PrivatePhone to shutdown

netzero_logo.gif  Netzero has decided to shut down its PrivatePhone service on February 19, 2008. Subscribers of Netzero’s PrivatePhone can keep their number by transferring the service to Packet8. Netzero has worked out a deal with Packet8 to transfer existing PrivatePhone numbers to Packet8 at a special price.

What is PrivatePhone? PrivatePhone is a free phone numbers with voicemail – in other words, a free voicemail service where all incoming calls are diverted to a voicemail number. The customer is notified of voicemail via email or SMS/text. Customers can check voicemail via the web or by calling the PrivatePhone number from any phone. Each customer can store up to 10,000 voicemails.

PrivatePhone was billed as “Just a life-changing social tool and revolutionary movement all rolled up into one”. The proposition being that it is another number one could give out to for specific purposes (e.g. hotties, potential employers, etc). Netzero envisioned this as a social networking opportunity, thinking that people would leave cool voicemail messages, which then could be embedded on a Myspace, mashed up with Gangsta rap, or do something ‘kewl’ in the social networking space.

It didn’t strike me as a valuable social networking concept and I always wondered how feasible this free voicemail service would be. The revenue model seems to be based on advertising and perhaps by selling people’s email addresses (??). Even though the website was supported by advertising, subscribers didn’t have to utilize the website, as they could simply check voicemail by phone. In fact, regular users would find it a lot more convenient to check voicemail by phone!

Hey, this was a free phone number and probably the main reason people signed up. So I doubt subscribers will migrate their phone number to Packet8 and convert it to a paid service. That’s one of the pitfalls of offering free service – once you offer something for free, it’s very hard to charge for it. Of course, in this case, Packet8 service offers a lot more than a phone number with voicemail.

Raketu Launches Mobile VoIP client

Raketu company logoLast month I talked about Raketu, the one-stop shop that combines social networking with integrated communications (VoIP, IM/SMS, feeds) and IPTV. While Raketu is unique in combining all three, which is where the future is, Raketu does not have a strong position in this space.

Nonetheless, Raketu has launched its Mobile version to bring free or real cheap national and international calls from a Smartphone with Symbian or Windows Mobile.

The VoIP client has to be downloaded onto the mobile device (bummer!). Frankly, I don’t think most users will care to or even feel comfortable downloading an application to a device. Furthermore, the user must have a Data Plan (bummer again!), which is still pretty expensive these days. See a related article on Skype complaining of high carrier data charges. Verizon has an unlimited data only plan for $49.99. I don’t think most uses would drop the voice plan and get a mobile with just a data plan (even though E911 will work just fine without a voice plan – something most people don’t know). The good thing is that one could use the service from anywhere in the world, as long as you don’t care about high data roaming charges! Unfortunately for Raketu, the mobile VoIP client is pretty crowded, including those like EQO and Talkster.

Mobile users can watch IPTV and VOD on they mobile phone, as long as they can access RakWeb via the Internet (No download required).

Facebook hires AOL Marketing Veteran to increase revenues


Facebook has hired Chamath Palihapitiya, a former marketing executive at AOL, as vice president of product marketing and operations. The challenge for him: find new ways to make money.

Chamath’s credentials come from the 5 years at AOL, where he helped turn around the IM business as the Veep and GM of the Desktop Messaging group that includes the AIM and ICQ businesses. Chamath was most recently a Principal for the Mayfield Fund, a venture-capital firm.

With 29 million active users, Facebook is as as popular as it gets. Interestingly, when it comes to monetizing its business model, it’s no Google or even a Yahoo, with just $30 million profits on $150 million revenues.

Facebook has been an acquisition target, so its recent moves to bolster its management ranks and strengthen its balance sheet seems like a bid to set itself up for a high value acquisition or an even IPO?

Mr. Palihapitiya, is originally from Sri Lanka. Its good to see a fellow Sri Lankan in the news!

Get your Spock On!

Spock is a personal search engine that helps users find and discover people. Spock already has more than 100 million people already indexed (just another 5900 million to go!), and is well on its way to building the broadest and deepest People Search Engine.

Spock is funded by Clearstone Venture Partners, a leading early-stage venture capital firm with prior investments in Overture, PayPal, NetZero,, Internet Brands, and Opus Capital Ventures, another early-stage venture capital firm.

Spock is currently in beta and is offering private invitations to check out the service. You can get invitations at the following sites.

Hurry, the invites may be gone by the time you get there.

Raketu Integrated Social Networking, Communications, & IPTV offering shows a bleak picture

Raketu company logoRaketu combines social networking with integrated communications (VoIP calling, IM/SMS, info feeds) and media content (IPTV) – a one-stop shop for online socializing, communication, and entertainment from the desktop PC and mobile phones.

Let’s look at where Raketu stands in each area of social networking, communications, and IPTV.

For VoIP calling, Raketu has phone-to-phone and PC-to-phone calling. Phone-to-phone calling is initiated by entering the “Call to” and “Call from” from a web interface. Raketu plans to launch a mobile application that users can install on a mobile phone to make VoIP calls and send SMS and IM. These guys have really cheap calling rates; free unlimited calls to landlines and mobiles within the US and to 42 countries (limited time offer). Since I call Sri Lanka quite often, I know that the Raketu’s rates to Sri Lanka are really low. If Raketu can offer real cheap calls to Sri Lanka, they can offer cheap calls to anywhere!

However, the VoIP landscape has some well known players such as Gizmo, Fringland, Skype, Jajah, Google Talk, MSN. One could expect new players as well, given the low entry barriers associated with all things Internet.

Now, let’s look at IM and SMS. Raketu can talk to pretty much any IM client (Yahoo, MSN, AIM, ICQ, Google, Skype, Jabber), with conferencing across IM clients. Their secret sauce appears to be very simple; The Raketu application can speak every IM client’s protocol. Again, many of the IM players could easily do that.

When it comes to social network, again, Raketu is very limited. With much better known social networks such as Friendster, Linked In, myspace, and Facebook, Raketu just doesn’t have the momentum to be a leader.

Looking at IPTV, the story is similar. Joost and Babelgum have far better IPTV applications and much better content.

Many companies focus on one service, but Raketu is trying to carve out a niche by integrating social networking, communications, and video. Raketu has the right vision, but the problem is the competition.

Companies such as Joost are well positioned to do the same thing; Joost has a highly coveted IPTV service and has integrated IM (Jabber and Gmail) and news feed services and a “Widget Menu” to house a variety of future applications. Joost is formed by the experienced founders of Skype, who’ve been there and done that when it comes to Peer to Peer technology, VoIP, SMS, and IM. These companies tend to have more market recognition as well.

With all this competition (With Joost and Babelgum and other IM/SMS and VoIP providers), is there room for Raketu? Right now, Raketu does not look well positioned to lead the integrated service offering space.

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