Because We All Know What Skype Was Missing Was Intrusive Advertising, Microsoft Has Decided To Add It

from the that's-not-how-it-works dept

It appears that Microsoft’s first big contribution to Skype… is to put giant-ass ads in the middle of your call that look kinda like another caller has joined your call… except that caller is some company wanting you to buy stuff:

I actually don’t really have that much of a problem with Skype trying to figure out how to monetize with ads — in general. I do tend to think that intrusive advertising is not a particularly good way to go about it. However, what really gets me about this is the way Skype wants to pretend that these ads are something consumers want:

While on a 1:1 audio call, users will see content that could spark additional topics of conversation that are relevant to Skype users and highlight unique and local brand experiences. So, you should think of Conversation Ads as a way for Skype to generate fun interactivity between your circle of friends and family and the brands you care about. Ultimately, we believe this will help make Skype a more engaging and useful place to have your conversations each and every day.

Now, I’ve been a big believer that good advertising is relevant content, and not just intrusive content. So I can understand the basics of what they’re saying. But there’s almost nothing in the execution that suggests that the folks at Skype actually understand why “advertising is content” works. It’s because it provides useful or compelling content in a manner such that people want to seek it out, not have it suddenly jump up in the middle of their conversation.

As Jon Brodkin, over at Ars Technica notes (sarcastically), positioning this as a user enhancement is just silly:

Skype has provided a great service for years, keeping us connected with friends and family. But there’s always been one thing missing—marketers interrupting calls with giant display ads.

This stinks of an idea that some committee came up with, where no one on that committee actually uses Skype.

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Companies: microsoft, skype

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Comments on “Because We All Know What Skype Was Missing Was Intrusive Advertising, Microsoft Has Decided To Add It”

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75 Comments
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Shouldn't come as any surprise.

Anyone remember HoTMaiL? The original webmail service, back in the late 90s? It was awesome. I was an early adopter, and really loved the service.

Then Microsoft bought them out, and within a couple months, it degenerated into a pile of unusable crap. Remember how for a couple of years there, you’d randomly receive 30 copies of an email that someone sent (once) from Hotmail? Remember how many times they “fixed” that bug, only for it to show up again a month or two later?

A friend of mine asked for some help after her Hotmail account got hacked (long story involving a jealous ex-boyfriend with a relative working at Microsoft) and she couldn’t get into it after resetting the password. What I eventually found out after several hours of poking around at it, was that the default password it got automatically reset to did not meet Hotmail’s password requirements (too short, IIRC) and so it was getting rejected even though it was technically correct. (Did Microsoft hire Joseph Heller to write the password reset code or something?)

So yeah. I’m not at all surprised to see that they bought the one VOIP/IM service that actually gets “just works” right and immediately turns it into crap. What would surprise me is if they’d actually found some way to improve it.

Rich Kulawiec says:

Re: Shouldn't come as any surprise.

No, it doesn’t. Hotmail is one of the leading sources of spam, phishing, fraud and abuse — in part because attempts by far more responsible and professional network/email administrators to contact someone, anyone, there who actually reads and comprehends what’s being said to them — let alone acts on it in a timely manner — have uniformly been met with responses reminiscent of crack monkeys. “Clueless” doesn’t even begin to cover the level of hopeless ignorance that results in Hotmail staff repeatedly demonstrating that they are unable to recognize their own users, hostnames, and IP addresses even when they’re explicitly pointed out to them.

I’m certain that every abuser out there is very much enjoying the idea that Microsoft will now bring this level of profound and systemic incompetence to Skype.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Shouldn't come as any surprise.

While I generally loathe MS/Hotmail and their technical people, I’ve (recently) had some generally good experiences with Hotmail’s responses to spam/fraud.

I was looking to buy a motorcycle recently, and responded to a few Kijiji ads for ones that piqued my interest. I got a couple of people who responded with obviously fraudulent responses (the “seller” was an “ebay top-rated seller” advertising in my town, but the bike was across the country, they wanted me to use ebay/wells-fargo/etc “guarantee protection”, but they’d handle all the transactions for me, etc.)

Alerts to Hotmail’s abuse account were returned quickly, notifying me that they’d shut the offending account down – (usually within an hour). I was very impressed with the responses.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

So, you should think of Conversation Ads as a way for Skype to generate fun interactivity between your circle of friends and family and the brands you care about.

I had an experience with this exact phenomena this past Sunday. I was on a call with a podcast cohost and an ad popped up on his end. We then began talking about how Skype decided that we needed ads in our phone calls.

See. It got us talking, just not about whatever was in the ad that my friend saw but rather the presence of the ads themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why are you surprised?

We live in the advertising age of ultra-capitalism, where the top objective is to sell advertising. Advertising is the death-knell of any medium, because the advertising bastards just won’t quit and they keep upping the ante until they kill the medium. Use of the medium eventually dies (look at television, radio, telephone, snail-mail, e-mail, etc.), but another comes along. And then it is corrupted by advertising, too. The WWW is already sinking under the weight of advertising. 99% all the loading data of most pages that is advertising. That’s one of the main reasons why they load so slowly.

