The Skype outage: my take

I found the Skype outage frustrating. But only in the same way as a Virgin Media outage; or a BT outage. In the hours and days after the event, the media questioned Skype’s ability to compete on a professional footing with traditional communications providers. But I think this stance is wholly unwarranted.

The outage was significant. I first noticed it on the afternoon of Wednesday 22 December. And it continued to affect services, for me at least, for over 48 hours thereafter. But I’ve suffered longer outages in the past with both of the companies mentioned above.

The problem with Skype’s outage was that it affected everyone, while BT’s outages are generally localised. So reputation-wise, it was bad for Skype.

But services come with risk. And paid services come with SLAs, some of which are backed up with tangible measures. Skype has its faults, don’t get me wrong. Its inability to work reliably with conference call providers is my biggest bugbear, the user interface being next up. But it’s a fabulous offering, and one that I truly cherish.

Its outage pissed me off, but with mobile telephony as my fallback, where’s the harm? Finally, by way of an apology, Skype has sent me a voucher worth 30 minutes of landline talk. Virgin Media would only consider a credit against my monthly subscription after 30 days’-worth of outage.

UPS/Apple fail

I bought my wife an iPad for Christmas.  She only just got it in time for the big day.

The bundle of joy (iPad) was bought on the Apple store.  Apple chose to use United Parcel Service (UPS) to deliver said good.

They tried on three consecutive weekdays, and their door-knocks went unanswered.  I was at work trying to earn enough to pay for the device.

I called them up at an extortionate rate and arranged a re-delivery on a day I knew I’d be home.  The lovely man from UPS turned up as promised.  He delivered package two of two—a SIM card.  He informed me that he was the driver that attempted the prior deliveries, and was fully aware of the other parcel, but told me that it wasn’t on his van.  Shit.

Once again, I called the 0870 number, again paying for the privilege of waiting for someone to answer the phone.  I asked for package one of two to be delivered to my work address the following Tuesday.

It wasn’t.

I called the 0870 number (hold, etc.) and was told that the reason it wasn’t delivered to my work address was that to do so would have needed authorisation from Apple.  I had not given this authorisation.

So I asked for a delivery at home, on another day I knew I’d be home.  It didn’t show.  I called (yada-yada) and received an apology (backlog) and was promised a home delivery the following day (Christmas Eve).  When I looked online at 11pm that evening, I received confirmation that it had been delivered that morning.  To my work address.  Despite no such authorisation having been given to Apple.

So on Christmas Day, I spent £30 on taxi fares to and from work (open, fortunately) to collect the iPad.

The Apple user experience thus far has been dreadful.  I’m hoping that it will improve herein.

Kindle. Chocadoobies?

I’m thinking of buying a Kindle.

It looks wonderful.  I went to see it in Peter Jones yesterday, and the screen is phenomenal.  It’s grey-scale, but its matt look and incredible resolution makes it adorable to look at.  And, I expect, a pleasure to use.  I bought my dad one around the time of his operation and although not a big bookworm, he’s taken to it.  Which makes me very happy.

On the downside, the keyboard is primitive, its main weakness being that its keys are lined up vertically as well as horizontally.  It’s also lacking in special characters (and numbers).  But I expect it’s lacking on that front because of the infrequency with which there’s a call to use the keys.  The device is for reading, after all.

My main turn-off for the moment is the lack of integration of RSS feeds.  I’d like to be able to freely subscribe to an RSS feed and absorb its content on the device.  But rumour has it—and it’s no more than rumour right now—that only your first 12 RSS feeds are free.  And that thereafter you have to pay $1.99 per feed.

That’s not extortionate.  But I’m loath to pay Amazon (in addition to the core £149 cost of the device) each time I want to access some freely available content.  Can anyone shed any light?

Oh, and before anyone wanks off about/over their iPad and how I should be getting one of those instead, I’m not interested.  It’s too bright for proper reading, IMHO.

17 people you should be following

I’m a lover of Twitter.  8,366 tweets in a little less than three years.  (Around eight tweets per day.)

Twitter has exposed me to some fascinating content.  But more importantly, it’s exposed me to people I would never have known otherwise.  Many of these people I’ve never met.  But despite this, many are people I consider to be friends.

Below’s my list of tweeters that stand out above the rest.  Dan’s Christmas Honours, if you will.  Follow these people.

