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SkypeOut is a terrible user experience

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Skype for OS X and iOS hasn’t attracted a legion of fans. In context of form ‘dumbed down’ hardly begins to describe the experience, condescension runs through the UI like crayon in a toddler’s pencil.

Functionally there’s not much to talk about either, the app lets you make free and cheap calls and if you have friends, colleagues and acquaintances in the silo the IM is alright.

That’s it.

By dint of circumstance I happen to be one of the 6% of Skype customers paying to make calls through their service. For me this is a legacy issue: a) I always had a Skype account open for comparison route testing when I was doing VoIP stuff; b) sometimes I need to make cheap calls to landlines and mobiles and there’s credit in the account. One day I’ll switch the auto top-up off and choose another service but for now, describe me as occasional user.

With an eye to the little big details, one of the things that really hacks me off is the lack of personalisation in what is, to all intents and purposes, a phonebook app. Amazingly (and stupidly) you are only allowed to upload pictures of your contacts if they use Skype. If your principle use of the app is SkypeOut – making old fashioned phone calls to people, businesses and conference call bridges – then I hope you like the default blue avatar next to your contact’s name because you’ll see an awful lot of it.

Think about that for a moment. SkypeOut users – revenue generating customers – are not allowed to personalise their address book: no nicknames, no birthdates, no email addresses, no company names, no addresses, no upload of profile photos; just a bunch of phone numbers if you so please.

What a dull and useless user experience.

Perhaps driven by a notion that the core product improves the more people use it and encourage their circles to join them in using it, PMs have chosen not to add any personalisation to the SkypeOut feature; I’m sure engineering would definitely be gung-ho pro a decision that lightens the load on Skype’s notoriously distributed network, unlike the contact log images would not be stored locally.

Adding pictures to contacts has been a feature request in the Skype community for years. Of course, you can’t trace this back through time as Skype has a habit of ‘refreshing’ its forum, removing old posts (read: complaints) in the process.

Nobody knows whether Microsoft will give a hoot about SkypeOut revenue ‘going forward’ – I think it’s unlikely we’ll see a more enjoyable experience for Skype’s paying customers anytime soon.

As for the failing call quality – how long have you got?

The Shortest Quora Answer With The Most Upvotes

Silktide founder Oliver Emberton keeps a running score of most upvoted Quora answers. For the most part it’s a fascinating and insightful list of user-created content.

I say ‘for the most part’ because yours truly has finally made it into the big time. As of writing I’m sitting pretty at number 35 with what is, to the best of my knowledge, the shortest Quora answer with the most upvotes.

Shortest Quora Answer With Most Upvotes

Eight characters. No spaces.

Remember, folks: upvotes ≠ quality.

About This Mac Is Colourblind

This is a pretty picture:

About This Mac is Colourblind

And judging by the colour-coordinated key that’s all it is: a pretty picture.

Espedair Street

“It felt like faith, like revelation: that things went on, that life ground on regardless, and mindless, and produced pain and pleasure and hope and fear and joy and despair, and you dodged some of it and you sought some of it and sometimes you were lucky and sometimes you weren’t, and sometimes you could plan your way ahead and that would be the right thing to have done, but other times all you could do was forget about plans and just be ready to react, and sometimes the obvious was true and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes experience helped but not always, and it was all luck, fate, in the end; you lived, and you waited to see what happened, and you would rarely ever be sure that what you had done was really the right thing or the wrong thing, because things can always be better, and things can always be worse.”

Iain Banks Espedair Street

Junk food lifehack for entrepreneurs

burger by robert banh

One of the biggest problems in working long project hours is the temptation to eat crappy convenience food.

Sometimes you’re too distracted to cook and don’t feel that you have time to go and sit in a restaurant or cafe; you just want to sit and work.

Bundle this up with a bit of stress, a desire for comfort and the availability of 24 hour delivery to your door and you have a recipe for waistline disaster.

Well aware of my own weakness in this regard I have successfully implemented a lifehack that prevents me from picking up the phone, or opening a browser, to order out. It’s so beautifully simple I thought I would share it here:

  1. Identify an international chain of junk food dealers
  2. Order food for delivery.
  3. When the food is delivered, refuse to accept it because it is either a) cold; or b) late.
  4. Repeat.

By the time you reach the third cycle through you should find that you are no longer able to order delivery from your chosen junk food outlet.

Pick another and begin the process again.

Don’t try this with independents in your area, they don’t deserve the lost orders.

Image: Robert Banh

Makers As Teachers

Isaiah Saxon On Makers As Teachers

Growing up in America, Isaiah Saxon didn’t ever get to watch Grange Hill – his youth bereft of the joys of Molesworth, and the terrors of Scum.

