Thursday, 30 August 2007

Buzzing the Purple Cow

Been reading a few marketing books of late. Quick, easy to comprehend, page turners to stimulate a bit of creative thinking about raising the profile of Esendex. Couple worthy of note.

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkableby Seth Godin is essentially a list of brainstorming prompts and examples to get you thinking. The premise is that to stand out, a business needs to be different. A purple cow in a field of brown ones.

I enjoyed it, it didn't take me long to read and it got me thinking. Some of the reviews of this book have been quite dismissive and probably as a pure marketing book they're right. As brainstorming aid however I think it hits the mark.

Buzzmarketing: Get People to Talk About Your Stuffby Mark Hughes on the other hand was a probably a bit too long. It played heavily on his achievement while working for to convince a small town to change their name from Halfway to The publicity gained from this catapulted into the public eye and ultimately under eBay's wing.

There are some interesting case studies but I struggled really to find anything that was relevant to me and my business.

End of the summer Business SMS slump?

Summer is traditionally a quite time in many businesses, especially in France and Spain. Phones ring less frequently, inboxes are manageable, Out of Office replies are more prevalent and desks are empty as people enjoy holidays.

Normally this would be accompanied by a drop in traffic. Less people working, less to send. Not so this year, in the UK and Ireland at any rate, our traffic has barely dropped off.

I've excluded Australia from these observations because of the seasonal dfferences. They're deep in winter so must be getting loads done.

As Julian posted in Bad News is Good For Business!, we've had our fair share of extreme circumstance in the UK this summer which does drive usage for our customers. But the general base load of traffic is pretty consistent with previous months perhaps with just a slight reduction in the growth rate we normally experience.

I wonder if this is another indication of how entrenched SMS is becoming in the business communication mix. Business continues through the summer so communication continues. Where previously certain sectors were early adopters of the technology, a broader profile of business types now use SMS, ironing out those seasonal differences.

Alternatively, we've experienced such stellar growth in the lead up to the summer that this has swamped any seasonal variations we would expect to see. I guess we'll find out in September.

The Oldest Swinger In Town is looking for another partner

Seems the Oldest Swinger in Town is looking for another network connection which would, if my information is correct, double their network links.

Unfortunately for them the network they approached passed them on to us. This can happen if the network doesn't feel the request justifies, for a variety of reasons, a direct connection.

They decided not to interconnect with us.

Premium Rate SMS Abuse

One of the downsides of running Premium SMS services for customers is having to deal with irate subscribers who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have been charged for services that they didn't subscribe to.

When a subscriber has an issue, they generally call their network operator who calls up the details of the service provider who run services on a given shortcode. If they get this right, not always by any means, the subscriber calls us.

We, as a service provider, have a dedicated number for these and can quickly cancel any subscriptions and give the subscriber the details of our customer so they can approach them for a refund.

All this is fine if the subscriber acts reasonably, this isn't always the case.

It never ceases to amaze me how people deem it acceptable to scream abuse at people over the phone as if that is going to help expediate matters.

My team are on the front line and no matter how much I reassure them that's it's perfectly acceptable to hang-up on people who act this way, they are still affected by it.

It's grossly unfair that some reactionary little prat with anger management issues can upset and offend people at will with no comeback on them.

It does come with the territory but I wish these people would learn to act like adults. The world would be a better place for them and the rest of us.

SMSTextNews Unlimited Drinks Event

Went along to the SMSTextNews Unlimited Drinks Event. Was a well attended, well organised event that was well worth attending. Seems my attire was appreciated.

Ewan has done a great job building SMSTextNews into one of the main hubs for information in the industry. Probably taking over from 160 Characters as the place to go for UK focused mobile news.

Being in Nottingham I don't get to many of these events but it tied in quite conveniently with a meeting with our non-exec's in London. So the intensity of a focused morning review and justifying budgets was cushioned by a nice lunch followed by an evening of drinking and networking. I've had worse days at work.

The only negative was having to leave relatively early to make sure I got back to Nottingham the right side of midnight.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Telegraph Fittest Director - uh-oh

Received the assessment programme for the Fittest Director today:

The assessment will measure strength, power, cardio respiratory ability, balance and flexibility and will consist of the following tests:
Strength - This will be assessed in the upper, lower & core area of the body; which will not only test muscular strength and endurance but also their core functioning. There are 4 mains exercises, bench press with barbell weighted to half body weight, reps to failure, pull-ups to failure and the plank to target core strength. Finally, for the lower body, half body leg press, as many repetitions to failure.
Muscular Power - Vertical jump, quick and easy assessment that gives a great indication of lower body power.
Cardio-respiratory functioning - assessed by completing the cooper 12min run - how far you can run in 12mins. From this we measure VO2 Max.
Balance - Single leg stork stance, this can be performed blind or with vision. Blind is much harder. This will test your proprioception (the ability to sense whether or not you are going to fall over!).
Flexibility - Straight forward sit & reach test, assessing the flexibility of the trunk and hamstrings.

