UPDATE - SMB - Skype outage continues, business users affected

Almost 36 hours after a software problem caused widespread outages in eBay Inc.'s Skype service, engineers continue to work to fully restore this extremely popular Internet telephony and instant messaging service, while many business users deal with work disruptions.

Although steady progress was made throughout the day Friday, the problem, which has affected millions of Skype users, hasn't been fully fixed,

At midnight GMT Friday, an official provided the latest update on Skype's Heartbeat blog, saying that the sign-on problems have been resolved, but that the instant messaging presence and chat may take a few more hours to be fully operational for all.

"If you are one of the minority who may still be experiencing problems, please be patient. You do not need to adjust or restart your computer. Skype will start working for you very soon," wrote Villu Arak [cq]. "We will issue a further update when we know that Skype is functioning normally, or if there is further material news."

The widespread software problem, which centered on the system's ability to log users into the service, has particularly stung people who use Skype for business. Skype estimates that about 30 percent of its users employ Skype as a work-related communications tool.

"The outage has had quite a profound effect on my working day, and has meant spending time setting up other chat clients and networking with colleagues via alternative means," Michael Pick, a freelance blogger and social media consultant, wrote in an e-mail interview Friday.

Based in Japan, Pick works from home and has clients and colleagues all over the world, many of whom also work from their homes. "I guess that might make us a particularly dependent group on Skype," he wrote.

Skype is his virtual work communications hub for text chats, file sharing and voice calls. "In the average day there is very little time that Skype isn't on in the background, and I use it extensively to speak to clients and colleagues scattered all over the world," he wrote.

In addition to the basic, free Skype services, Pick also pays for additional Skype telephony services. He feels Skype could have handled this situation better from a support and communications perspective. "For a so-called Web 2.0 service, communication is key, and I can imagine that Skype may well have lost quite a few supporters in favor of some of the other VOIP services today," he wrote.

Thomas Vander Wal, a social Web advisor and consultant who runs a one-man company called InfoCloud Solutions in Bethesda, Maryland, uses Skype as his primary communication channel for about half of his customers.

"When customers buy a day of my time and I am not meeting face to face, Skype is often my primary means of communicating, as I can connect to a client with voice and/or video and leave it running for the day. It is like having a tunnel into their offices with them seeing or hearing me working on their issues," he wrote in an e-mail interview Friday.

Luckily for him, he hadn't scheduled any such engagement during the time of the outage. "I use Skype 2 or 3 days a week and it hit at a time where it didn't impact me," he wrote.

Much more stressed out about the outage is Stefan Topfer, CEO and chairman of Winweb International in London, which offers Skype as part of a suite of services for small businesses.

Winweb has about 250,000 registered users, so the company's customer support lines have been ringing off the hook inquiring about Skype.

At the time of his phone interview with IDG News Service on Friday, over 8 hours had passed since Skype had last provided an official update about the situation, and Topfer was livid about this.

"That's a whole business day. That's quite unacceptable. I'm quite upset about it," Topfer said. He had been unsuccessfully trying to contact his company's main Skype contact since the beginning of the outage on Thursday.

Once the service is restored and Skype explains to him what happened, he'll decide whether to stick with Skype or seek other options.

"My masters are my clients and I have to provide them with a good service. This outage is going to impact my business, no question about it," Topfer said. "The most stunning thing of all is really the way this customer care has been handled."

For Pick, the situation has been a learning experience in several ways. For example, free of the real-time communication distractions from Skype, "I have managed to get a lot more done in terms of writing work," he wrote. And the situation has made it clear that it's never good to depend too much on a single service, company or tool, which, he now realizes, can be "a potentially hazardous career move."

Skype has about 220 million registered users worldwide. At peak times, it has an average of 9 million concurrent users on its network, a Skype spokeswoman said Friday. At press time -- 12:30 a.m. GMT Saturday -- the service indicated almost 4 million [m] concurrent users on the network.

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Juan Carlos Perez

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