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Posts from March 2011

Great Support Deserves Praise

Six Apart deserves credit for great support. I had a login problem on my new iPad. I fired off a note and by this morning it was replied to and fixed. The problem was minor, but the impact major.

The second shout out goes to the Apple Business accounts team. As I was just back from traveling the idea of standing in line for two new iPads on Friday was a non starter. Fortunately, as a business customer that wasn't needed. At 8 PM I stopped by and got the two new units.

That's customer service done right.


Skype's Numbers And What They Mean

Looking at the recent Telecom Paper report about Skype and their profitability one has to realize that the law of large numbers is starting to apply to the telecom minutes mover. Their growth by percentage actually is slowing down in percentage of registered users logging on by month, but that's to be expected as the user base increases, the actual percentage will decline for a while during a customer acquisition phase. When it comes to paying users, the number that is actually more important, they saw a slight increase, but unfortunately, how much they were paying per user was down, and that's a problem, as Skype's ARPU drops as more people join their "network." That's why they are looking at advertising as a way to offset the "free" service.

Also revealed was the purchase price of QIK, at $150 million total over time. That makes Google's purchase of GIPS (a former client of mine) and Gizmo seem small. As a matter of fact, Google has likely paid less for GrandCentral (another former client), Gizmo and GIPS than Skype paid out to QIK's investors as a hedge against Google's patents with GIPS and the On2 purchase, which was likely the basis for the QIK purchase. Skype previously paid $27 million for Camino Networks. All this rolls into how Skype handles audio and video compression, and helps to reduce their cash payouts to others for licenses.

Now, what's not in the numbers. Skype made some moves to a new office in Palo Alto and is hiring more. There also have been some layoffs or ousters in the UK where employees were rumored offered to move to the USA and live in Silicon Valley, some to Estonia or to simply leave the company. Those moves have had a nice impact on the bottom line. Much of this was done under the guise of Josh Silverman, but executed under the new CEO Tony Bates, so this is not really a fair scorecard for Bates to be measured by yet. The next quarter though will be his third, so by then his efforts and those from their lead investor, Silver Lake Partners will begin to show. Silver Lake is heavily involved in the decisions at Skype and the management team that's there now. Also likely impacting profits was the payout to Josh Silverman to leave. Check the Edgar filings to see what that number was.


The Non-Launch by Google

The flying P has been the Flyers' primary logo...Image via Wikipedia

Let's face it, rumors create headlines, and sometimes reporters get it wrong. That's the case this past weekend around Google and the non-launch of Google Circles.

But, if reporters thought like Fred Shero, the late and former Philadelphia Flyers hockey coach, they would understand tendencies and patterns. Back in 1974 the Flyers beat the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals by giving Bobby Orr the puck, not keeping it away from him. Shero, who studied the "fillums" as he called them with a voracious appetite never before seen in hockey, realized that Orr would be on the ice longer, the more he had the puck. By game 6, on May 19, 1974, he was one tired defenseman, and the rest, they say is history, as Orr was pretty much out of gas in the third period of the the final game where the Flyers won 1-0.

Being around Shero taught me a lot as a young executive around the Flyers organization in the 70's about sport, winning and how teams behave. That translates to how companies operate, and Google never announces anything at a big event. They always announce before the event starts so the news is talked about at the event. They did this with the Nexus One back in 2010 just before CES started, getting the buzz building BEFORE people arrived. When they do announce at events, they do it at their own, like the upcoming and already sold out Google I/O conference, which is their version of Apple's World Wide Developer Conference.

But in the race between online news outlets, it's easy to see why some outlets jumped on the rumor, and others chose not to.

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Blocking Skype--Ads

When I was in Europe my ability to use Skype on some mobile networks made me feel like I had an Android device like the new Motorola Zoom on Verizon. I couldn't. Gosh, it actually made me appreciate AT&T who has a much better sense of "open" than Verizon Wireless ever will have under current management's approach. I was blocked. And it didn't feel good.  I would bet that's how Skype would feel if Skype Journal's Phil Wolff's idea of "blocking ads on Skype" would become a reality. But, as turnabout's is fair play, Skype agreed to let Verizon have their way with their client as a way to "get closer to the handset manufacturers" or so I was told by departed CEO Josh Silverman a year ago at Mobile World Congress.

As an avid Skype user on the Mac and on mobile devices I share Phil's perspective on blocking of Skype's ads, and am happy that I'm not a PC version user, who would find a new "home page" with ads. As Skype migrates the "ad" technology to other platforms Phi's idea of providing us with an option makes sense. So to bring some sanity to this here's how I would do it.

