For about half a year now, I’ve been using software called Skype to communicate by voice with friends back home. In the past month or two I’ve even gotten my family into it, and we’ve enjoyed an excellent connection (at least as good as long distance phone calls) many times. The really great part, of course, is that it’s completely free. The network connection uses similar technology to Kazaa, the popular file-sharing (P2P) software.
Jump back to several months ago. Major Chinese entertainment portal Tom.com partnered up with Skype. Advertisements for Skype appeared throughout the Shanghai subway system and around town. Tom.com was apparently putting a lot of money into promoting Skype, which, I should remind you, is free software.
Now here’s the interesting part. For about the past 2-3 weeks, I have noticed that I can no longer access Skype.com in Shanghai without a proxy. (Skype.com is accessible in Beijing and Hangzhou, however.) Due to some issues with my Skype installation (which I later discovered was a driver conflict), I wanted to reinstall with the newer version of Skype. Since I couldn’t access the Skype website, my only easy option was to get Skype from Tom.com.
Predictably, it had Tom.com advertising built in, but I was able to install English-mode Skype; I wasn’t forced to use Chinese. Fortunately there seems to be none of the spyware or malware that plagues Chinese software.
I find it strange that Skype.com should become inaccessible in Shanghai after making a deal with Tom.com. I would think that Tom.com would have the guanxi to protect its partner fromthe chill shadow of the Great Firewall. On the other hand, since the Tom.com Skype page still works just fine, maybe Tom.com is using its guanxi to force Chinese surfers to use its version of the Skype software in order to drive more traffic to Tom.com?
This is all just crazy speculation, though. It’s likely just another case of Shanghai’s fickle internet connection, especially since Tom.com seems to be Beijing-based. I should note, however, that last week when the internet connection in Shanghai was faster than it had been in a long time and even sometimes-blocked sites were loading too, Skype still did not work.
Skype could be a great tool for global communication, and it’s great that many Chinese users are now getting into it. I hope that China doesn’t screw this good thing up.
Update: Isaac Mao was all over this when it first went down. The issue that neither Isaac nor Fons Tuinstra, in his comments, address is why Skype is accessible in other parts of China, but not Shanghai.