That’s all—for now.

Geekery is not binary

I have two circles of friends.  Those who consider me to be a geek; and those who don’t.  (Those in the former group would argue that the latter is a null set.  The fact that I just used set theory might serve to bolster their viewpoint.)

But I assure you (I think), there are some people out there that don’t consider me to be geeky.  Odd, maybe.  But not geeky.

The thing with geekery is that it’s a scale.  There are people sitting across its entire range (if indeed it has a maximum) and therefore there is no such thing as being a geek or otherwise.  Your geekiness can only be compared to that of others.  Those geekier than me don’t consider me to be particularly geeky.  Those less so rarely miss an opportunity to expound on my geekiness.

What is certain is that I am on the scale (off the scale, some would argue), and my rating is higher than zero.  And that’s a place I’m happy to be.

Sorry

There have been two examples in the last two days where people could have said sorry, but didn’t.  The first I’ll not be naming, as it’s a bit too close to home.  Not in the home—just close.

The second example was British Gas.  The lady responding to my request for en engineer under my Homecare agreement informed me rather bluntly that I was liable for a £99 call-out charge, and that she couldn’t go ahead with the scheduling of the engineer because it was asking her for a payment.  I politely indicated that I wasn’t liable for such a payment, and that my policy did not have an excess, if you will.  She started booking the appointment and we settled upon a slot.  I asked about the payment, and she said that the system was referring to an old policy (she was right), under which I *was* liable for such a charge.

I probed a little, mainly to draw an apology.  But none was forthcoming.  I hung up, in the main thankful that I’d managed to secure an appointment, having spent 90 minutes on hold before even speaking to a British Gas employee.  But then I reflected.  I was angry at my lack of an apology.

I was reminded of my post about Ed Balls’ weakened apology for the failures surrounding the death of Baby P., albeit a rather trite version thereof.  The S word is now taboo.  It is so bound up in blame and, more importantly, liability that people no longer use it.  Even when no claim can possibly be filed, as was the case in today’s British Gas example, it’s avoided.  Because that’s the done thing.  People are instructed not to say it.

It’s such a shame that such a powerful and important word has become so caught up in a legal context, so much so that it’s fallen out of use, with no equivalent waiting in the wings to fill its place.

Freeloaders: stop whinging

If you’re using a free web service that has no obvious revenue stream, you cannot complain if it suddenly decides to cease existence.

Yesterday the Twitter rumour-mill was fuelled with talk that del.icio.us (or delicious as it’s more recently become known) was being closed by Yahoo!  Yahoo! later confirmed that it was not closing the service, but was instead looking for a buyer.

Twitter talk soon turned to other Yahoo! services, specifically Flickr, as people panicked and talked of backing up all of their photos.  (I’m not sure how this is done, btw.  Would be a useful thing to know.  Anyone?)

But the message has to be clear: if you’re using a service for free and you’d be more than a bit miffed if it closed down or they started charging you for it, then that’s a bad place to be.  And if you can’t see a revenue stream that is supporting your free-loading (for that it what it is), then it’s time to find something new.

Google Apps. is my biggest weakness here.  I don’t pay, yet I “contribute” to the revenue stream via adverts targeted at me.  But if they were about to kick me out, I’d upgrade in a flash to the premium version—no questions asked.

Unique selling points: Apple, Google and Microsoft

Charles Arthur yesterday pondered what the USPs were of the big three technology giants of our day: Apple, Google and Microsoft (listed in alphabetical order, for those trying to read too much into things). He was after the companies’ USPs, as opposed to those of the products or services they offer. But naturally, these worlds overlap somewhat.

Here’s my attempt at a response.

Apple: its USP is its user experience, or UX to coin a slightly wanky abbreviation. Its products are beautiful to use—simple as that.

Google: its USP is its deep understanding of the relationship between users and web content. Whether this is search and results or targeted advertising, Google is able to connect the two better than anyone else.

Microsoft: its USP is fulfilling vital, generic functions better than anyone else. Word, Excel and PowerPoint merely represent replacements for lined paper, gridded paper and blank paper respectively, but the functions therein are so rich and deep-rooted that they will continue to dominate this space for some time to come.

I’d be interested in other people’s perspectives on this, as indeed would Charles, I expect.