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[liberationtech] Why Skype (real-time) is losing out to WeChat (async)

David Gessel gessel at
Thu Dec 27 04:44:34 PST 2012

A minor semantic quibble, but "push-to-talk(1)" is "walkie talkie" mode that typically implies "live," "instant," and "synchronous" communications with the caveat that it is historically half duplex which remains useful in high-noise situations.

"Push Voice" would imply push notifications indicating the availability of stored audio files probably containing voice data (voice store and forward (2)).  


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [liberationtech] Why Skype (real-time) is losing out to WeChat (async)
From: Nathan of Guardian <nathan at>
To: liberationtech at <liberationtech at>
Date: Mon Dec 24 2012 07:10:28 GMT+0100

> I know in the LibTech and broader global activist/NGO community, there
> is still quite a bit of focus on Skype. However, during my recent time
> in India with the Tibetan community there, I have seen Skype, on mobiles
> at least, almost thoroughly replaced by WeChat, a WhatsApp/Kakao clone
> made by TenCent, the same Chinese company who created QQ. To my personal
> horror, we have gone from a somewhat secure Skype with a questionable
> backdoor policy, to a non-https, China-hosted service who is a known
> collaborator with the Chinese government.
> The only I thing I felt productive to do (other than scream and pull out
> my hair) was to think about why this is happening from a user
> perspective. Why is a text messaging/push-to-talk model winning out over
> an instant messaging/VoIP model, in places like Africa and Asia,
> regardless of known increased risk and decreased privacy and safety?
> Other than the typical "users are dumb" answer, I think there are some
> deeper useful factors to consider. Overall, I think we are seeing that
> when smartphones are plentiful, but bandwidth is still a challenge, we
> need to think about communications in a more asynchronous model than
> real-time. I don't think this community should get too caught up in
> building "Skype replacements". I think more we should think about what
> features otherwise great, secure apps like Cryptocat, RedPhone,
> TextSecure, Gibberbot, etc are missing to make it possible for them to
> replace the functionality and experience users are expecting today.
> Why Skype/real-time is losing
> 1) Noticeable impact on mobile battery life if left logged in all the
> time (holding open sockets to multiple servers? less efficient use of push?)
> 2) Real-time, full duplex communications requires constant, decent
> bandwidth; degradation is very noticeable, especially with video
> 3) App is very large (a good amount of native code), and a bit laggy
> during login and contacts lookup
> 4) Old and tired (aka not shiny) perception of brand; too much push of
> "pay" services
> 5) Requires "new" username and password (aka not based on existing phone
> number), and lookup/adding of new contacts
> 6) US/EU based super-nodes may increase latency issues; vs China/Asia
> based servers
> Why WeChat (and WhatsApp, Kakao, etc) async are winning
> 1) Push-to-talk voice negates nearly all bandwidth, throughput and
> latency issues of mobile.
> 2) Push-to-talk is better than instant messaging for low literacy,
> mixed-written language communities; The "bootstrap" process for Skype is
> very text heavy still
> 3) Apps feel more lightweight both from size, and from network stack
> (mostly just using HTTPS with some push mechanism)
> 5) Shiny, new hotness, with fun themes, personalization, and focus on "free"
> 6) Picture, video, file sharing made very easy - aka a first order
> operation, not a secondary feature; chats are a seamless mix of media
> 7) Persistent, group chat/messaging works very well (since its just
> async/store and forward, its very easy to send many-to-many)
> 8) Identity often based on existing phone number, so signup is easy, and
> messaging to existing contacts is seamless
> 9) More viral - you can message people not on the service, and they will
> be spammed to sign up for the service
> Anyone want to call b.s. on this theory? Is my thinking headed in the
> right direction? Should we try to turn Gibberbot into a more-secure
> WhatsApp/WeChat clone?
> All the best from the Himalayas,
>     Nathan
> --
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