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As I’m sure you’re aware, the folks over at Microsoft have gambled big recently by purchasing Skype. Microsoft has long been regarded as the first name in enterprise software, but does Skype fit in with the rest of the class of Microsoft products? Or, are they the weird kid that eats paste? To be blunt: for now, hide your paste.
About a year ago my office converted to all-Skype. The company phones are Skype phones, and most of us now just have a mic and our headphones rather than a desk handset. Although this is a great product for people in long distance relationships, or those who want to see their grandchildren in another state, this product needs a few improvements before we can really rely on it for serious business.
As you probably know, they had a global outage this week so stability is a big concern. However, lots of services have had major outages recently and survived unscathed. The biggest issue for the business so far is that many folks already had a Skype account when they joined the company, and they’re unable to merge their personal account with the new company-funded account. This means they had to move all of their contacts over to a new Skype screen name, and it’s often extremely confusing to newcomers who arrive with many clients (like salesmen, who live and die by their phone). After the transition to the company-based Skype, some employees seem to be even more nervous about missing that big call.
Another issue – with Skype, there’s no central phone directory for your company. The closest that we’ve been able to come is to include our company name in all the usernames that we create. This way, folks can search for our names and find our people. This isn’t a great solution, though, as there’s no security provided. Nothing bars other users from using your company’s name in their usernames, potentially causing “false positives”- imagine if a competitor caught on and convinced a customer to call them, because the customer thought the competitor was affiliated with your company? A directory is a near-mandatory staple for enterprise telecommunication solution.
Payment is also a problem. When you have lots of people making tons of calls all around the country, it’s common to add large amounts of credit to your account to cover costs. With a terrestrial phone service it’s common to add thousands of dollars at a time to your corporate phone account. With Skype, if you want to add 500 or more dollars to your account you have to fax in a special form. This seems pretty stone-age for a digital-frontier company. And, if you need to fax in several forms, you’re occasionally flagged, causing service interruptions! In a digital age, with a digital business, it’s a total waste of time to constantly fill out and fax forms, even when you have sites like eFax to help.
As a web-based phone service, Skype really should excel at inexpensive teleconferencing. Although it’s touted as the ‘facetime killer” Skype actually has very little support for true video or teleconference support. When we have a large meeting with several remote people, we’re usually unable to configure it so that we can all see and hear each other without a lot of microphone-passing and hand-waving. Consequently, people in remote offices often feel left out of the loop.
Last but certainly not least is the fact that all of their equipment is proprietary. With terrestrial phones, there is usually an equipment standard so that generally your handset can go with you from service provider to service provider. Not Skype phones. Skype phones require commitment. So, now that we have invested in this equipment, we feel somewhat stuck with it, since we can’t re-use the handsets. We’re what a poker player would call ‘pot committed’.
Even with all this (I know that it’s hard to tell,) I actually love Skype—I really do! I’ve had great fun with it, and it’s perfect for chatting with your family or your significant other when they’re out of town. To really meet the needs of the business community, however, Skype should definitely take some cues from their new owners and start thinking about providing service from an enterprise perspective.
You can tell from the minute you sign into an ON24 webcast that something different is going on. For one, the interface looks like the Mac operating system, with a dock-like area of icons at the bottom of the screen. This is the interface to ON24′s widgets, programs that run inside the webcasting application, including Twitter and Facebook apps. Currently, there are about 20 widgets available with ON24, with more being added each week.
I had the chance to sit down and try out some of ON24′s features recently, and came away impressed. Whereas other webcasting solutions are often dull, with a single video pane or slideshow available, ON24 seamlessly combines video, slides, Twitter feeds, sharing buttons, LinkedIn, presenter questions and even group chat into a single interface. You can move windows around, hide windows you’re not interested in seeing, and share links live all from their easy-to-use interface.
The ON24 webcasting platform brings a rich feature set together as well, with multi-presenter webcam options and desktop sharing. They bill it as a solution for “one or few to many,” meaning that a single person or a small team can manage the webcast stream (handling different tasks within the platform, like video or fielding questions) that goes out to a much wider audience.
Because the entire platform is built on Adobe Flash technology, mobile users are already able to access ON24 webcasts with their Android phones or BlackBerry tablets. Although iOS support is not possible with the current version of the product, I’ve been told that h.264 video streams are being added and that iPad and iPhone users should expect to be able to join ON24 webcasts by next release of the software, coming this summer.
To learn more, be sure to check out the ON24 Webcasting Platform 10. If you’re interested in seeing how the technology works first-hand, there are live demos coming up tonight, Friday and next Monday.
