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Posts from February 2008

The unConference is Coming

Client Thomas Howe and pal Jeff Pulver are hosting the VON.x Unconference as part of this years VON conference on March 18 & 19.

The unConference comes right on the heels of eComm, so smart birds are going to stick around over the weekend between the two events. I think given the weekend is between the two big shows, we should have a Monster Mashup and find ways to mash old school telco services with new era Voice 2.0 technology...

Who's up for that?

Judi Sohn Is My Hero

MomatHome's Judi Sohn has become my hero.

Ironically she's been working on a threaded series of posts on her blog that help with the idea of "Do I move to Google Apps" at the same time I'm looking at making the switch from Exchange and Entourage due to the sheer volume of mail and the lack of really good "find" tools between Microsoft and Apple.

Without even starting to look for what will make life easier for the "I'm always connected" style of life I lead, Judi has post by post been making my life easier.

If I had her address, I'd send her a bottle of wine!

Level 3 Layoff Update

I had a call last night from on of my friends who is no longer with Level3. I continue to be amazed how the company can start to grow and then shoot themselves in the foot.

The idea of loyalty to employees is not in the company's DNA as people who have significantly helped correct the company were all basically moved out.

What is going on is the same kind of brain drain we're seeing at Intel, HP, Dell and elsewhere. Basically people are hired to make the company look good, or promoted. Once they get the company to where they need to be, then the axe falls.

Heck of a way to run a business, but I guess that's the way the Crowe flies in Broomfield.

Walt Mossberg Tests The New T-Mobile @ Home

I love when companies give Walt Mossberg something to test, and like it even more when Walt tries extra hard to make something easy to understand like he did today.

Basically in his review of the T-Mobile @ HOME service he points out the warts of the system, especially the Home Alarm system and Fax machine issues. The Home Alarm issue can likely be solved by Next Alarm, as their Alarm Broadband Network is the ideal compliment to an IP based phone system. The faxing issue is one that has been a hassle for most people in VoIP also and while there are solutions, what I'm finding easier these days is to scan and email to send a fax, and to have one of those free services to receive faxes by email.

The best and most revealing line about the @HOME service though is this one:

This new system is not a so-called voice-over-Internet-protocol phone system, such as Vonage. It doesn't carry your phone calls wholly over the Internet, but merely uses the Internet to get them to the T-Mobile cellphone network, which then carries the calls as if they had been made on a cellphone.

What Walt's referring to is UMA and how T-Mobile uses ATM to transmit data from one point to another. Its not IP end to end, but does use the 'Net from his house to the ATM backbone. I'm glad he said that because it differs from other services already out there which do use SIP and IP end to end like Earthlink's TrueVoice, BroadVoice and mostly CallVantage, though some users are on MGCP.

Link Love and Social Media Creates Business Opportunity

iotum's Alec Saunders loves to blog.

Abbeynet's Luca Filigheddu loves to blog.

Truphone's Dean Elwood runs a social community forum called VoIP User.

Together, as a result of the blogosphere, friendship and some wine, as well as a gentle push by moi, along with new opportunity to blend VoIP, alternative access, the hot Facebook platform with some very cool new ways to collaborate has been birthed.

Today, clients iotum, along with Truphone, plus Abbeynet and a French telco have joined up to make iotum's Free Conference Call solution truly global.

This direct strike is an crystal clear example of what Jeff Pulver calls "Purple Minutes." Those are where applications make the jump between PSTN, Mobile and VOIP, plus what else comes along. In this case, with Truphone we now have a Mobile VoIP/WiFi play which means when a user is in a hotspot, a SIP call goes to iotum, not a PSTN, further reducing the costs of conferencing, but also increasing the quality and the utility.

So where does wine come into all this? At my insistence, Truphone's Elwood had to skip the 2007 Fall VON Wine Dinner which I hosted to run his VoIP User gathering. Alec, who also loves wine, had to go hang at VoIP User, while Howard Thaw also of iotum, got wined and dined with the likes of GrandCentral's Craig Walker, Vincent Pacquet, PulverMedia's Scott Kargman and many others. But Alec and Dean were on a mission. The mission was to find a way to work together. Since both knew each other from their online communications, the prospects were good and the introductions made in advance. Over the next few months all parties worked together and the result is the iotum FaceBook Free Conference Calling service now has more ways to be reached in more places.

