Archive for the ‘networks’ Category

Are We Too Dependent on Skype?

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Skype logoSkype goes down. The world stops. A gazillion blogs post about the outage. Boo hoo. Life goes on…

The majority of Skype users don’t even pay for the service, so it’s pretty hard to point the finger at a company who doesn’t receive compensation from the majority of its users.

In reality, we use Skype because it facilitates our lives and/or saves us loads of money. We should be thanking them. But a greedy few choose not to address this.

On the other side, however, I do feel some sympathy for those who pay to use premium Skype services. They are customers. Such a lengthy outage is inexcusable. If I were a paying customer, I’d be pissed off too.

Another point to note is that Skype is used extensively as a conferencing tool by many small companies and start-ups. These companies live and die by the service. It is very common to see an executive meeting scheduled around a Skype conference call. This free alternative is great, but a paid service offers more reliability and support should a mishap present itself. The companies that use Skype’s free conferencing service have no right to be upset if the service goes down, unless of course they are paying customers.

One thing is for certain: even if Skype does go down for a couple days or even a week, people won’t switch to an alternative service. Why? Because all their friends still use Skype. They would have to presuade their entire contact list to switch over to achieve maximum value. Is this going to happen? Not likely.

I guess what I am trying to say is that if you aren’t willing to pay, you can’t expect a perfect service.

Are we too dependent on free services like Skype? Is an outage acceptable to a user who doesn’t pay? Is it OK to demand a lot from a free service?

Mahalo - A Directory In An Identity Crisis

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Mahalo logoYou’d expect that when a new player enters a space, it hopes to attract users from competitor sites, right? That isn’t the case with Mahalo. But then again, Mahalo claims to be in a space that it isn’t actually in. You follow? Mahalo is a search engine in an identity crisis. Heck, it’s not even a search engine. It’s a directory. The search function is nothing more than a glorified shortcut to an individual directory page. “Guide Notes” and “Fast Facts” aside, this is really nothing more than DMOZ.

Mahalo lacks a dynamic, continuous crawl process - it’s static. Therefore, I don’t see how it can be called a search engine. Personally, I’m not convinced that you can define a search engine as such without an algorithm. Having said that, it is of my opinion that Mahalo won’t be able to compete with the big boys. Simply put, I can’t see people switching from Google or Yahoo. Mahalo has quickly realized this and since introduced Mahalo Follow. Now, users don’t have to switch services - they can continue to use Google or Yahoo at their leisure. In the event that a Mahalo result is available, it is automatically displayed in the sidebar.

It seems that Mahalo Follow is a good, passive approach for the company. It may even be the business model in the end (in my mind at least). I respect that the company has only been around for a few months, but the fact that this ’search engine’ lacks ’search results’ for many popular queries is inexcusable. I won’t even touch on unique, long tail queries…

On another note, Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis has been quoted as saying, “SEO is bullshit. If you generate a web page with good content, Google will rank the page properly”. Hmmm… that seems pretty hyprocritical. You see… directories thrive on SEO. Their very structure and nature are tailored for search engines. Even quasi-directories like Wikipedia and IMDB drive a significant portion of their traffic from search engines.

Consider this: both Mahalo and a given directory site contain unique pages with keywords and phrases stuffed into important areas such as the page title, URL, and header tags. In other words, Mahalo is a ’search engine’ dependent on other search engines. SEO is a primary traffic source. Instead of competing against Google and Yahoo, Mahalo has cleverly positioned itself to reap the benefits of these search giants via SEO.

Basically, Mahalo plans to profit from the search results of the other search engines.

If you are still not convinced, type in “Berlin vacation” or “save on your energy bill” into Google? Which directory ’search engine’ has a front page result?… You should never see a given search result in another search engine results page - it’s ridiculous. Need I say more?

What’s your take on the situation? Do you think Mahalo is a search engine?

Wikipedia - The Central Source For All Human Knowledge?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Wikipedia logoWill Wikipedia one day be the central hub for all human knowledge? This may sound crazy, but I’m not so sure that it’s as far-fetched as it may seem. The site has developed a loyal following and continues to generate an unprecedented amount of traffic. Founder Jimmy Wales always had a vision “to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language”. In other words, if someone wants to learn something about anything, they can find it on Wikipedia in their native language. This seemingly unrealistic goal is now within reach.

This is where the nay-sayers step in. Many discount the credibility of the site, stating a lack of accuracy and accountability. Some refute the reliability of sources. Others even claim that the ‘mediocrity of the crowds’ depreciates the quality of articles, arguing that a single, expert voice can provide a more clear, authoritative perspective. These are the critics of social media.

One thing is for sure: most numbers, measurements, dates, and quantitative data cannot be argued. It’s fact - it’s indisputable. Qualitative data, however, is a whole different story. Biases and opinions can creep into articles at any given point, subtlely manipulating the thoughts of the reader. Though Wikipedia users and editors do a good job of controlling this type of behaviour, it will always be present. When disputes arise, authority must be present. A moderated system such as Wikipedia can create bureaucracy and formalization, but it also helps to deter potential gaming.

