skype experience. EQO’s CEO Bill Tam says the Skype developer program has a lot of maturing to do.

How that will happen, we don’t know. Lenn Pryor, a much loved executive and a developer favorite, recently left to work with parent eBay, so that certainly won’t help. And Skype’s developer program has gotten bad reviews before, including a “D-“ from Skype Journal last year. But we thought the program was getting better.

If it’s not, that’s a significant problem for the company. The innovations of developers can insulate a company against various market hardships. If you’re a third party Skype developer, and you have any feelings – happy, ecstatic, mixed or downright disgruntled about the program, send us your thoughts! We’ll air them here.