Making Skype More Profitable and Ultimately Better

SkypeThere have been a few articles floating around talking about the fact that eBay is considering selling Skype. Although the talk is mostly related to new Skype CEO John Donahoe referring to “synergy” and weather or not the two business are complimentary. I think this might be cover for “profit”. The acquisition of Skype by eBay was a curve ball in most commentators eyes and there is no doubt that it has likely had a negative impact on Skype’s revenue and image.

That discussion made me think about what is it about Skype that is stopping it from being a giant (a bigger one). Number one in my book is the fact that most users don’t pay for any calls they make. They use it as a communication tool while online. They take advantage of Skype’s free calling, which is great. But there is no profit to be made from free. This is despite the fact that paid calls are cheap and deals like “Skype Pro” were top value for money. Indeed the new “flat rate unlimited calling” is also feature rich and again cheap. So if the majority of users are not taking them up on these great offers what can they do?

Charge for the use of Skype. That’s right charge for it, make Skype a subscription service on a per year basis. Before you go screaming your butt off hear me out. If you are screaming you must use and value Skype, I hear you. Skype is one application that I could not live without.

One of the strengths of Skype is the user base, it is massive. Used by an estimated 30% of all internet users and accounting for 95% of all VoIP traffic. Watching the total users online I see a constant + 10 million. There are questions about “active” users on Skype, given that total registered users is reportedly over 100 million but that is what I see on a regular basis so lets use that in our math.

With this huge user base Skype is in a great position to use that market share and economy of scale to charge a minimal subscription fee and make a very large profit. Consider this:

Skype have 10 million active users. Charge $10 per year for the use of Skype free calling PC to PC, therefore outside of SkypeOut. Given the fact that some people won’t pay this and ditch Skype lets be conservative and say that they lose 50% of current users. Now we have 5 million users paying 10 dollars a year. That is 50 million dollars a year! That is profit that they just don’t have coming in right now that could make Skype a whole lot better. Skype’s revenue is currently running around 500 million, subscriptions then would account for 10% of total revenue, that is a lot for any business.

I don’t think that they would lose 50% and I think that it will benefit users and Skype. I would pay 10 bucks a year. I might consider paying more. Why? I think that it is that good and I don’t have a problem paying for a quality service. I have used a number of VoIP services and none compare to the quality that I get from Skype, especially for recording. Generally speaking Skype is constantly reliable and stable, making it easy to use and dependable. Ten dollars a year is a very nominal fee for a great service.

In addition if I knew that the addition of a fee might make for a better Skype and encourage more development, great. They could even concentrate on working on some of my gripes:

  • No record feature native to the software
  • Bloatware like Skype Extras
  • Creating a stripped down version for optimizing call quality

I know that many people will disagree with me and strongly. I may even get flammed for putting ideas in their head. But quite frankly I don’t want to loose Skype. I sure as hell don’t want to lose it to the likes of Microsoft or some other web company that will pollute it with rubbish… “Yahoo! toolbar will be installed with Skype” (in fine print at the bottom of the EULA). Skype should concentrate on being a VoIP service, not a games platform, not aan application client, not anything else.

I will say though that subscriptions without value adding to the application and development of more bloatware would be a disaster. But the opposite would make for Skype to develop and maintain a platform for which there is no equal. As long as they add that record button.

Would you pay 10 bucks for a killer app?

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Internode Increase Prices, Twice

Internode BannerI use Internode as my current Internet Service Provider, they have been reliable, cost effective and I have not had a single complaint. The day before yesterday they announced that there would be changes to their plans and pricing structure. I now have a complaint.

There has not been an increase or major changes to their offerings since I have been with Internode. Indeed there has not been a price increase for six years. I can appreciate that these things change and inevitably prices always increase. However in this instance it is the percentage of increase and the way in which they have gone about it that sticks in my neck.

The reasons that have been given for the price increases are that while offered line speeds have increase, the cost of provision has not decreased. In other words users have faster speeds, download more and the cost of providing that bandwidth has increased. Internode blame the heavy use of services such as YouTube and BitTorrent for this. I am not sure what they expected users to do. These services especially video are only really available to those on faster connections!  Therefore they have hit the high speed users more than the lower end plans. I presume they use the above for justification for this. They are the ones using the bandwidth so lets charge them the most.

