Irony, Web 2.0 style

Robert Clark
04 Oct 2007

Irony is the stuff of journalism, even blogging. When Nokia announces it will spend $8 billion on an obscure mapping firm on the same day that eBay finally writes down its investment in Skype, only the i-word seems apt.

At the time of Skype's acquisition two years ago, eBay executives predicted it would "create an extraordinarily powerful environment for business on the Net."

Now it concedes that at $2.6 billion the tab for Skype was $900 million over the money. After having missed key targets, CEO Niklas Zennstrom and other founders walk away with $530 million instead of a possible $1.7 billion.

Since the acquisition Skype has continued to accumulate users but not revenues -- just $168 million in the first half. Apart from prompting a new definition of Skype (n: to seduce a large company into making a reckless investment in the irrational hope of a payoff in the indeterminate future) and allowing a few "I told you sos" from analysts, this gives further succor to established telcos.

The VoIP business might be tough on incumbents but it's nightmarish for new entrants. The word might be familiar, but its value certainly is not to consumers. In the US, Vonage continues to struggle and SunRocket has already left the market, suggesting the future for standalone VoIP is a limited one.

But what are we to make of Nokia's whopping investment in Navteq‾ It's a lot of money for a bunch of maps, even if just to keep them away from Google and Yahoo. The location and navigation market, like VoIP, is a new and uncertain one. If nothing else, this signals Nokia's determination to build out its services portfolio, even though that means pitting it against some of its carrier customers.

eBay's Skype moment has become a byword for dotcom-style madness in the Web 2.0 era. If Navteq becomes Nokia's Skype moment, investors won't be using the i-word.

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