Great idea though.

Repurposing a Red Telephone Box

Clearing out some old photos as I migrate to a new laptop and found some images of a much loved village phone box repurposed for the mobile age.

British Telecom K6 Red Telephone Box with Defibrillator

Under the auspices of BT’s adopt a kiosk campaign this K6 model red telephone box is now owned by a tiny West Sussex parish. For the collective benefit of the somewhat aged community it now houses an Aivia defibrillator instead of a payphone.

When one considers the alternatives, such as being shipped off to be refurbished and sold as a naff shower stall or novelty greenhouse, this seems a fitting outcome for a former rural lifeline.

..and this mobile is a Porsche

A couple of years ago, in a fit of pique, I wrote a post about the Vertu Ferrari. At the time I was hacked off over the belaboured and backward ‘iPhone is a Ferrari‘ analogy that seemed to have become a thing.

Bizarrely, that Vertu Ferrari post continues to yield steady traffic from organic search.

Judging by the bounce rate I can only assume that impressionable young boys and men of a certain age have little interest in Telecoms, Media and Technology.

So, here’s another ridiculously over-engineered design conceit just for you guys – the P9981 Porsche Blackberry.

P9981 Porsche Blackberry

This stunningly stupid reworking of the Blackberry Bold 9900 goes on sale tomorrow, in Harrods. It’s priced at GBP 1390.

If you have more money than sense (and absolutely no taste) why not pop along and buy one?

Mary Meeker and The Faceless Drones

Reading James Bridle on Impersonating The Machine:

The current peak evolution of the Chinese Room, of the Mechanical Turk – both von Kempelen’s box and Amazon’s behemoth – is found in the even more starkly applied organisation of Taskrabbit, the ultimate people-as-a-service, an engineer’s dream version of the network which allows one to skirt any number of labour laws or ethical issues.

You can’t “protest” against Taskrabbit, against Uber, against drones. The conditions of the conversation are binary: you’re either in, or you’re out. Ultracapitalism, ultrahistory, a complete system.

Taskrabbit, Uber, drones, high-frequency trading, austerity, and this: the natural endpoint of algorithmic capitalism. Cheap humans. Just-in-time people. A generation inside the machine, so drunk and indebted that it will be their lasting fame. An airbnb of the flesh. Impersonate the machine.

I’m reminded of these slides from Mary Meeker’s recent KPCB Internet Trends 2012 presentation:


In the world Meeker describes we’re all freelancers: predicated as value creators and visionaries; crafty and flexible people; personal assistants and bag carriers.

We’ll be ‘asset-light’ and morally ambivalent, our food and laundry delivered by a series of faceless worker drones, our lawns mown at the stab of a touchscreen.

In this Downton Abbey of the 21st Century our interaction with the serving class will be managed by smartphone, tablet, and a blink of an eye in our Google Glasses.

I want no part of this.

Images: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Hat-tip to Tricia Wang for reblogging James Bridle.

Startup Advice for Holiday Cover

I’m one of those people who like to let companies know when they find a bug. Having dealt with many bugs over the years, if it were me, I’d want to know.

Yesterday we had a problem with a free online product. Nothing too serious, something that I managed to fix myself after a little rooting around, but not before raising a support ticket with the provider.

The auto-response email received highlighted just how parochial some startups can be. It stated:

PLEASE NOTE: The [company name redacted] offices will be closed on Thursday and Friday November 22 & 23 to observe the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Now, I come from the world of Telecoms, where the multitude of international festive occasions are warmly embraced as an opportunity to sweat the network and coin it in as folks call home to wish their far flung loved ones a happy holiday. We never close. Not for anything.

I’m not saying that hardworking engineers don’t deserve a little time off every now and then – they do. The thing is, once you’ve launched a useful (free or low cost) online product you should be delighted to find that customers all over the world want to use it.

After all, with no revenue to speak of it’s a numbers game – and nothing’s as sexy as global growth, right?

What’s more, if you’ve trousered the best part of a million in seed funding so that you and a few of your best buds can turn a dormroom dream into an international enterprise, it might be a good idea to sort out some sensible coverage for those support calls.

Nobody expects a lightning fast response, but when the entirety of a customer’s uploaded content appears to disappear in your not-so-smooth migration to a ‘new and better system’ don’t tell them you’re on holiday for the next four days.

Remember that many of your customers are not on holiday. They are thousands of miles away, in other countries, enjoying different cultures.

Something to think about as you dream of being bigger than Facebook.

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