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Does Voice Have a Place With Portals?

Does voice have a place with Web Portals or is Voice really an Internet play, not a portal play?

In the movie Jerry McGuire, the character played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. tells Jerry to “Show me The Money.” I say the VoIP portals should be less worried about showing me the ads, and more concerned about me showing them my credit card if they want to be selling voice. My guess is there not concerned YET. You see I’m looking at Voice 2.0/3.0 and more as evolutions of voice 1.0, not as a the next big thing—YET! The reason I say YET is the market uptake keeps showing that the consumers aren’t ready and the facts prove it.

Enabling phone service with presence is one of the first steps towards creating higher levels of utility, and in turn higher volume levels of communications. What’s funny is the IM players know all about presence, but one has to wonder who is Present and Accounted for when the decisions on how to make money are being discussed by those portal players. Surely no cash is being rung up that matters.

Just take a look at the facts/perceptions that are already known:

Over the last two years we’ve seen AT&T cut back on the marketing of CallVantage on one hand, and yet at the same time ramp up UVerse, which will offer VoIP based on CallVantage. Uverse will be an Internet on ramp which is why AT&T doesn’t need Yahoo. They already own those customers. All they need to do is convert them from copper to fiber. They already bill them. They know who they are. And they don’t need any cookies to track them.

At no point in time has AT&T put CallVantage into their portal/on ramp packages sold as DSL by Yahoo. Neither has Verizon done that with VoiceWing, their VoIP service, yet like AT&T, Yahoo is the web portal for the Verizon’s DSL. In those cases Yahoo owns the cookie. Verizon with their FTTP play goes to the home. Why do they need Yahoo when they already own the customer also?

No need to share the cookie.

The same applies to Qwest and just about any phone company pushing fiber. While Verizon lacks an Instant Messaging and Voice client of their own, Yahoo does have the much-trumpeted Yahoo Messenger with Voice that started out as a Skype killer in concept, but of late seems to be fighting to stay alive. Other than some widgets/plug ins, there has been very little from Yahoo recently other than some vague rumors of a JaJah killer, can you say click to call, and a new slick Windows Vista based interface. There is still no Mac client despite promises last year that it was coming. It makes me wonder, what’s up?

Then there is AOL. Their TotalTalk program, a dead ringer for CallVantage in many ways including quality was hardly a sales success, and was pulled last year just before the formal launch of AIM PhoneLine. That was sad because the product was really, really good.

Like Yahoo Messenger with Voice, AIM PhoneLine offers great promise if either can convert their users of IM to start talking to their buddies. But buddies don’t talk. They chat. Unfortunately for those guys it appears that Skype and GizmoProject are winning that race in a runaway. MSN has voice too, but you really don’t hear much from them in the way of user numbers. My guess is they have more than AOL and at least as many as Yahoo but who knows as the overall numbers between the three still get dwarfed by Skype.

Then there is Google. We’ve all heard talk about the GooglePhone, a secret skunk works project that Andy Rubin of Danger fame is working on that is supposed to be everything the iPhone wishes it was. There’s also talk of a Google WiFi phone platform that works with Google Talk, and if any of the so-called portals are getting it down the 2.0 way, it’s Google. While GoogleTalk is also a web module, as well as an IM platform, Google has gone in a different direction and basically made it work on just about anything. It’s not platform specific. It’s not device specific. And like everything else Google does, it leverages the investments that are already made by the users and the networks. Google simply connects A to B, and so does Skype and gets people talking.

The end game here is what iotum’s Alec Saunders is calling the “New Presence.” This is more than Voice 2.0. It’s about what ICQ started and what Google, Fring, Skype, Gizmo, TruPhone, SightSpeed (yes they are doing this approach with video very well) are seeking in their quests.

In his keynote at eTel, entitled Voice 3.0, Yahoo’s Jeff Bonforte outlined his vision. It was dead on. Sadly, I don’t see Yahoo racing behind it too soon. They have other more important matters than voice. The other guys are also so mired in ad driven revenue oriented platforms like Yahoo, that they have lost sight of why people want to use a phone. To Talk. To Talk Now. To Talk Easily. Not to be served up ads or to have only free calls. Both those options abound. You see, free to me means no money….and still I don’t see the ad supported phone company working for many years.

So despite great technology being developed by Yahoo, AOL and MSN, it’s not that VoIP for them, isn’t a good idea. It is. They own millions of eyeballs. But converting those eyeballs into valued paying customers is what isn’t happening. You see, it’s the business models that they are following which are flawed.

People already pay for phone service. If they want to switch its because they want something better. Not only for less money, but with better value. Vonage, despite it’s flaws, SunRocket, Packet8 and the cable guys have already proven that paying for phone service does have a market ready customer audience. And that audience that is growing every day, especially with the cable guys.

It seems those cable guys have already proven they are good at making money and ringing up sales not only selling ads (commercials). They’ve proven they are pretty good at playing take –a- way too while the new fangled ad merchants, the web portals, are really only good at give – a-ways when it comes to making money off their audience.

So you decide. Show me ads. Or show me the money.

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