One of the defining characteristics of modern office life is that we divide our work and attention between the big screen (our computers) and the small screen (our mobile phones). Smart application developers have spotted this trend and designed their software to better support this workflow.
The critical feature that you should look for when evaluating these apps is how well they keep your information and configuration in sync between the two screens. Applications that excel at that will allow you to seamlessly switch screens and waste no time getting your work done. You should be able to enter items in the mobile app and see them in the desktop app, check items in the desktop app and have the new state reflected in the mobile app.
Here are 3 fantastic applications that exemplify this new development approach:
Twitter client: Tweetdeck
TweetDeck is a client for social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz. TweetDeck is ultra-configurable and the tool of choice for a lot of social marketing experts, who use it to monitor and engage customers in discussions about products and services.
TweetDeck uses an online account that you can sign up for from the client to save all your configuration, primarily what columns and saved searches you want to see.
Then, you can configure your mobile app with those same views, columns and searches.
It’s easy to turn Twitter into a time-waster and productivity sink, but used with good criteria, it can turn into a powerful marketing tool. The trick is to make Twitter an integral part of your marketing diet… and encourage employees to engage customers online.
To-list management GTD-style: OmniFocus
OmniGroup produces some of the finest Mac software. They have great attention to detail and OmniFocus is a paramount example. Omnifocus is a power tool for well organized people. It allows you to track all your to-dos and projects using the Getting Things Done methodology popularized by David Allen and idolized by geeks worldwide.
The OmniFocus for Mac application allows you to capture to-dos from any of your Mac apps, organize them into projects and lists by dragging and dropping, reviewing them on a regular basis and prioritizing them according to a number of criteria such as how long they take to complete, their dependencies and much more.
The big payoff of having a well structured task management system like GTD is that it relieves you of the stress of worrying about all the things that you have to do and helps you focus on what you can actually do right now, with the time and energy that you have available.
For this system to work, to get todos out of your mind and into your GTD system, you need to be able to enter them whenever they occur to you, and your iPhone is a perfect device to do that, as you probably carry it with you most of the time.
OmniFocus can sync your tasks between your Mac and your iPhone in a number of ways, but the two most useful are:
- Syncing via your wifi… whenever your iPhone is roaming in the same wifi as your Mac both versions of the program find each other via Bonjour technology and exchange the latest tasks.
- Syncing over the Internet… if you sign up for the wonderfully simple and powerful Spootnik service, you can sync via their servers… with the added benefit that you can sync with Basecamp, a project management service. Using Basecamp, Spootnik and OmniFocus you can set up a company wide GTD system… an incredible productivity tool worth a future post
Virtual PBX and Contact Sharing software: Ringio
Let’s say that you want to increase the chances that when somebody calls your business phone number, or the cell phone of one of your employees that you will know who they are, how to greet them, who they’ve talked to before and what they want.
For that to happen you are going to need a call collaboration solution that will help you get those phone calls routed to the right person in the right department, and that will enable each user to share their online address books and call histories.
You’re also going to need some sort of screen pops that allow you to see the information about them in the context of the phone call.
That, in a nutshell, is what Ringio does.
The Ringio Desktop software sits neatly on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer and gives you all this info at your fingertips. When a call comes in, you get a screen pop on your computer and then you can decide to take the call or send it to somebody else. Ringio will then log that phone call.
Ringio is a great example of a new generation of applications that takes syncing one step further. Not only does it sync between the desktop and the Android mobile app, it syncs between users in the same company and between the Ringio service and online address books such as Google Contacts / Gmail.
Over the next few years we will see an emerging super-class of mobile apps that is very much aware of all your data, whether it sits on your computer, your mobile or the internet, and will be able to help you stay productive and informed.
This is from my last weeks CNN tech segment. You can catch the tech segment every Saturday on CNN at 8:20a EDT. Set your DVR or tune in :-)
Many people on my radio show and email have expressed privacy concerns with many social media sites. I have concerns with them as well especially the location-based sharing sites (i.e. FourSquare, Gowalla, Loopt et…) I love the sites and what they can do, I just see too many people not exercising the privacy features and posting whereabouts publicly and that concerns me, especially because the info could be used by stalkers. But lately those concerns have been more focused around Facebook due to its more recent changes. This post isn’t to pick on Facebook, in fact I use Facebook quite a bit and certainly think it can play a valuable role in our digital lives.
However, recently I have too many emails asking me on how to delete an account from Facebook and I can see why. Facebook makes it very easy for you to “deactivate” your account which hides your info but it doesn’t delete it. For those who are really looking to delete their account here are some solid steps!
My advice would be to deactivate before you permanently delete unless of course that’s really want you want to do.