As long as people ‘respond’ to advertising (and people are too pitifully weak and easily brainwashed to resist), it will never quit.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Why are you surprised?

Advertisers can’t really kill the web like they did radio and tv. Just some web properties that choose to let it go overboard.

Anyone can start a web site with little investment. With modest advertising, or other revenue models, even donations, it can be grown.

Groklaw for example, has never had ads, but received donations. It has won various awards and eventually the Library of Congress decided it should be archived for posterity.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Or you could prank them. Guy I know did this a few years back. He was just out of high school, enjoying summer vacation. The parents were gone, just him and his sister at home, and a telemarketer called.

Apparently this was enough of a problem, that they’d worked out a plan for the next time this happened. He started talking with the guy, all amicable-like, and waved to his sister. Then she comes over and starts screaming at him. “You get off that %@#%&*^ phone and get up off your lazy ass and go out and find some work!”

“Shut up, woman! I’m trying to talk here!”

And so on. A 5-minute shouting match ensues, making it sound like a really obnoxious domestic dispute. Meanwhile, they’re walking outside, grinning at each other through the “fight”.

He’s into running track, and he has his own starter’s pistol. So he finally yells at her to “SHUT UP!!!“, holds the pistol up against the phone, and fires a shot in the air. She goes silent. Then he grabs the phone and starts panicking, “oh no, I–are you still there?” *click* Disconnected.

About 10 minutes later, the police showed up at their place. He had the sister come out first, showing how she was just fine, and they explained it to the officers, had them laughing their heads off by the time they were done. And never got another telemarketing call for months.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Do "corporates" ever ASK the critical question?

How would anybody in our family react to something like this?

Yes, they do ask this question. And they get one of two answers back:

1. “Great idea boss! People will love this!”
(In which case the idea gets implemented.)

2. “Umm, people generally don’t like having their conversations interrupted.”
(In which case the boss says “Nonsense – I’m a marketing expert and I can tell you people *love* having their conversations interrupted – otherwise telemarketers would be out of business! Clean out your desk, you’re incompetent and don’t have a place here”. Then the idea gets implemented.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Hmm…so how is this being implemented? I thought Skype was a direct connection from person to person, and the fact that governments constantly complain about being unable to monitor Skype calls seems to reinforce this notion. How are they tracking views (not that views matter, but it’s odd for advertisers not to ask for a number)? Is this just something rolled into an update to the Skype client (and if so does that mean Linux users are going to remain ad free? Last I checked the linux skype client was a bit behind the times…)? Does this affect the security of the call?

Just a couple thoughts.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

How do you think you’re able to just click on a name and Skype connects to that person (assuming they’re online), despite the fact that some people have dynamically assigned IP addresses?

It’s because Skype connects to a central database to look up what IP address ‘Bob157’ is using at the moment and then tries to connect to him. So the main servers know every call you make.

If Skype allowed you to input an IP address directly, you could theoretically bypass the Skype servers, but then only about .001% of people would know how to use Skype, since virtually no average user knows what an IP address is, let alone how to check what one they’re using.

You’d be surprised at how many programs today ‘phone home’ unless you block them with your firewall.

Mike P (profile) says:

Ads were in the works long before MS came by.

Skype has been in the process of trying figure out how to better monetize their product well before Microsoft purchased them. They were even already testing out video ads on a small percentage of their users. I recall at one point Skype was thinking about popping up full screen ads on you. Glad that didn’t happen.

While Microsoft could have stopped the idea of advertising, you can’t say they bought Skype and changed the entire direction of the company’s view on ads.

Second, it’s not nearly as bad as the article brings it out to be. It’s first of all only on voice calls, so it’s not interrupting your video chat. Are you really staring at the picture of your friend or their avatar when you voice chat with them? They also aren’t going to insert audio messages inside of the middle of your conversations. Don’t want to see some ads… minimize the program and be done with it. I don’t see where the “interrupting” idea is coming in.

Skype also has a free “business” version. I haven’t heard if that is getting ads, but I would guess that they probably aren’t going to put it in that version (could be wrong though).

About the only thing I agree with is that ads do not add to the experience, which obviously is where the guys at Skype are quite off their rockers. The people using their service aren’t looking to purchase anything, so there are no “relevant” ads. They are looking to communicate. If anything, they should try selling headsets and other items related to voice and video chat. It would also be smart to put a checkbox in the options menu to disable ads completely.

Phil Wolff (profile) says:

Skype is now ad-supported, not freemium

I’ve heard someone call Skype ad recipients freeloaders, justifying the adverts. I don’t think “free-loader” applies to Skype users that don’t hand Skype money.

Skype’s value proposition comes from the number of people connected to its network, the number of customers with dialtone. Without all those indirectly monetized customers, Skype wouldn’t be growing, would be only a fraction of its size (ten million active users instead of a quarter billion?) and be no threat or much value to anyone.

Aside from how in-call ads butcher user experience and Skype’s brand, this looks like a patient management decision.

Imagine the conversation. Skype’s integration team is meeting one week with the Microsoft advertising folks, looking for surfaces where ads can flow.

