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.