The Day the Dialtone died!

I was in Honduras last week when the great Skype outtage happened….

In the hotel I was staying at I got some weird error messages every time I tried to use skype, which I often do while traveling. I just figured that it was a case of the Hotel blocking Skype, to force clients to use the more expensive long distance services provided by the hotel…

BOY was I wrong!

“Say you have a crucial conference call in an hour and your phone goes dead. What do you do? A generation ago, this wasn’t much of an issue, at least in the U.S. Phones in the days of the Bell monopoly wereskype2.jpg engineered to be “mission critical.” You picked up one of those heavy receivers back then, and the dial tone was as prompt and reliable as water from the tap. It worked. Yet these days, even as we pack global multimedia in our pockets, phone service sometimes seems to march backward. Andy Beal was one of 220 million subscribers to Skype, the cut-rate Internet telephony service owned by eBay (EBAY ), who saw the service go dark on Aug. 16. A software glitch kept it down for the next two days. Founder of the Raleigh (N.C.) Internet marketing consultancy Marketing Pilgrim, Beal learned that Skype was out an hour before clients were to call him from Holland. He had to message them in a hurry, telling them to call his tenuous backup: the cell phone. “It was embarrassing,” he says. But at least the cell phone worked–which isn’t always the case. Are communications getting worse? Not by a long shot. We’re surrounded by miraculous machines and services, most of them calibrated to a level software engineers have long called “good enough.” In the right circumstances, good enough is great for the entire economy. A marketplace that’s not hung up on fail-safe standards is open to risk and innovation, and drives down prices. Ever since the dawn of the PC–the archetype for a good-enough machine–inventors have been freer than ever to piece together and launch their visions. Some are brilliant, some are half-baked, many are a blend of the two. A precious few are up and running 99.999% of the time–Bell’s old standard. But they cost far less to build. The rise of good-enough technology raises different questions for do-it-yourselfers and major corporations alike. It’s no longer whether we can afford a technology, but more often whether we can afford the disruption if and when it fails. Is it critical? Do we have backup in place? Many of us face this question every time we venture from our office with a cell phone. We don’t have “one machine that works all the time,” says Dave Morgan, chairman of Tacoda Inc., a New York advertising company.”

In an age where many call centers are going to hosted VOIP Systems in the United States, I frequently warn my clients that all it takes is one major outtage at their service provider, or on the internet in general, to put them out of business. I have prepaid cell phone lines in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras, as those are all places I travel to frequently. While I used Skype daily, and have a pretty sophisticated plug in system, the Skype outtage was more of an irritant than a show stopper for me. I simply moved back to my cell phone as my primary method of communicating internationally.

Skype and other online messaging systems, Yahoo is my second favorite, can be wonderful tools for business and pleasure, but no one should base their business on a tool that is Free or near Free.

I danced for a while with Google’s hosting services, loved the intergration… hated the integration…. Those of you who have tried it will know what I mean… I ended up switching back to my old hosting plan. Well, I have a conference call in the morning with a client in Canada and a provider in Nicaragua, (you guessed it… on Skype) so it is good night for now…

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