As a civil engineering student at Cambridge, Dan Chastney dreamt of building enormous bridges to link together urban centers.
Now, with Skype Qik, he and his team have created a mobile video messaging app that fits on the phone in your pocket but still has the potential to connect millions of people.
Although text-based chat is currently the most popular and convenient form of messaging, video chat has long been eyed as a future solution. Dan, the Principal Program Manager Lead at Skype, explains, "Due to Skype's history of video innovation, we knew we had a good chance at becoming the leader in that space."
“I was approached earlier this year about kicking off this new project on a fast timeline,” he says from his office at Microsoft Palo Alto--Skype's Silicon Valley home base. “It sounded like a wild ride so I got onboard.”
Qik is a different kind of product and required a different kind of creative process. Dan says, “It was all about agile development with short sprints. And I wanted a real sense of partnership and transparency between the teams.”
In order to manage that level of collaboration, Dan says, “We tried to co-locate everyone here at Microsoft Palo Alto. We had a meeting room dedicated to us that became our war room. We had a big meeting every Tuesday to demo what everyone had made in the last week.”
The team recognized that Qik would have a slightly different user base than other Skype features and opted to make it a standalone app.
“The trend in mobile is to not overload your apps with every single feature but to have these very focused, single purpose apps,” says Dan. “We foresaw the trend just as other big names in tech started to split up their mobile apps into several pieces too.”
While the app does allow you to use the back camera for sharing action and scenic video clips, Dan says, “We decided to focus on the communications angle. We default to the front camera to enable conversations for one-on-one and small groups of friends staying in touch. Then the seamless playback means it feels almost like a new kind of Skype call.”
In designing the app, they wanted the video chat content to be central, meaning that the surrounding technology would fade into the background. “It needed to be just as convenient as SMS,” Dan says. “And it’s an exciting time as Microsoft is really engaging across platforms, so we started building for Android first and then followed with Windows Phone and iOS.”
“If people are going to use this on a daily basis, then we need to make them feel comfortable recording video, which means providing control over your content,” Dan notes. “This is not about permanent cloud video storage where you keep the recording of your baby’s first steps, it’s for daily conversations. Its more disposable.”
In order to give Qik that light and casual feel, the app keeps conversations for just two weeks before they disappear. Furthermore, if you sent something that you regret then you can delete it, which removes the clip from everyone else’s phone too.
The team worked hard to brainstorm many other cool features for Qik that you can learn about here.
“Indeed, it proved to be a wild ride,” says Dan. “It’s a new adventure for Skype to launch something like this, and we can’t wait to see how people react to it.”