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February 2010

Posts from January 2010

Skype Has Another Outage

Hat tip to Phil Wolff about Skype suffering yet another outage on Sunday. This is clearly a growing pains issue. When I see over 21 million users on everyday there's growth happening, and that's a good thing.

A few weeks back it was an outage tied to the App store where a tick box wasn't checked. That got fixed fast. Then about a week or so ago there was a login issue. Now today we have a services issue.

So far I have not felt the impact, as I've been able to receive calls via Skype In, dial +99 numbers for HiDef Conferencing, etc.


Sometimes Me Too, Me Also Works and Sometimes It's Not So BRIGHT

Yesterday i participated in a full on demo of VisiMeet, from Chicago based IOCOM, a company I met last week at IT Expo in Miami Beach. In a lot of ways what I saw reminded me of SightSpeed, a company my agency and I helped grow in stature and size (over 6x from when we first started with them) and saw them through their exit to Logitech in 2008.

Visimeet had a lot of what I call "me too." They offer pristine video conferencing. So does SightSpeed. VisiMeet offers multiparty video. So does SightSpeed. VisiMeet offers a browser based viewing capability. So does SightSpeed. VisiMeet is built for business. So is SightSpeed. They also do a lot of similar things on the server side to insure a fully synchronized calling experience. So does SightSpeed. VisiMeet has a simplistic chat facility. So does SightSpeed. The service works on Macs and Windows based PCs. So does SightSpeed. But that's where the comparison's end.

One of the features I liked was the "rejoin last meeting." Another was the ability to resize each individual's window frame. I had four VisiMeet team members up on my 24" monitor and my image was on the laptop. Then I moved people around. A third really cool feature was the ability to use multiple cameras on each participants end, and to view them at the same time. Now that's "me different."

The comparison and difference to SightSpeed prompted me to then check up on the musings of SightSpeed's former CEO Peter Csathy who is now the guiding force behind Sorenson Media. Peter took up blogging during his time at SightSpeed (with some gentle coaxing at times from me) and has used both his lawyers instincts and business acumen to leverage the finer points of social media effectively, without compromising his integrity or his company.

That was when I caught his post about copycat web sites, by Sorenson's competition. BrightCove. The more I looked at the two companies home pages the more I saw that Peter was, as usual, right. Given that Sorenson's web site was one of the first things tackled by their VP Marketing and Strategy, and my sometimes wine pal Erik Quanstrom, I started thinking back to a lot of conversations I've had with both of them and the more I looked and thought the more I realized not only was Peter correct, it seems that the giant, Brightcove, was clearly trying to "me too" the lesser known, but longer established Sorenson Media, much in the same way that ooVoo and now VisiMeet were "me also-ing" SightSpeed.

Why do I say this:

1) Layout

2) Colors, tones and effects

3) Use of similar terms, placements

4) Duplication of graphical elements (i.e. the iPhone)

5) Special Offer for Free Trial

Don't get me wrong, Brightcove is a very good platform, but its a platform that came about as a result of a changed vision, and not the original one. I remember Csathy's discussion with me just after he started with Sorenson, where he shared the Sorenson business model and longstanding company vision. It was their original one and has been the same for now some 15 years. He told me then it was a successful model.

Now let's take Brightcove, which started off in 2005 as a YouTube-type consumer-focused video content site. YouTube won that battle as Brightcove and others all have learned the hard way. Then Google bought them and no other company has really a close second since. So when that other "me too" direction failed Brightcove “evolved” by changing their business model into something completely different. Call it Brightcove 2.0. But by looking at their new website, one can only think they're being another "me too," this time though it's not "You Tube" it's Sorenson Media they're copying.

Perceptually, the market looks at Brightcove as the Goliath in the sector while Sorenson is clearly the "David." But in looking at the new Brightcove web site, it sure seems like the giant is copying the more entrenched, far deeper inside the technology veterans, who until Csathy arrived, never were bold about what they did. They just did it. That tells me that Sorenson is pushing on the gas pedal (which is always Csathy's style) on Brightcove and Brightcove is responding, feeling the heat.

So how does this come about? Well back in the day when I was working at a large ad agency and a new piece of business would come in, we would immediately ask "what were the competition doing with media? What was their creative like? What was there slogan? What was their tag line?" and many other questions. I would scour the research files, torment the research team into finding reports, news accounts, copies of ads, commercials or radio spots. I'd spend hours pouring over the most tiny detail because we didn't want our clients to be like the other guys, we wanted our clients to stand out from the crowd. You see, it was very easy for the client to say "we want to look like xxxxxxx" but it was our job to say "you want to be better than xxxxx" and get them there.

Copycat marketing doesn't make you better. Copycat marketing doesn't make you stand out. All copycat marketing does is get you blog posts like this. And to me, you don't have to be a marketing genius to do copycat marketing on the web. All you need is some basic design skills, some basic coding tools and a lack of imagination. But if a web site is the face of what the company is, and it's a copy of some competitors, then one has to wonder what else they're doing is nothing but a copy too. And in my book, that's not too BRIGHT.


Apple iPad Name Has Some People Ragging

What's in a name? Well to some who heard the name for Apple's new tablet/slate/pad lots of emotional hemorrhaging it seems.

Sure many of us more evolved men know that some women call their feminine napkins aka tampons or "pads." There also called rags, plugs and more. But in every case, it's slang for what was commercially known as Kotex or Tampon, both brand names. Well before those came along there have note pads, drawing pads and writing pads, and we don't hear the artists, doodlers and writers screaming for blood.