So the price goes up. Which as far as I am concerned is fine. I can understand that if something costs more then you need to essentially cover that cost. For me this means an added cost of about $10 AU to my bill per month. Currently I am on 8000MB/384kB connection with a limit of 20 Gig down per month. I can cop the 10 bucks on the chin. But essentially I have been delt a double blow. My bandwidth has been halved to 10 Gig per month for the same price that I am paying now. The cost to increase to my current 20 Gig limit once the changes are in effect? 10 Bucks… Do you see it? This is not a 10 dollar increase, it is a 20 dollar increase. Because that is what it will cost to maintain my current service.

This was underhanded in my opinion. If you are going to increase my plan by 20 bucks then bloody say that. Don’t halve my service! Don’t tell me that most users don’t use their limit and don’t soften it by saying that you are offering 13 new plans to better suit my budget! This is a massive increase in cost to the end user both in bandwidth and cost. I assumed that maybe it would be 5 – 10 dollars per month, I was very wrong. Internode will loose customers having done this and there are a lot that are not happy. As the Whirlpool Forums, in which users have vented their displeasure is a testament to. There are those defending them as well but more that are trying to wrap their head around exactly what Internode were thinking.

As I said Internode are excellent, I don’t have a complaint about their service. Am I leaving? No, not for the moment, but I am looking at alternatives.

With the advent of the connected world, the increase demands of bandwidth for applications and web development with software technologies such as Ajax, Java and Flash, podcasting, on-line video and gaming this was inevitable. People are using the technology, they are utilizing that which the online universe has presented to them. They are using more bandwidth, they are consuming more resources. It was not like you could not see it coming. But this is only the beginning. The Internet is being programed for users that have the bandwidth to run it, not the other way around. In my opinion the thought that if you give users a faster speed they won’t actually consume more bandwidth was an oversight. Then to slug users that are using these services with a large increase and cripple their ability to use them due to reduced bandwidth limits was wrong.

I am not impressed Internode, at your lack of foresight, your logic, your increase in price and your reduction in my service. But as I said I have been happy with your service and I will give you but few chances and no, you are not a cat and there goes one…

Internode Homepage Screenshot

Flickr Make it Easier to Share Images

You see an image on Flickr and you want to share it with a friend or a family member. Now you have to copy and paste the link into an email or some other form of getting that link to them, right… Not any more.

Send_to_a_friend screenshotFlickr have introduced easy photo sharing right from the source of the image. Now my only problem was that after hearing about the feature and wanting to check it out but I’d be damned if I could find the feature. After a bit of looking around in a few menus  and having no luck I went back to the image page and looked more thoroughly. I spotted the option in the bottom right of the page in small print. “Send to a Friend”

Not sure why Flickr has made this feature so hard to find. Or is that that I am not observant enough? Features like this should be easy to find and use. No problem with the ease of use, in fact 10/10. They get a 2/10 for easy to find, in my opinion. Maybe they are trying to save on the bandwidth or something. Beats me.

Clicking that link throws you to a page with the option to send the image via email or to another Flickr member. There is a default message that you can add to or just send as is. The default message is fine in my book. I sent one to myself. The cool thing about this feature is that the recipient gets the message and the image in their inbox with an additional link to the page on Flickr that it comes from. What this means is that they can save the image locally. To save a photo on Flickr from the web page you have to have an account and be logged in. Now you don’t, provided someone with an account send it to you.

Nice feature and I think I might actually upgrade my account to a pro account as this is great for family and friends and I am going to use it a lot. I am actually trying to update my Flickr page more often, to keep the family in the loop a bit better. Some of our family are a couple of 1000 kay away and I know they will appreciate it. Thanks Flickr!

Flickr_Home_Screenshot

Create Your Own Temporary Message Board

Cl1p_LogoNow this is a bit of fun and actually quite useful. The service is called cl1p.net it provides a service that lets you create an instant message board or clipboard with a unique URL for access and number of handy and useful features. I am sure that there are uses for this that would present themselves to people on a daily basis. A great service to put in your bookmarks, you never know when you might need it.

To set up a message board or clipboard all you have to do is visit cl1p.net and follow the instructions which are very simple. You will see a box like this:

Cl1p_Creation_Box

Fill in what you want the page URL to be after the /. Click the “Show My cl1p” button and you are done. There is no need to register, but you can if you want to to track your cl1ps. Once your page is generated (you should now be looking at it); there are a few options that you may want to activate.

