Rolf Skyberg of eBay has an interesting post up called “Skype: proof that Voice is not the killer app”. Rolf is an excellent pattern hound and he has come with another interesting pattern after he looked at Skype. Skype was bought by eBay because eBay thought Voice would be the killer app. Read his post for all the details.
As we trudge on into the future, we need to question whether the old way of doing things is necessarily the best. Will your future mobile phone, even support voice calling?
Let’s take a look at lessons learned from Skype. eBay purchased Skype a few years ago for an admitted outrageous sum of money, betting on the fact that voice is, in fact, the killer app.
He goes on and notes that Skype implemented text chat later, which became more important to the user than the ability to call for free. He provides another interesting example that supports his conclusion:
I mentioned in a presentation that the current mobile experience “was crap”, and someone challenged me, asking if I thought the iPhone was crap. They asserted it was not crap, because it had displaced 15 to 20 minutes of browsing in the morning they would have normally needed to boot their computer for.
He concludes, also based upon this iPhone example that voice is not the killer app. The pattern he sees emerging is that:
depending on the needs of the situation, each application has a collection of “best” tools
Which is a simple and therefore beautiful way of looking at it. Rolf is right and wrong at the same time. I believe he is perfectly right with the pattern he formulates. There is always a best set of tools, and these tools even define the application in my opinion. But he is wrong about voice not being the killer application. The mistake he makes actually links directly to his pattern. He implicitly assumes that just because we can use voice on a computer we will. And that assumption is wrong. Skype initially got a lot of traction because of their unique business model, free calling. The early adopters jumped on it and gave the service a boost.
But Skype is victim of the pattern Rolf has formulated. Skype isn’t the best tool to use for a voice call. It’s free but there are two major obstacles to it. The obvious one is the sound quality which is below average at best. But the most important problem is that most people (I mean regular folks here, not us tech heroes 😉 ) don’t want to talk to computers. In other words, the computer isn’t the best tool for voice. You need a headset, a microphone, there is a screen in your face, these are all tools that don’t fit the simple process of making a voice call.
I can already hear you say, but what about the iPhone then. Well, the iPhone, in my opinion, isn’t a phone. It’s a handheld computer that allows you not only to browse the Internet in an intuitive way, but as an extra feature, it also let’s you make phone calls. In other words. the iPhone isn’t the right tool for voice either.
I have been using my iPhone for quite a while now and to be honest, I am less enthusiastic about it than I thought I would be. Why? Because my mobile device for me is an interaction device. It is my remote control to life. I use it to call, SMS, take pictures and go on-line. The on-line part is the best you can get right now. The iPhone has defined a whole new standard for browsing the web with a handheld. Apple has brought us the touch screen, tactile movement control and an intuitive and simple Apple-like UI. But it is crap for calling or SMS. Not only do I need to provide more input to do that (compare it for example to ANY Nokia phone), but the touchscreen and interface get in the way of my input. I can SMS at a great speed on my Nokia, but I make tons of mistakes on the iPhone. The touch screen keyboard just doesn’t work. According to Scott O’Raw I need to use cocktail sticks taped to the end of my fingers to make it work 😉
To rephrase Rolf Skyberg’s pattern a bit I would say that the core functionality defines the best tools. If your core functionality is voice then stay away from the iPhone and get yourself a “regular” mobile phone. If you want a web experienceon a handheld, there isn’t a better option than the iPhone.
We can use this pattern and see what we can learn from some of the posts that made it inot the top of TechMeme this weekend. Robert Scoble scores three hits this weekend with his posts on noise in web 2.0 and 2 separate posts on Friendfeed (here and here). As a side track, I have noticed and failed to understand that writing about either of these two topics leads to massive amounts of traffic, even for a small time blogger like me. For some reason the tech elite just can’t get enough of producing more noise about the noise they produce 😉
Robert declares himself to be a noise junkie. He finds that the best way to be on top of a story, to be the fist to notice something, is to subscribe to all the noise out there and try to detect patterns. As you can see, noise is a relative notion. So for Robert Friendfeed is one of the best tools out there, because it let’s him subscribe to any amount of noise he can possibly handle. There are many conversations about noise out there already. Some love it and some hate it. The ones that hate it leave the services that provide them the noise (in this case Friendfeed) for what it is. The ones that love it try to explain the tons of features to reduce noise. Even the founders of Friendfeed have made noise reduction their top priority.
But looking at the pattern we formulated earlier this won’t work. Why? Because the core function of Friendfeed is the aggregation of information in a simple way. And if we look one layer below that we can already see the business model of Friendfeed. They are going to try and provide the next generation search functionality. Instead of indexing the entire web, something only Google can attempt, they have decided to index that what is shared on Friendfeed. The idea behind it is that if the information is already filtered by the user, then the importance and relevance of it will increase. The assumption may be right, but the way Friendfeed works right now doesn’t help it a bit. Friendfeed has made it simple to share stuff automatically. And because it is dead simple, anything gets shared, including noise. Friendfeed can implement all the noise filters they want, but most users won’t be able to find or use them properly. Right now Friendfeed is the best tool for content aggregation, but it isn’t a tool for noise reduction. Could it be? Maybe, technically these guys can build anything they want. But from a user perspective, I bet it would lead to more complexity in the UI making the effort to reduce noise more difficult than to simply let it flow by.
Designing a great service is the most difficult thing to do. But it might help to think about your core functionality. If you know what that is, then you can start building the best tools for it. Don’t fall into the additional feature trap, and especially don’t build everything the early adopters are screaming for. Stay at the core and if something else is needed, build another tool. The question was, what do Skype, eBay, the iPhone, Robert Scoble, Friendfeed and noise have in common? Well nothing more than this post I guess 😉