1. Skype Free-You can place and receive Skype calls to other Skype users--You get ads.

2. Skype In-You can place and receive Skype calls and receive Skype calls-You get ads but only on Skype to Skype, not on incoming calls.

3. Skype Out-You can place and receive Skype calls and receive Skype calls-You get ads but only on Skype to Skype, not on outgoing calls.

4. Skype Unlimited-You are not getting ads.

5. Skype Video -One to One Only-You get ads

6. Skype Video Premium-You don't get any ads, you're paying.

7. Skype Business-You go elsewhere if they show you ads.

 


Is GetSatisfaction's SXSW Blues A Ripoff Of Winemaker Randall Graham's Marketing Idea

Bob Dylan at Massey Hall, Toronto, April 18, 1...Image via Wikipedia

Is GetSatisfaction.com's SXSW HomeSick Blues remake/remodel of the Bob Dylan "Homesick Blues" true creative parody or is it a royal ripoff of long time wine maker Randall Grahm's "Sub-terroir Rhonesick Blues" marketing video?

Grahm, who I have casually known via wine events and mutual friends since 1989 totally punked the wine reviewer world, taking pots shots at the likes of the iconic Wine Advocate's Robert Parker, the WineSpectator, the misplaced hype and fuss over Crushpad, whimsically needled the wine snobs, expressed disdain of wine trophy hunters who seek out high scoring wines over great wines that are under appreciated, and more in his 2009 YouTube viral video. 

The best way to determine if it's a copy cat idea or not is to Take a look atGetSatisfaction's new release, which is well done, but not the first to use the web and Homesick Blues as the basis of parody.

Then go watch Randall's version that was uploaded by BonnyDoonVineyard on Nov 25, 2009.

If one watches both it's easy to walk away with feelings of "that's funny" or "that's nice" or "great idea." But if your are a wine insider who knows some of the players that Randall is singing about, and if you're startup insider, or industry type, you'll also gets the "humor" of who is being poked fun at, and who is being "punked." That means you'll quickly see the similarity of the two,  and how it all goes back to the Bob Dylan original. In the "Sub-Terroir Rhone-Sick Blues" video the inside humor goes all the way down to pals Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Qupe's Bob Lindquist back in the day finding cuttings of Rhone and Burgundian grapes and reportedly doing the same thing Randall Graham reportedly also did--bringing them back inside a Samsonite suitcase. For long time Bonny Doon wine fans, the video is an extension of his irregular newsletter that has always been satirical and parody like. Longtime fans will recall the famed 2003 April Fool's Day edition that had people rolling on the floor as they read it. Dubbed the National Vinquirer, it was a total pun on the tattler/tabloid, National Enquirer, which to say the least, always had a flair for eye-catching headlines that would make many a popular blog a shrinking violet in today's era of headline oriented journalism. Then after going back and watching GetSatisfaction's version, listening and watching you'll see the execution of the same approach.

For those who go to baseball games you'll all recall that there's always a huckster outside the ballpark selling programs. He's using the time honored old line, "you won't know the players, unless you have a scorecard." Well in these two cases, if you happen to know the players, either wine or tech, you'll have a good laugh at both...

It's great marketing, but not original. Just give credit to where credit's doo....n 

 

 

 

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Apple iPad2 AT&T or Verizon In the USA

Today, hundreds of thousands of iPad2s will be sold in all kinds of flavors. WiFi only, WiFi + 3G on AT&T or WiFi + EVDO/3G from Verizon. And like many people who are somewhat frustrated with their experience on AT&T in some markets in the USA, there will be some thought given to buying a Verizon iPad2.

In looking at the situation realistiacally, the current thinking will either revolve around price for the data plan, or usage outside of the USA. Beyond that for the most part, the devices are similar. As a major user of Skype and VoIP, I'm always looking at the device's capabilities in that regard, and have verified with Skype PR's team in the USA that Skype on iPad2 will function just as it does on iPad1 and on Apple iOS mobile devices, allowing calls over 3G on both AT&T and Verizon. This is different than the Motorola Zoom, the Android tablet where Skype's current Android client does allow you to make 3G calls in the USA on any of the Android devices, only over WiFi. Outside of the USA the Skype client on Android does work with Voice over 3G as long as the carriers don't block it.If you think back to Skype on the iPhone it too only worked over WiFi initially, but now works over 3G on AT&T. Like with everything from Verizon Wireless, everything new takes a little longer to arrive. My guess is that Android calling issue goes away as soon as LTE comes along, and as Skype keeps warming up its relationship with Verizon Wireless. At one point last year, reports came to me that Verizon had actually made a low ball offer to Skype to purchase the company, shortly after the IPO was filed.