The page is an Internet accessible clipboard or a message board, you select which on the right pull-down menu. The clipboard is the default. Copy and paste anything either plain text or HTML into the space provided. Or upload a file up to 2MB. Want someone else to be able to see the pasted text or file? Just point them to the URL. This is very useful. Say you were helping someone with some code for their blog or web page. You could get them to post their code on the “board”, edit it and then they could then reload and copy and paste it out to their page. Anyone that has tried to use Instant messaging for this knows exactly why this feature is so good. Plus it is way faster then email.

There are a number of options for how long you want the page open for from one hour to “as long as possible” (however long that is). You can change the title if you wish from the default to one that you prefer. I like the idea of being able to password protect the page as well in the “Security” options. Activating this for a message board enables moderation by the creator of the page and prevents others from modifying comments. Create an account to track your “cl1ps” or there is the option to buy the URL that you have essentially created. Enable HTML or plain text to suit your needs. Message boards are plain text which is a good idea.

At the bottom of the page is the option to upload a file up to 2MB, which might be an interesting way to share a file with a lot of people that you can’t host yourself. Finally you can adjust the number of lines that are viewable, save and print the text. Phew… loads of features for a simple page. But that is what makes it great. Good things are simplistic and easy to use and this fits all the requirements for that.

If you purchased the URL it could be a permanent message board for your blog readers. The good thing about this is that there is no registration required, no login, no email submission. You might get more comments from your readers by having one. If you had no blog then this might be a fun way to leave messages for your friends or have an asynchronous conversation. You could start a great flame war with this one, once the URL disappears your comments go with it and it is anonymous. These ideas are just off the top of my head and I am sure that people can think of much better ones.

The URL or page is accessible to anyone with Internet access, just point your browser to it and you can see the page you or someone else has created. Nice. This is also an advantage if you were working with someone in another time zone. Or you had friends that were in a different country. It is another way of communicating and collaborating.

I think it is a great idea and has loads of potential and an early start to a sound business model. In the future I would expect there to be advertising and such but that won’t take away from a great, interesting, simple and fun idea. The idea of accessibility and ease of use is an achievement. I can definitely see myself using this from time to time for a number of uses and a lot that I am yet to think of.

See the Rooster’s Rail Message Board Here [ http://cl1p.net/roosters_rail ] go nuts and tell me what you think about it.

UPDATE: Killed the Message Board it became a spam mecca. This post is getting on and the spammers followed it. Just glad that HTML was off 🙂 Please check out the service and create your own.

Cl1p.net_Screenshot

Font Inspiration: MyFonts

Boycott Image DemoI am not big on fancy fonts and such but I came across a website this week that had a great top 10 list of what they considered the best fonts of 2006.

It is not that I am against fonts or anything like that, I like a nice font. But fancy unique ones have their limitations. For instance if you have a font installed on your machine you can use it all you like, print a letter with it without any problems. But send a document to someone and they don’t have it on theirs and it will bork. They won’t see it. Same goes for a web page. It has to be resident on the machine for the user to see it.

One way around this is to create an image that uses the font. But that changes it as well, it is now an image and is treated as such. Creating a header or logo using a fancy font is not so bad because within the html you can edit the text to reflect the content on the page. This raw html of the page is what the web spiders crawl for indexing.

I heard a podcast this week where there were open questions and one podcaster was wondering why her content was not being indexed. It turned out that the whole page of text that she referred to was an image. She wanted the page to look nice and so that the visitors could see it she made the whole block of text an image. Google does not index the content of an image as far as content is concerned. In all honesty I am after content crap can still look good and some of the ugliest web sites have the best content.

I should also mention as a side point that having a massive number of fonts installed is notorious for slowing down your machine. So be picky with what you install and maybe review them once in a while and cull out the ones you don’t use any more. Saving them to disk is a great idea as you can always install them again if you ever have the need.

So now that I have trashed fonts… I found this nice collection of fonts this week. The Best Fonts of 2006. While I am not sure what the best is based on they are a nice collection. They are from a site called MyFonts and I would suggest that these are what they consider to be the best fonts as opposed to being judged or voted on. You can see the whole collection as an alphabet and you can purchase them if you wish. Must be hard to develop fonts because the ones I looked at range in price from $19.00 to $40.00. But they have some great specials as low as 10 bucks! Cool. What is the going rate for a font anyway? Still worth it if you are after something unique in my opinion.

Looks like a great site by the way lots of fonts and styles to suit anything that you would want to do, 52,454 at last count. I really liked the “more like this” feature that selects fonts based on the one you are looking at. These fonts definitely have a place for the designer and artist. But remember that they have a place and more importantly when and where you shouldn’t be using them.

