Skype plays matchmaker for businesses

Credit: Olix Wirtinger

Skype is opening up to all a new service called Skype in the Workspace designed to make it easy for businesses to connect with other businesses, customers, and suppliers.

While Skype, now owned by Microsoft, started out as a consumer service, it has quite a few features and services geared toward business needs. With this launch and the news earlier this week that Messenger would be subsumed into Skype, it's clear that Microsoft is positioning Skype as its go-to communications service for both consumer and ad-hoc business use, with Lync available for larger enterprises who want a more managed and controlled communications experience.

Skype in the Workspace has shades of LinkedIn with a live chat and video chat component. The site invites people to “offer your business skills, pose a question, or share your experience with the community.”

Users can start out by essentially browsing offers and questions. Each post starts with the offering person’s name and the phrase: “wants to meet about.” Opening the post displays more details about the offer.

That’s also where the person posting the offer can include information about themselves, including a bio and links to their Twitter handles and LinkedIn profiles.

Clicking the connect button launches a pop up to send an email to the person who made the post. Presumably the two would then work out a time to chat.

To connect, you must sign in, either with Skype or LinkedIn credentials. When you sign in with Skype, you’re forced to enter some additional profile information that becomes your Skype in the Workspace profile.

It’s a bare-bones site with room for lots of additional bells and whistles. For instance, why not display presence information to let people connect by voice or video immediately if they want to? Also, users might want to filter out certain kinds of postings that they know they’ll never be interested in and don’t want to continue seeing. Additional social components that let people comment on their experience interacting with someone who posted an offer would be helpful.

Some of the initial postings beg for group chats, like Mark Ralphs’ offer of a 15 minute chat to help people figure out if they can use Pinterest to market their business. Maybe he prefers a one-on-one chat in order to build a relationship that could result in a paying customer. But if he wants to try to schedule a group call, he’d have to do so individually with people who send him an email expressing interest.

Skype appears to be doing some curating of the site, because some postings are grouped together by topic. For instance, a “financial know-how” collection groups four people who are either offering financial-related services or looking to learn about financial topics.

In a press release, Skype said it has been conducting a six month beta trial with 500 businesses. It also quoted a number of early users, including Jorge Parra, a photographer based in Florida. “There's a big difference between a professional network and a social network, and Skype in the Workspace seems to understand this distinction,” he said in the release.

While LinkedIn is clearly a professional network, it’s a bit convoluted to use it for offering a specific service and try to connect to potential customers. Skype for workspace zeros in on a couple of key capabilities – offerings and getting help – and relies on existing services like LinkedIn rather than forcing people to recreate an elaborate business backgrounder.

Skype for the workspace adds to other offerings aimed at small and medium business users. It offers features like allowing a business to set up accounts for employees, assigning them credit. It also targets group video chat at business users.

More heavyweight voice and video features are likely to continue to be reserved for Lync, Microsoft’s IM and video chat product for enterprises. However, the company has said that it plans to incorporate Lync into Skype. It’s not clear how the services will be branded and differentiated.

As for Skype in the Workspace, it’s a service that will benefit from a large and enthusiast audience. The company will have to do a better job of pointing users to it though – a day after the launch of the service there’s no mention of it on the Skype home page and searching the site for “Skype in the Workspace” returns zero results.

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