Skype Names a New CEO

eBay in what could be viewed as an inside corporate deck chair shuffling type move has named a new CEO for Skype. I say could, because the selected CEO actually brings some very good chops to the once disruptive telco-pipe-IM player, and he himself has been on the leading edge with at least two companies. The pick comes after a very exhaustive search for a new Skype leader that included at least two external candidates having extensive meetings late last year with former eBay leader Meg Whitman and other Skype/eBay executives, one of whom eBay may have actually made an offer to who was already London based, a European with mobile industry experience.

The new CEO, Josh Silverman, brings some very impressive credentials to Skype, from eVite and He'll initially relocate to Tallinn and start to fix what eBay has to considers the most challenging part of Skype, the technology team, according to some eBay folks. He'll base there for twelve weeks, starting in March and then relocate to London, to run Skype day to day.

After conducting their search with headhunters and executive recruiters sometime in late Fall 2007 ebay pulled back to explore "strategic options" which have included their shopping Skype to potential suitors for sell off. Since they didn't get close to their asking price, enter Silverman who now has the arduous task of fixing things that help eBay extract value out of Skype post write down, which he seems more than capable of doing.

In a note to me, Silverman said that, "joining Skype is a very exciting opportunity for me. Over the near team, I plan to focus on looking at ways that we can improve our execution and continue to grow Skype."

Silverman has past experience working in Europe so his pick from inside eBay was the best move they could make from the current crop of executives to manage the Estonians and the team in London according to well placed sources close to the search. It's a smart move on his part to go to where Skype's future lies. The technology is the core but customer support, which other bloggers have picked up on at Skype is also a challenge these days, and he'll need to fix that while he's over there. Take a look at pal Tom Keating's post on this. It mirrors a regular number of similar comments that have come my way.

My take is simple. Good hire by the new eBay CEO to promote from within. But don't expect much news from Skype and Silverman for a few months. He's got a lot of internal work to do, including sifting through the current team in three different locations and building his own model for the company.

Update-Om Malik, has similar thoughts to mine. Ironically, I had not read his post until after writing mine.

Update 2--Take a gander at Jim Courtney's post too while you reading.

From The Department of Stupid Is as Stupid Does

We all remember the video of the Comcast repairman falling asleep on the job.

Now this report is emerging about how their repair folks didn't come to fix a broken cable modem because when they called the person, no one answered the phone line, which of course is Voice over IP. Would it have hurt them to knock on the door?

This type of no think customer service dominates the service industry.

Here are two others where I have first hand experience:

1) American Express or your bank calls to question offshore charges from a foreign country. They ask that you call them back on their 800 number. Very few 1-800 numbers are reachable from outside the USA. Would it have hurt to provide a number from the country where the charges took place or a direct dial number?

2) UPS calls to tell you that you have a package being shipped that requires an adult signature. They don't tell you the tracking number, the shipper or even mention your name. How do you even know the package is for you, or if you try to call them back, they ask for the tracking number. Would it hurt for them to give you the tracking number on the message?

3) You notify your bank or credit card company that you will be out of the country, but you didn't notify every department inside the financial institution. You go online, pay some bills and they shut down all you account access because the IP addresses have changed daily that you're online with, including some from a USA based VPN which made the connection more secure. Would it have hurt for the departments to share customer information?

Every instance above is true and I have experienced it first hand. With my bank, I have actually gone as far as ask for the "ultimate person in charge" who approved the process and procedure. Thankfully, once I explain things to them, usually days later, they seem to realize that they hadn't considered a situation that way, but would fix things (and they have). In each case I have successfully secured a "good faith customer credit" for the cost of my phone calls to them to "fix" a problem that they created.

The key is to start from the opening discussion, the cost of this call is on your company and to constantly remind the service person that the time for their errors is going to cost them money, not simply a customer.

