In general I respect David Pogue from the The New York Times, who has been writing a blog/column tackling technology subjects and making sense of new products and features for the common folk (which usually I consider myself). But two days ago Mr. Pogue took on a subject dear to my heart, and a significant part of my entrepreneurial career, that of internet telephony (as a founder of Delta Three I helped pioneer the field in the late 90s).
According his recent post, entitled "Google Shakes It Up Again With Free Phone Calls", Pogue believe that there was something new and innovative in Google's announcement that one can now click on a contact in Gmail and call a "real" phone number, whether land line or cellular. According to Pogue, this revolutionary new service from Google, called "Voice Calls from Gmail" (wow, that's catchy....much better than what I coined, PC2Phone) allows you to, get this, make free phone calls from your computer. WOW! Except, well, that was news about 13 years ago, commercially available 12 years ago. And the free calls to phones in North America -- that was pioneered by a now defunct company called Dialpad about 11 years ago!! (And then copied by Delta Three, Net2phone, and all the other IP Telephony players in late 90s).
The big difference -- we could only talk about making money from advertising, Google actually knows something about it. Google gives away Gmail and the basic storage because the incremental costs for them are low and they can monetize to some degree. But still way over 95% of their revenue comes from search. Would be nice to know what revenue Gmail actually generates (I mean even the accompanying ads).
Oh, and by the way, Mr. Pogue, even if you couldn't be bothered to research the history of IP Telephony (or at least call my good friend Jeff Pulver who in 2 minutes could have given you the history, much of it he was responsible for...) you at least could have acknowledged that Skype's revenues are over 86% due to SkypeOut, but most of that not calling North America. SkypeOut makes most of their revenues from people calling places where tariffs are still relatively high.
And Skype has a nice embedded community of users, years of experience. Google's weak attempt is not much of a threat.
So what happened with Mr. Pogue? Well, either he was taken to a really nice dinner by a VERY nice Google PR person, or he simply just didn't know that that there is nothing new here. Same same.
Seems to me that Google is running out of steam and innovation, and is reaching for low hanging fruit to convince people that they are still the Kings of the net. But I think they are looking a lot like MSFT. And by the way, Mr. Pogue, good old MSFT came out with a similar service in...2001. (see this story from CNET (remember them)