Skype.com? Check; lots of visits, a top site worldwide. We can sell it like we do MSN.

Premium listings in Skype’s directory search results? Skype did that in the past and we can try it again; let’s add that to the development queue and see if we can pair that with Bing local search.

How about the Skype home tab seen when you start the client? Check; but very few people see this and click throughs are sub-par.

Can we place ads in the main window, where the screen real estate is precious and is on display all day? No; test users showed massive resistance and it interfered with basic use of the app. Yes, we know Windows Live Messenger (right, not Live anymore) has ads; why do you think we Messenger is a second-tier IM client?

How about ads in the calls themselves? Can we have intro announcements before the call connects? This delays the gratification between hitting the ‘call’ button and talking with someone; we have high abandonment.

OK, how about if we just show a display ad during a call? They can’t close the window; they are stuck in a call, looking at the ad. And forget banner blindness; it’s right next to the faces of the people they are calling, so we can almost guarantee the ad gets seen. If they don’t like it they can click on a tiny ‘close this ad’ space; some will miss and we’ll get a click; others will close it and we’ll have even more proof they saw the ad. Right!

And if that doesn’t work we can sell branded ringtones so this month millions of Skype clients ring to the KFC jingle.

Meanwhile, in another room…

Look, we all know the real money isn’t in in-client advertising. But Skype for Azure won’t be ready as a platform until next summer. Same with our Bing click-to-call service, our enterprise UC console, our Hangouts killer, and our talk-along-with-Netflix app. So let them have their monstrous ads; we’ll measure the hell out of it and come back with hard data later this year. Meanwhile, smile, be supportive and make this whole we’re-friends-with-the-suits thing work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why MS fails at everything

If MS failed at everything they probably wouldn’t be once of the richest tech companies in the world. Surface is generating buzz about a Microsoft product that hasn’t been seen since Win95 came out, it will hardly fail. On top of that, it’s actually a good idea to fill a void no other company has with a tablet so far.

Skype ads – who cares? It’s their service if they want to annoy their users who happen to use it for free with giant ads it’s no different than what many other companies out there do. They have to try and make money off it somehow and since it’s likely no one is paying to use the service they’re stuck using a free ad-based version to make people pony up to remove the ads or find an alternative.

Anonymous Coward says:

apart from Apple, if ever there was a company that could quickly fuck up a previously working program, then you can trust Microsoft. i used to like and used Incredimail. i wonder how many people stopped using it once Microsoft bought it? it seems to be a favourite concept. ‘oh, that works well. gotta have it. now we’ve got it, what can we do to improve (screw it) it?’

Overcast (profile) says:

All the more reason to use the regular old phone. They sure do over-complicate phones anymore.

Some of us actually like simplicity and hate being on the phone, lol.

I really don’t want the web while I’m at the store, I don’t need the web waiting in the doc’s office. Not for what you pay for the data plans and the phones, along with the hassles.

When I’m ‘away’ from my computer – I like to be just that – away from the computer.

Microsoft’s recent moves make me want to go out and short their stock – that’s quite tempting you know…

Anonymous Coward says:

No Worries

Not a problem for me. I use google talk, which works quite nicely on all my devices (except iPad which has no camera, anyway).

And when I travel in the states, my nexus S phone automatically connects with my US google voice seamlessly. No ads. No worries ๐Ÿ™‚

You’d think companies would be concerned about the negative impact of annoying people like that. Not the ad companies, of course. They’re not even human, so I wouldn’t expect them to understand. I’m talking about the companies IN the ads.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

I don't need no "conversation starters"

Most of the time I use Skype it’s to talk to my partner when she’s out of town on business.

We don’t need ads to start our conversations. After we get the normal stuff out of the way like the weather, how the cats are, when I need to cut the lawn again and all that we spend the next 58 minutes of our talk on other things.

Cold water we don’t need. And, of course, the display ads will autostart at a volume that airports can’t match.

Need it or not a shared cold shower we’ll get.

Conversation ender will be more like it.

Just what is it ad people can’t get it through their thick, thick skulls that an ad is an ad not something else. And that there are times people just don’t want to see, hear, watch them.

Text ad we could live with. Hear that Skype?

Good thing there’s an alternative.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have been using skype for a long time and love the quality of call very clear and love to be able to send photos and music, vidoes or what ever very easy…It has untill now been super user friendly…
HOWEVER, I dont care for the ads in general, I have never, and will never ever buy something from someone just because they put it in front of me..infact even if I needed a product or service…thowring it in my face..is a sure way that I will never buy it…
I dont like Forced advertizment…..Never the less even with the adds they make you look at ..that I just ignore BTW..I was still using skype and just minmizing the chat so didt have to see there adds..
However NOW they just Started this VIDEO Crap…that just start playing on its own right ion the middle of call…thats just totally rude..and very unprofesional…they advertize to use group call and conference for your work…just what I want in the middle of my Skype Meeting is some Dumb Ass Add Playing…
So as of now if they dont stop this video crap I for one and hopefully lots others just stop using them…there are others out there already that I already use sometimes…

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