Thoughts on Being Away For So Long and Trying To Stay Somewhat Connected

One has to admit to oneself from time to time when you're a Type A, Cell A personality, who also understands that the agency world is a service industry, that we all need a break and need to balance the always on, always want to help and be helpful, with the "I want to be alone darling" approach to solitude. Being on the road means for me, simply working someplace else. Being on the road with my wife means working less, playing more, but its not usually a "vacation." It's more of just being together and my working while she shops, but since we both lead highly professional practices we've adopted an always on or in her case on-call approach to things. While I can work anywhere, its not exactly the same for a physician, so her work is mostly notes and billing, while mine is simply an extension from being in the home office or on a client site. Thankfully technology is giving both of us more tools to make it easier to be together more often and to take more short breaks without always being "away."

Sometimes those breaks are self designed, other times they are forced upon us. My so called vacation last week, that was really more of me and my wife spending an entire nine days together with lots of friends, drinking wine, planning upcoming events in San Diego, and in France that are romantically, emotionally and by nature linked to our wine country wedding was a lot of fun, but I am also realizing that I needed some time "away" as part of a very important discovery process around working anywhere.

Now for me, away never means "AWAY" or DO NOT DISTURB. I have the Blackberry for email, my Nokia E90 and N95s for voice calls, and of course my N810 and MacBook Air as well, so staying connected is never that hard. Or so I thought.

You see, Orange France, which just so happens to be the countries biggest WiFi hotspot operator and the new Mac OS Leopard are seriously not friends. While in the past, I could skirt around some issues with a VPN, the new OS is so authentication rigid that I found it impossible to use Entourage to send mail via my hosted Exchange server, unable to even use the Web interface for it due to port issues, and worst of all, I found that regardless of browser (Firefox, Safari or Camino) that even some financial services sites or travel related sites proved impossible to manipulate.

It also impacted my ability to even post to Typepad or to use MarsEdit, my laptop blogging program of choice. While I likely could have used the N810 for some posts, I just resigned myself to the fact that I'm on somewhat of vacation, posted when I could, and left it at that.

While I was able to do a lot at the Vinisud event, banging away on the keyboard instead of drinking wine, wasn't my idea of fun, though I had to get a kick out of the WiFi sign in the Montpeyroux AOC stand, and my winemaker friend Sylvain Fadat explaining how he asked them to install it so "you can work here." Those kinds of friends and random acts of kindness are why Helene and I are such good friends with them, and why I just shipped him a new Asus eee PC (French model) so he doesn't have to lug a humongous Dell or HP around with him any longer.

The week before at Mobile World Congress was so busy that trying to post what I saw was always interrupted by what I was seeing next, or some email from affair. That week, as host to a group of bloggers made being in front of the Mac more challenging, and the occasional hotel WiFi outage never seemed to help either.

Here in Paris, the Pullman Bercy has two networks, one from Orange and another wired network. On the wired network I simply connected my Linskys travel router and all is like being at home and Entourage had no issues. When I'm roaming around, my Boingo accounts, both Premiere and Mobile have been a big help, and the automatic log-on for the Nokia N810 is a real treat. I've used that to make calls over various services, including a real SIP connection from Junction Network's OnSip platform that just rocks.

The so called vacation week also allowed me by necessity to get more familiar with Google Apps, something I'm liking more and more. While it's not perfect, I am leaning more and more for cost reasons alone to moving my business mail, calendaring and contacts over there, thus making less dependent on Microsoft. The word processor, spreadsheet and mail all are very solid, with calendaring and presentation (i.e PowerPoint clone) leaving a lot to be desired. The calendar app lacks a key function a global nomad needs. Time zone setting. I'm having to constantly change the default to make sure time zone sensitive items are properly placed. That's a big hurdle. Plus how it receives items from different versions of the same program are also a bit of a challenge too. But all in all, I'm more pleased with it than I thought I would be. As for the Mail platform, I love it, but I'd also like to take a good look at Zimbra too at some point, especially now that they've been bought by Yahoo. But my guess is time will be the key enemy here, and Google will win the business.

As I wrap up the the European leg of the trip starting Monday with meetings in Brussels and London all week, I have to admit, being away is not that hard, but being away and trying to take vacation in the middle of the heavy season is.

Now I'm back and I feel better than I guess it's time to find a cup of coffee!