Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Yahoo! and Jajah: Match Made in Heaven or Been There Done That?

This week's announcements about Yahoo! marrying Jajah – maybe they're just cohabitating – and AIM Open Voice APIs have everyone going gaga, racing to be first in the blogosphere with the news, and singing the industry-disruption Hallelujah Chorus.

Pardon me for being the one suggesting the emperor just might not be wearing pants.

If you think I'm being missing the boat here (and I'm fair enough to admit that's possible), take a walk with me down memory lane: Yahoo! buys Dialpad. AOL announces VoIP rollout. eBay buys Skype. Google buys GrandCentral. All of them earthshaking news at the time, or so it seemed from the laudatory tone the press took:

"Skype chief executive Niklas Zennstrom, who will join eBay's senior management team, said the deal would help 'revolutionise the ease with which people can communicate through the internet'." -- BBC News September 12, 2005

"Google's buy of the small Unified Communications (UC) tech company GrandCentral is a sign that voice communications will soon become a big part of Gmail." – PC World, July 3, 2007

"We're very excited that we'll be scaling our IP-based technology for the benefit of millions of Yahoo users," he [Dialpad CEO Vincent Paquet] said. "It will bring the ability to bring IP-to-PSTN connectivity for current and future Yahoo services." – June 5, 2005

And the industry-disrupting results were…?

I'm waiting.

When was the last time you made a phone call with AIM? Or Google Talk? Or clicked-to-Skype an eBay seller to ask if those hot red Steve Madden pumps were new or worn?

And even if you did those things, making a phone call isn't exactly industry disruption – we've been doing it for 100 years.

While I'll 'fess up to a cat-like contrarian streak -- I'm still not much impressed by anything about the iPhone except its design – I think there's a serious question here: Why can't Internet companies do anything much with voice? It's not like they haven't had time or resources.

It's not a technical problem – if it were, Silicon Valley's bright boys and girls would have solved it. No, it's a paradigm problem.

Internet companies are all about helping people do things on the…Internet. They're about clicking, not calling. They're more about searching than finding.

Looking up "Italian restaurant" on Google gives you 5,730,000 search results, including Luigi's in Spokane, WA, Orlando's in Lubbock, TX and House of Kebabs in Sunnyvale, CA.

ATT, on the other hand, gives you the Yellow Pages -- with a list of under 100 close-by Italian restaurants and their phone numbers.

Local online search tools just add more steps to something that's pretty simple with a phone book. For example, Google Maps gives me 45,827 results for "Italian restaurant near Santa Clara, CA."

So I'm not going to start having hot flashes over Yahoo! and Jajah until I see something that's actually new. They might start by putting click-to-order-a-pizza in the search results.


Dan York said...

I'm still laughing after reading your post. Many thanks for providing a contrarian viewpoint. As one of those who wrote this week about both the Yahoo/Jajah and AOL deals, I definitely do appreciate reading other viewpoints... and the sanity check reminding us that we've been down these roads before. :-)


Khyle said...

I think the deal is positive from the perspective of the Voice 2.0 industry.

But your overall point, I think is dead on (noting also that in recent days, both Thomas Howe and Alec Saunders have been harsh on AOL's Voice API as well). My personal thought is that many of the deals you mentioned are akin to filling up shelf space.

Big internet companies think this market will be big, but they don't quite know how to build the market and/or be innovative in this space. So they buy someone who has some success, and sit them on their product shelf so that they can say they are players in the market.

I work for IfByPhone, a company in this space. What we and others like VoiceSage, VoodooVox, Lypp, etc can do, and the price points we can do it at are pretty revolutionary. Sooner or later, the voice 2.0 market will develop fully.

But I wonder if the big companies can truly be innovative in this space unless they truly get it.

Paul Sweeney said...

you know, someone really should answer these questions, from the analyst side....

Andrew said...

Fantastic post - and you resonate the sentiments I feel strongly about - (listen to Alec's Saunders Squak Box about the AOLin announcement to hear my rant) Voice 2.0 is working in some areas, but certainly no ground breaking mashups have yet to actually create a business model that works.

Large companies can leverage Voice 2.0, but it yet fails to create new industries or opportunities.

Look forward to following you blog. Cheers.

PS - IfByPhone is pretty slick, I am digging deeper.. good comment Khyle.

Anonymous said...

Like the style but need more toppings for my pizza I'm still hungry, where's that yellow pages ?