Best Fonts of 2006

Meet People with buddystumbler :: IM Exchange

BuddyStumbler Logo ResizedBuddystumbler looks to be a good site to meet people with similar interests. I think this service has a lot going for it in that it is simple and to the point along with one of the simplest sign ups and set ups that I have ever seen. I especially like the idea of tagging yourself for others to find.

When I landed on this page I was not sure what to make of it. But it gets straight to the point. A search box with a few operators to choose from. Such as male or female and age range. The search is something a bit different in that you are not searching for a name but rather by keyword, for potential friends. I thought it was a lot like tagging, tagging people. I searched for podcasting and podcast, I was disappointed to find that there were none. But then the site is fairly new and in beta. So not populated with the volume needed, yet.

But I like the idea. I don’t have that much time to keep up with the on-line contacts that I do have let alone create some more. But if you unlike me are looking for new friends then this is a great idea. The idea of searching for keywords or tags to find friends is an interesting concept. This is related to the sign up which allows you to write a brief description and then tag yourself as many times as you think necessary. Keywords that identify your interests, hobbies, personality and whatever else you can think up. You then input your username or names from Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL or all of them.

The meeting bit involves the exchange of IM names only and both parties have to agree. No other information other than the instant messenger user name you designate is exchanged. The rest is up to the people involved to chat via their respective IM clients. I think this is smart because the site has done the job and you pursue a friendship or contact away from the service. The inclusion of a shoutbox on your profile helps get things started if you don’t necessarily want to exchange usernames straight away. It does sound a bit like an on-line dating service, potentially it could end up like that but hopefully not.

Say I was new to podcasting and I wanted to find some new friends that would talk podcasting with me and give me some support in my new venture. This would be a great place to potentially find someone like that. This process is actually quite difficult otherwise and requires a fair bit of effort. You can search other places, email other podcasters and use services like Skype and search for users with descriptions that interest you. But this cuts to the chase and makes that a whole lot easier. The other advantage is that users of this service are expecting people to want to meet them and are more likely to respond. Better than the effort of an email which might result in being ignored.

The only way that this service is going to get better is for it to be populated, at present it is a bit limited. With the IM services having their fair share of spammers and idiots I can really see people needing and wanting this type of service. With that I think once the word gets out this will appeal to certain users and groups. Slick interface with a simple premise and ease of use it has appeal.

buddystumbler Screenshot

Develop Flow Charts Easily

bubbl.us LogoIt is true that pictures and diagrams can say a lot more than words can at times. A flow of ideas and thoughts, related concepts or how-to diagrams are very effective. But they are problematic to make. Ever tried to produce one? Don’t bother because with bubbl.us you can do it for free on-line.

This would have to be the easiest way to create a bubble flow chart that I have seen for a while. Based on flash without the loud colours, very glad about that. I am starting to like flash more since I have seen developers realize there is a whole rainbow of colours out there and they don’t need to be flashing in your face to be effective. bubbl.us is a fast way to create these types of flow charts or diagrams. Features on offer:

  • Free
  • Very easy to use
  • Automatic or manual placement of bubbles
  • Drag and drop interface
  • Automatic scaling using the mouse wheel
  • Keyboard support for viewing
  • Contextual help
  • Save your charts

There are plans to add things like:

  • Multiple user support
  • Recording brainstorming sessions

A couple of gripes but minor are that while the contextual help is excellent the text is way too small. I also found that the drag and dropping of “bubbles” is not as precise as I would like. A bit of persistence pays off here and you eventually get it where you want it. Apparently you can print your creations but I could not see a “print” button.

I would have liked to have seen these promised features included before release as they may set them apart somewhat from other similar services. I would also like to see custom colours and fonts to be available. This would be great for creating a chart that will match your blog or presentation. Be cool to be able to publish them or send the finished product to someone as well.

I like the speed at which you can add thoughts or bubbles and then being able to edit them later. A very good way to get ideas down in a visual way to refer to later. Maybe create some mind maps for articles or a project. Or just brainstorm a how-to; add the steps at random as you remember them. Then go back and order and arrange the diagram that you want to use. Deleting bubbles is very easy and does not cause a “chain” effect on the others.

Nice site and the presentation is well executed. Include the promised features and you have a very cleaver on-line application that would have a myriad of uses and benefits. Slick interface and intuitive to use. Be nice to see some more collaborative type features. Results look great but could be improved with some minor adjustments. I would commend bubbl.us on the ability to preview the service without account creation, the way it should be done.

bubbl.us Screenshot