Monday, 27 August 2007

The cost of entry dilemma

This appeared on the Zootok site recently:

We have decided to change our free calls. New users will now get 2 free calls when they credit your account for the first time.
Otu tells us a little more on his site:
We had lots of people registering with bogus emails simply for the
purpose of using our free calls without any intent to ever top up their
balance.

The point of the free calls is to allow people who would like to try
ZooTok to do so and not for scam artists to make calls at our expense.

As a result, we have decided to stop giving away free calls on registration
and instead give them to customers on their first topup. Since we offer
purchases as low as £1, we feel it is a low enough barrier that anyone
with genuine intents wishing to try us won't mind paying £1 to do so.

There seems to be a genuine problem here. The net wants things to be free, in order to bring the cost of entry down to zero. But small outfits cannot really afford that much largesse.

When the dodgy Russian mp3 download service gomusic.ru started, they gave accounts that paid up some dough in advance a healthy amount of extra credits. 37 signals always tries to give free service for entry level offerings.

I think giving away some free credits, thereby reducing the risk for any users who want to try things out was the right decision for Zootok. Along with that goes the risk of simply giving free calls away to those with no intention of using the service in the future. But the message still gets out.

The response to give extra credits once joined is also a good idea in the circumstances, even though a few genuine prospects will now no longer experiment. This is where sponsorship - "your free Pepsi credits" - is probably the right solution, if you can get it.

Paying up front is fine when the product has little risk, or the rep of the company is good enough. For everyone else, the barrier needs to be as low as it can go.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Phonemefree

Another service to look at http://www.phoneme.at/

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Zootok - a closer look

While it is a bit early to give this fresh new site a close examination, I gave it a play via my favoured Maxthon browser.

First of all Zootok gives two free calls, so messing around will cost you nothing. Joining involves filling in a very small form. This maps your email to one designated phone number. OpenId has been promised in the future.

I think calls are 50p (it's hardly mentioned), which is not bad for anywhere in the world for an hour. This may get competition in the long run. My credits were used even though I didn't connect - though the site promises otherwise. Probably a service issue.

After you log in, there is a nice user page that gives you a "phonebox", reminds you of your designated number and a click to get more credits from google checkout. You can just connect another number directly to your designated number via the phonebox, or do the same thing via a text message to Zootok's number.

There is a very rudimentary address book, though only for mobile users. A good idea that will be a nice feature for the future. The terms"contacts", "names", "shortcuts" and "alias" all get used on the same page- maybe indicating that the designers lacked a critical eye at times.

There are no nice error pages or reports as yet. Putting a bad number into the phonebox (I accidentally tried an alias) gives back an HTTP 500. Logging in with the wrong credentials gives fair warning but unfortunately the message is in the same black colour as the rest of the text; hence you may not notice it.

Most of the new web building frameworks seem to support good REST type urls, and Zootok is easy to get around because of it. When routing and redirection is well managed, this gives any site a well organised feeling. In Zootok the credit account site and history site are situated off your user page url and all look logical. I can see that I am user "12", which I don't really need to know - I'd prefer to be user "DE". Attempts to "jump the fence" and visit user 13's page are correctly ignored.

The contact entry page is basic, and does not encourage people to put in comments, wishes etc. There is no blog associated with the site yet either. Given that the term "zootok" has no other meaning, the designers have complete control of their domain.

All in all this early offering seems promising - and hopefully will be polished in the near future. It also should spur on other developers to pitch in with their own efforts.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Introducing ZooTok

I haven't had time to look at ZooTok inside out but I registered, and it worked. You can make calls from the site or via an SMS. Lets take a look at the basics.

1) The first call is free - of course it is. Otherwise you wouldn't use it would you?
2) The site is simple to use, with simple url names.
3) I can make top ups, check my call history, and check my details in one click

I'll make a more detailed examination later.