Besides, Apple does have a very senior, extremely polished and experienced woman at the helm of their Corporate Communications efforts in Katie Cotton, and nothing that impacts the Apple brand ever gets by Katie.

So here's why I think iPad is a good name.

1. It's iPod with an A (I do like the letter A)

2. Us older folks grew up using pad and pencil or pen

3. Tablet was already used by Tablet PC

4. Slate was a computer brand in the past, and Slate also is linked to some Tablet PC formats

5. It's another four letter word


Apple and Google-Less Than Friendly, Less Than Open

It remains hilarious how Apple and Google are playing with one another over the GoogleVoice application. Rather than simply agree on how to make it work, the two are having a superpowers (I want to say super poser) standoff.

So today, Google updates their web browser based version to offer a smoother and more elegant performing functionality, according to a Reuters report.

As someone who was involved in the launch and success of GoogleVoice, from the GrandCentral era, I'm happy to see that no path of being blocked is stopping the team there from making sure their users can still use the service. But at the same time, there needs to be detente and that won't be coming any time soon. The launch of the Nexus One, more than even backing the Android play is the root of this. Having now had my Nexus One for a few weeks I can safely say, its no iPhone, nor is it even as robust as the Motorola Droid. On my Droid I love having the benefit of GoogleVoice, and there's no comparison to coverage and signal strength vs. the iPhone on AT&T. Hands down, the best experience I have is with the Droid.

But Google going into the handset business is at the root of the battle, with GoogleVoice nothing more than a pawn in the game of chess that the two powerhouses are playing.

What's amazing to me though is how Apple hasn't worked with the mobile operators to develop their own iVoice platform. I mean, not much inside GoogleVoice hasn't been done before. Go back in time to Webley, now called CommuniKate which for all intents and purposes, other than the hidden callback aspect of GoogleVoice does almost all that GV does, minus the transcription.

So here's the play for Apple-

1. Buy Webley/CommuniKate whose already proven voice XML/IVR is world class and patented

2. Integrate PhoneTag

3. Offer it to the carriers as a value added service

This Rethink Wireless piece supports the Apple buying technology theory.

Game over.


Startup Camp Telephony Shows All Kinds of Innovations With Voice

Last week one of the highlights at IT Expo was Startup Camp, organized by pal Larry Lisser (previously a client at Mobivox) who organized a conference within a conference. Sponsorship came via Twilio and PhoneTag but the real stars were the four new companies, including Fonolo (a client of mine and a company I hold a stake in.)

Read Fonolo's Shai Berger's account of the event.

The reason I liked Startup Camp Telephony was the rawness of the ideas. Often times I see companies at DEMO or UnderTheRadar where companies that are already polished up and ready for the stage get up and talk. Berger who has a few years of presentations now under his belt, but the other three had raw passion around the idea and it showed. One clearly had stage fright. The other had technical glitches, while the third had a great idea whose store was not unfolded until the very end of their presentation.

But it was the ideas that mattered. Those ideas showed me there's still a lot happening in voice.


FaceBook Calling from 8x8 Is More Me Too, Me Also-Not Me Different

There have been apps on FaceBook for a while that let you do all kind of VoIP tricks, but most of them have been basic "call me" apps. Om Malik reported that 8x8 has launched one too, but took them to task for their impersonal understanding of social media writing:

"I hate the random photo (see graphic) that’s now being displayed on my page, especially when it could easily customize it by picking one of my Facebook profile photos instead. Another bonus would be if one could place the Call Me button on fanpages as well."

While FaceBook is becoming more and more a staple in many people's online diets, given how 8x8 is focusing on the business market it likely would have made more sense to figure out how to build this kind of functionality into LinkedIn. Now that would have made them, very "me different."


Click to Call, Softphone From Google Voice

The acquisition of Gizmo by GoogleVoice is starting to pay dividends.

A report from TechCrunch's fearless leader, Michael Arrington, has the GoogleVoice guys adding Click to Call to the newly minted Chrome Browser (at least on the official Windows version) and a report that GoogleVoice will have a softphone.

I'm already using Google Voice with my Gizmo softclient and inside CounterPath's XLite, Eyebeam and Bria for Mac (beta) but browser based softphones are improving so expect the new Flash or Java based one from GV to be an upgrade to the one that Gizmo also offered for a while.


AT&T -- Profit Over Performance

An analyst report says AT&T needs to spend five billion dollars MORE to improve their wireless network to support all the data usage that they are starting to see. And people wonder why I'm, as well as Om, are saying Voice over 3G doesn't really work?

Almost two years a go, a retired former AT&T Network executive called what AT&T needed to fix the network a "seven billion dollar coat of paint" to fix things so its not like they woke up last year and realized that they had both an issue with under capacity and a backhaul problem on their hands. It was known and known very well. But like so many companies from our past, where profits over performance ruled the day, the company has forsaken the customers and reduced capital expenditures in favor of better stock performance.


International Calling Slows, Skype Soars

Telegeography is an analyst firm that great at one thing and one thing only. The numbers. While many firms try to be all things to all companies, I don't know a firm that can be as consistent or as concise with their factual reporting. So when today's news about the decline in International calling hit their site, I knew there was more to the story.

Turns out there is.

Skype minutes are UP. Way up. And the way they are looking, it looks like 2009 had a sizable rise and from what I hear, 2010 will be even bigger.

Now here's the big caveat. As more people connect to Skype the Skype In and Out minutes will flatten but Skype overall minutes will rise.

Oh, and if you ever wondered what the Skype folks think of me, I received this video from some friends in their London office...needless to say, I'm smiling! (Warning it takes a while to load)