Citing a recent Forrester report Alec repeats something I’ve been saying for a long time (see here, here, and here, for example): VoIP is not ready for primetime. He asks us to recall the “bad old days of installing a TCP/IP stack, configuring IP addresses for gateways, and DNS servers, and then using gopher to browse to your favorite sites” and says “That’s where we are with VoIP.” (see Alec’s post here).
Actually, it’s even worse than that. At least with the Internet, even in those days, we were doing something new, something of new value. Back then, I knew there was value there that was applicable to mainstream users. And I knew it had to be made accessible to less sophisticated users; and I did something about it, by joining EarthLink and bringing the real open Internet to mass consumers in a form they could use.
VoIP is different. People didn’t have the web before, so at least there was a new world out there, once you jumped through those flaming hoops. With VoIP today, most VoIP products ask users to jump through the golpher-like hoops that Alec refers to in order to do the same thing they can already do – make a phone call. That’s something entirely different than the net analogy.
Skype offered new value, but it is also squarely targeted to techies. It may be ‘easy’ to someone very comfortable with a PC, perhaps as easy as something on a PC can be. But that doesn’t make it perfect and it, and other PC applications like it, are far from easy (or worthwhile) to the vast majority of mainstream users. The benefit is just not there for the hassle. It is too hard, as Alec (and the Forrester research) says.
Value is key here and something that I’ve not seen repeated in many of the references to this research. Forrester says:
Note that the first thing mentioned is Value. I’ve seen people talk about usability, set-up, installation, and such, but nobody is talking about the key point: Value. These VoIP products need to start adding value for users. They need to start making the process of placing a call simpler rather than harder. They need to make life easier for users. Not just cheaper, but easier/better. And here’s a novel idea: how about a product that simultaneously simplifies the process while also delivering additional value?