Wikipedia has also successfully opened the playing field. Transparency and accessibility are key. Anyone can access all information in all languages without the need for a login or special permissions - this even includes all edits. A by-product of this is that information inefficiencies are eliminated. It is well known that many companies and organizations profit from a lack of information distribution. The introduction of such a system levels the playing field for all.

The concept of a free service also eliminates another tall barrier to entry: price. Historically, people had to purchase books or other learning materials to educate themselves on a particular topic. Now, this can be done at no cost. Anyone can view all information without paying a cent.

Finally, anyone can edit any article at any time. This is probably the most important feature. Furthermore, it probably carries the heaviest weight outside the walls of the site as well. Though there is a level of moderation, anyone can provide input, information, details, clarification, or data to further enhance the quality and depth of articles. The potential effects and widespread reach of this function simply cannot be articulated.

Obviously I am a big fan of Wikipedia. But it’s not so much the brand I’m a fan of, as the idea behind it. The principle is what interests me. Creating a free learning network for all mankind in every language is not an easy task. It’s not about Wikipedia, or competition, or brand names, or fames, or eyeballs. It’s about human knowledge. Once we can all access all information, the potential is only limited by our own creativity.

Facebook Bigger Than Google in Canada?

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Facebook new logoAccording to Alexa rankings, Facebook is now the #1 most trafficked property in Canada. This puts it ahead of Google, Yahoo, and MSN among others. Do I believe this to be true? Not likely. As we all know, Alexa ranks are inaccurate at best.

Obviously the social network has witnessed phenomenal growth this year, but I can’t imagine Facebook being bigger than Google - at least not yet. Keep in mind, however, that Canada has had one of the highest Facebook penetration rates among all countries. Most notably, Facebook adoption has reached unprecedented levels in Toronto with over 700,000 registered users. Only London has a larger user base.

Though Alexa rankings may be skewed, one thing is for certain: Facebook engagement metrics are much higher than those at Google or Yahoo. A comparison of the 3 properties by Compete indicates the following:

Page views per visit [source]:

  • Facebook: 45.2
  • Yahoo: 17.3
  • Google: 12.2

Average stay (in minutes) [source]:

  • Facebook: 13:53
  • Yahoo: 9:57
  • Google: 5:43

Keep in mind that the Compete metrics are not exclusive to Canadians, but can provide a general overview of website engagement levels.

What we can conclude from all of this is though overall traffic may be lacking, user engagement cannot be overlooked or understated. Facebook has done an excellent job of creating a ’sticky’ experience. Their traffic numbers may not be as high yet, but their users are more immersed and absorbed than can be said on other sites. I think it is even fair to say that many are hooked or addicted to the service.

Disappointment in Jason Calacanis

Monday, August 13th, 2007

Jason CalacanisI’m not a big fan of Internet soap operas or gossip in general, although I do find the odd Valleywag headline quite amusing. In any case, there comes a time when a soap opera deals with real issues and real people. On rare occasions, respected individuals cross the line and push the boundaries. Only at this point do I feel the need to participate in the discussion and articulate my views.

This weekend I attended Gnomedex 2007 in Seattle. Friday evening Jason Calacanis stepped onto the stage and began speaking about Internet spam and disorder. His thoughts and insights were valuable and much appreciated. Having said that, he began promoting his new venture, Mahalo, half way through his presentation. This caused quite a stir among the audience, myself including. Gnomedex presentations are meant to spur discussions and conversations around trends, standards, principles, ideas, and concepts - not specific companies. In other words, this wasn’t the right time and/or place to engage in such an act. Dave Winer called it “conference spam”. I would have to agree with him. So did everyone else I spoke with.

With all due respect, this isn’t the first time I have disagreed with the actions of a so-called A-lister. Late last year, Jeff Pulver pulled a similar stunt that really pissed me off and left me questioning his credibility.

Both Jeff and Jason are well-known individuals with remarkable track records. They are admired among many, and regarded as pioneers in their respective fields. That is why it is so befuddling and perplexing when situations like these arise. These guys should know better. Suspect intentions and profit-seeking motives often get the best of everyone. Perhaps it was their turn.

The subsequent series of events from this episode on stage caused quite a stir in the blogosphere. Jason Calacanis was very upset by the backlash, most notably from Dave Winer - although I felt it was deserved. Dave Winer further expressed his views, only to apologize later. Aaron Brazell of Technosailor expressed his frustration with the whole situation, while Loren Feldman brought some humour to the ordeal.

Let me say this: I do not dislike Calacanis. I was actually looking forward to meeting him, even after this on-stage episode. I think that he is a smart guy with some smart things to say. However, he is living in a prominent role and must watch what he says sometimes. In this case, I disagreed with the way he went about presenting and/or promoting Mahalo. In the future, I think he needs to consider the consequences of his actions before acting upon them. Nevertheless, I wish him all the best with Mahalo and his future endeavours.