15 July 2007

Bruno Giussani on how free talk services lead to surprising user creativity

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Bruno Giussani reports in his Business Week column on how some users of Skype and other free Internet services are exploiting the technology in creative and unconventional ways.

Give people unlimited cheap or free phone or voice-over-Internet service and what happens? Not much, according to research by sociologists and anthropologists. People don’t tend to increase the number or length of their calls significantly. There is only so much time you can spend talking, after all, and a phone call requires more commitment in terms of attention than, say, an instant messaging session—just try handling multiple phone conversations in parallel.

Yet there are exceptions. The rise of Skype, MSN, GoogleTalk, iChat and the other free Internet telephony and videotelephony services out there has led people to use voice and video communication in surprising, unconventional, and creative ways.

He goes on to list a whole range of “unpredictable” examples that are “all uses of Skype, MSN, and similar services that the engineers who developed them never intended, and the marketers never foresaw”.

Giussani concludes that “successful communication technologies are designed with this openness at their core, so that their real applications can be figured out not by the developers or the sellers, but by the actual users”.

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