May 11, 2009

Skype Hates Me. Maybe That's Because I Treat It Like Net2Phone?

When I worked at 3Cube nearly ten years ago, we helped design one of the most feature-rich and well-designed online conference calling and Web meeting products out there, with a service we called PhoneCube. You could, from your Web browser, initiate a conference call to up to 32 participants, and manage the entire conference, including putting people on mute or hold, from your Web browser. You could also invite them, on the fly, to a Web meeting, and share a presentation or your desktop. But as a small startup, we ran into two major issues. The first was that WebEx had raised scads of money and was spending tens of millions on marketing, including a Super Bowl ad featuring RuPaul. The second was that pricing the product, no matter how we did it, seemed expensive, as users were not comparing our 15 or 25 cents per minute per line rates with that of traditional conference call services, but instead, with the pennies on the dollar VoIP alternative, Net2Phone.

The old Web site, Circa 2000 (via

Rising in the era of Napster and Web browser bars, like AllAdvantage, that promised to pay you money just for surfing the Web, Net2Phone's dirt cheap, but awful quality, got significant use, especially for those folks making international calls - many of whom thought we should drop our rates to basement levels found only online or on gift cards picked up from 7-11. And thus were my feelings cemented about what this cheap PC to landline connection represented. So you can imagine my hesitancy when it comes to Skype.

After finally giving in and getting a Skype account last year, to participate in the occasional podcasts, I have dealt with frequent bugs that have me wondering if the Skype application has a personal grudge against me thanks to our history. Whether I have participated on the ReadBurner Weekly podcast, the FFundercats podcast, or yesterday, when I was a guest on This Week In Tech with Leo Laporte, I always get dropped, without warning, around 20 minutes into the call, like clockwork.

And I hate looking like a tech fool. My Mac is up to date in just about every respect. I have the latest version of Skype downloaded. I have a headset which works. But regardless of what time of day or who I'm talking to, I know that I should keep my calls to 15 minutes, or you can expect me to have to dial in about 3 to 4 times an hour. (See yesterday's TWIT, episode 194 for a great example)

So, community of Skypers... you tell me. Should I relegate Skype into the same bucket of ugly 1999 quality Net2Phone, or should I give it another try? Is it my fault? Is it Comcast (my ISP)? Or is it Skype? Reasonable responses and suggestions will be tried.