Happy birthday Skype. In 9 years you changed telecom

It is hard to imagine that Skype (S MSFT), a service that is so deeply embedded into our broadband life, is nine years old. August 29, 2003 is the official birthday of the service, which celebrated its ninth birthday just ahead of the long holiday weekend here in the United States. It is a service that started as a simple idea – free calling for everyone who had an Internet connection. That radically simple idea changed the telecom industry and the voice-calling business forever.

Looking back, it is clear as day that the service succeeded in what it set out to do. Research from Telegeography projected that at the end of 2011, Microsoft-owned Skype accounted for 33 percent of all long-distance minutes – 145 billion of the total 438 billion minutes. According to Skype CEO Tony Bates, Skype has 254 million monthly active users and is “growing somewhere around 40% year on year.”

But that success comes bearing a harsh reality: What comes next for Skype, which admittedly has lost much of its sexiness? Skype has become a default setting in our lives and today the only time it generates any excitement is when the company manages to mess up the user experience of its applications. Skype’s future was on the mind of my fellow VoIPers – a small but still very active community of bloggers who love all things pertaining to Internet Voice.

Dan York, who is amazed by the success of Skype, is wondering what happens to Skype next, especially now that it is part of Microsoft. He believes that Skype hasn’t really had a challenger for a long time — or as he put it: “Instead of the little company taking on the Man, Skype has now become the Man.” Skype is being challenged not by other VoIP players but instead by other means of communication. It is and will always be in a battle for attention. Today’s social communication tools are the enemy of Skype.

Not everyone is worried. Skype Journal’s Phil Wolff (in a colorful presentation on SlideShare) is predicting Skype inside Windows, the web version of Skype and Skype for Kindle, amongst many things that will add up to glorious things for the service. But it is not going to be that easy for Skype, which has lost some of its early simplicity and needs to work hard to improve its user experience.

In a recent interview with USA Today, Skype CEO Bates said:

It needs to become more seamless, and, quite candidly, easier to use on mobile smartphones. The big No. 1 focus for us is we see this huge shift to more and more people on the go and bringing their own devices, and we need to have the best possible experience to do that.

But there is a lot to celebrate when it comes to Skype. Andy Abramson puts it best when he writes: “Skype may have been the single most disruptive service ever to hit the telecommunications world. For starters Skype really defined the idea of “free” calling.” Amen to that!