For the Apple iPad, you're an international traveler, or someone who plans on being out of the USA with your iPad and needs more than WiFi only access, then the AT&T model is the one for you. Over the past five and a half weeks I was able to easily obtain SIM micro SIM's in Portugal, Spain, France and the UK for my iPad and make use of it on a pre-paid basis. Even more, I was able to use Skype and other VoIP clients on it, as if I was still back in the USA in Portugal and the UK, but found that Yoigo in Spain and SFR in France did block Skype and VoIP on the pre-paid accounts. But, beyond that, all of my apps, services and even iTunes access behaved as normal as could be, convincing me to go with the AT&T model today

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Skype Adds Ads

Skype is adding ads to what will be a new "home" tab in their rapidly becoming a browser experience like client.

I recall when J2, the parent company of Jfax added ads. I stopped using it as I didn't want to be paying for a service as a subscriber to be advertised to.  To Skype's credit they are putting the ads somewhere out of the main line of communications, but can't you see the day where you get an intro video before your video conference that is "this video call is brought to you by...."

As a paying subsciber I'd like to be able to OPT Out of ads entirely, not just the opting out of sharing my data. I wonder if they'll give me that option down the road. For me, paying for a reliable service trumps the value of someone trying to advertise to me. Skype--charge me more, if you want, but don't run ads. People already have enough ways to get distracted in the workplace, and this conflicts in my mind with getting more business, from business.

Now if the business/enterprise market will have a different client, without the ads, sign me up. As the same technology that's there for delivering ads can be used in so many other ways for business that helps the customer make money, not the advertiser.

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Google To Say Goodbye to Gizmo5 in April

Google has quietly decided to put Gizmo5 to rest. The company, acquired last year from Michael Robertson and his investor partners for $30 million dollars has been integrated into Google Talk for the most part, including the video components that were part of Gizmo5 last incarnation.  TechCrunch and others have written the story as well.

The service will shut down on April 11 of this year, and starting March 11 users will no longer be able to buy credit. Google is providing options to Gizmo5 users to port their numbers to GoogleVoice, to receive a credit from Google that can be used with Google Voice or receive a refund.

There was no mention of credit for International numbers that had been paid for, or if those International numbers can be ported to Google Voice though, something that will likely get sorted out next week.

Here's the note from Google/Gizmo5:

Hello,

Gizmo5 is writing to let you know that we will no longer be providing service starting on April 3, 2011. A week from today, March 11, 2011, you will no longer be able to add credit to your account.

Although the standalone Gizmo5 client will no longer be available, we have since launched the ability to call phones from within Gmail at even more affordable rates. In order to make this change as smooth as possible for you, we’ve put together a couple of options to help you transition off of Gizmo5’s service.

  • Keep your Gizmo5 call-in number by porting it to Google Voice. To initiate the port, please log in to http://my.gizmo5.com and follow the instructions at the top of your account page. If you don’t have a Google Voice account, please create one first so that we can port your call-in number.
  • Transfer your call credit or get a refund. If you purchased calling credit and have a balance remaining in your account, log in to http://my.gizmo5.com and select from one of the following options:
  • Transfer your call credit to your Google Voice account, which can be used for calling from Google Voice or Gmail. If you don’t have a Google Voice account, please create one first so that we can transfer your credit. If you are outside of the United States and Google Voice is not yet available, a transfer will not be possible, so please request a refund of your remaining call credit.
  • Request a refund.Please request your number port, call credit transfer or refund by April 3, 2011. If you don't request a call credit transfer or refund by this date, we will automatically refund your remaining call credit via the payment method originally used to purchase the credit. Note that if you paid via Moneybookers or if your credit card on file has expired, we will not be able to automatically refund your remaining credit, so please log in to initiate the refund process.

Thank you,

The Gizmo5 Team

 

Back in the era of GrandCentral, I played a part in bringing Gizmo and GC together for a very simple SIP interop. The idea was simple. Since both were SIP based, the ability to make inbound calls routed into my GrandCentral would be possible, and more importantly, I could answer my calls using the Gizmo client and using a SIP based endpoint in my home for all my GoogleVoice/GrandCentral calls.

With this move, it looks like Google has also moved away from that process and instead is using only GoogleTalk as the end point, but with the new Android OS, especially Honeycomb, they become the endpoints in my opinion. What's more it also appears that Gizmo's parent SIPPhone and all of its core assets, including voice federation, college switchboard interoperability, and more have also been mothballed. Those features were actually well ahead of their time.