Skype Developer Program: A Tale of Pioneering and Perseveringby Gershon Goren
In my work as Director of Engineering, Research and Development at WebDialogs, Inc., I often feel like a pioneer on a number of levels. And pioneering is certainly an apt way to describe our company's experience in working with the Skype Developers Program (SDP).
WebDialogs, a privately held company in Billerica, Mass., gives businesses powerful tools to collaborate in real time and conduct high-impact voice, video, and web conference calls. Our flagship product, Unyte, is simple and easy to use, especially for non-technical entrepreneurs who need to focus on making their businesses succeed without getting entangled in setting up elaborate multimedia collaboration sessions for customers, investors, employees, or other audiences.
We offer Unyte in different "flavors" for different uses and audiences--a basic version for small- to medium-size companies, and a professional version with many more features for large corporations.
In leading the effort to enrich Unyte with new features and capabilities while maintaining its accessibility for users of all skill levels, I encouraged our development team to be resourceful and not stay strictly within the bounds of what we have done before. In that regard, I think of myself as pioneering as our team looked for opportunities in the market to "plug in" Unyte and create a successful interactive user experience. That quest led us to Skype.
At WebDialogs, we decided early on to integrate Unyte with Skype because our team saw the potential power of being able to instantly escalate a Skype chat or call to become a fully collaborative session. The key was that the escalation had to be seamless--one click and users would be sharing--and it had to work from within the Skype contact list, as well. To us, it seemed like an ideal solution, especially for small and medium businesses, an important user base for Skype.
As we began investigating partnering with Skype, we quickly realized WebDialogs would be pioneers with Skype in the level of integration that would be required for success. And so began the WebDialogs development team's journey with Skype--one that took unexpected twists and turns along the way. But our team of developers and the Skype Developer Program team persevered through a mutual learning process. And, as a signpost for other developers, we believe we proved that persistence pays and challenges can be overcome by working together for mutual gain--with the result being a tightly integrated product offering.
Our integration yielded the following results:
- A single sign-in process, so that Unyte and Skype users don't need to log in to two separate accounts
- The ability to launch Unyte collaboration from Skype's chat, call, or contact list contexts
- the ability to access Skype's contacts and chat lists from Unyte
- And our newest feature: a payment process for Unyte services that utilizes Skype credits
The Early Days
In reality, the WebDialogs development efforts with Skype go back to before the Software Developer Program even existed, to the hectic period of the Skype Early Adoption Program. In those pre-SDP days, Skype had a third party leading the development of a program to manage plug-ins from partner companies like WebDialogs.
My recollection of those early days is that there were lots of moving parts and players that made it hard to manage and navigate. Communication was very basic. Information was shared more by word of mouth and chat rooms than by documentation. There were rooms full of people, all with their own agendas. To find what was relevant, we had to sort through a lot of irrelevant information.
Yet by persevering as other developers dropped out, we began to see our pioneering efforts with Skype pay off in improved communications, processes, and procedures in the development partnership. Some of that early information-sharing and communications led to tools that are still in place today, such as Skype's Developer Zone, a wiki-based documentation and community site, and Skype's JIRA bug- and issue-tracking site. Things improved, we believe, when Skype stopped trying to be all things to all developers and began focusing on a core group of developers.
With Skype, we evolved from the unstructured free-for-all that was EAP to the more structured SDP that exists today. Attention to individual developers became better under SDP.
For our part at WebDialogs, we believed we were providing value to Skype as both a partner and a developer. At the same time, Skype was becoming more focused on building a platform, and we decided to stick with it.
The Skype 3.0 Platform
The whole platform aspect of Skype 3.0 wasn't mentioned all that prominently externally, but internally, among the developer community, it was seen as a major milestone--as a platform for developers.
Today, the Software Developers Program has become a big asset to Skype and its developer partners. And, from our perspective, we feel WebDialogs pushed Skype forward. We think we helped them mature their Developers program. In some respects, we feel that we're the constant, the touchstone, for newer developers who have joined the Skype ecosystem and don't have the history that we do. Part of the time, we feel we're actually part of Skype's own organization.
And the Skype Developer Program considers WebDialogs one of its closest partners. "When a developer chooses to write for a new evolving platform, change and bugs are a given," said Paul Amery, director of the Skype Developer Program. "There are many occasions to get very frustrated. Partners like WebDialogs have constantly focused on the opportunities with Skype, rather than getting bogged down with problems. The lesson for all developers is to stay positive and work with the platform developer--rather than against them--to create a solid relationship. In the end, our users wind up with a more compelling service."
At WebDialogs, we've only recently started dealing with SDP in the way it was really intended to function. We have gained premier developer status and partner certification. Our next step is really integrating Unyte with Skype's e-commerce platform.
Furthermore, our early perception that integration with Skype would pay dividends down the road has indeed come to pass. Our relationship with Skype has driven the bulk of Unyte's usage and helped us build our user base. Unyte has more than 500,000 users, largely as a result of our relationship with Skype.
Our relationship with Skype's SDP has enabled Unyte to acquire a broad international customer base that now reaches 30 countries. Without our relationship with the Skype Developer Program, this kind of market reach would not have been possible for us.
Gershon Goren is the Director of Engineering at WebDialogs.
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