Not exactly playing to my strengths. Given I stopped going to the gym and the last time I looked at a weight machine was sometime last year.

Anyway, being able to bench press doesn't make you fit, endurance events are where it's at. Where's the swimming/cycling/running for an extended duration assessment? 12 mins running, tosh. Give those buffed up gym monkeys a real event to participate in and we'll see how fit they are.

Maybe ;-)

Friday, 24 August 2007

Telegraph Fittest Director

In a story that started with being at parental home on a Sunday with only the Telegraph to read (what is it about retirement that turns people into Telegraph readers?) I ended up entering Britain's Fittest Director.

It seemed like a good idea. No doubt there would be a chance of a bit of exposure for Esendex. So sacrificing my self-respect for the cause I signed up.

I've been shortlisted.

This would be fine if I hadn't embellished slightly how much training I really do. It was more along the lines of what I hope to be able to do in a week rather than what I really end up doing.

It would also be fine if I had a few weeks to get myself back in the swing of things. Unfortunately the evaluation session is on Friday.

So the challenge now,

Not to be Britain's Least-Fit Fittest Director.

Will let you know.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Has the age of spin really ended?

I came across VoIP Watch recently and this post, Grand Central Numbers Post about Grand Central's post Number Changes caught my attention. He's made a number of posts about the 'Great Skype Out' as he described it.

Andy waxes lyrical about the founders of Grand Central and their open and honest approach to the issues they were facing with certain numbers they were providing to customers. He compares this unfavourably to the Skype's recent announcements concerning the sign-in issue they experienced. As he makes quite clear in his post, the principals of Grand Central are friends and clients, but was their post really that open an honest? Is it part of a new wave in customer communication?

GrandCentral basically seem to have passed the blame quite conveniently onto a supplier. In my book that's not necessarily open and honest about internal issues but more passing the buck. How do we know this wasn't spin, stretching the truth, or otherwise dressing up the situation?

Skype on the other hand, did it would seem, have an internal issue. The like of which, as a developer and service provider myself, do indeed materialise from time to time. Sometimes they're irritating, othertimes they can be terminal. That's the nature of complex systems.

I suspect that Skype's honesty issue was more around protecting their IP. I can imagine the technology that running a telephony service supporting millions of users on top of a network infrastructure you don't control requires some pretty intelligent programming. Something worth fiercely protecting.

Grand Central are also guilty of slapping a BETA tag on their service. This seems to be not only very fashionable of late but has the added benefit of allowing companies to absolve all responsibility for reliability. Should Grand Central come out of BETA, I wonder if the tone and delivery would be the same.

When it comes down to it, customers just want systems and services that work. Whether you adopt an honest John approach or spin the issues to the hilt, the customer will only remember whether the service was there when they wanted to use it.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

The Oldest Swinger In Town wants to dance alone

A mobile company, let's call them the The Oldest Swinger in Town, have decided they don't want to interconnect with the rest of us. They're putting up some big commercial barriers. One could speculate that they're feeling threatened.

Regular readers may remember my post Interconnecting for Minnows where I suggest letting the customers decide based on service rather than taking a protectionist approach.

I guess time will tell, but The Oldest Swinger has chosen their tune, it just remains to be seen whether their customers want to continue dancing.

Friday, 17 August 2007

In an Extreme Programming world don't forget the value of traditional QA testing

When Extreme Programming is embraced, it is tempting to get carried away with the power of unit-testing.

If you're unit-testing everything across the whole build then surely everything should work. It is important to remember that unit-testing, when done properly, is just that. Testing units of code for compliance against a known set of outcomes. It doesn't necessarily test system wide interactions.

The development team here have recently spent a lot of time migrating our existing transaction management from the EnterpriseComponent, COM+ based, system to the TransactionScope framework provided in .Net 2.0.

Nicholas, Development Manager, as described the detail of the issues we've faced in his post: Transaction Scope - Hopes dashed. It has been horribly dissappointing, the performance profiling we did showed a big improvement, the deployment process was simplified. Everything seemed perfect.

The key to writing effective unit-tests are focusing on the unit itself and the logic in that unit and nothing else. This makes the test very quick to run, meaning you can run a full build, with tests in a short enough time to make you prepared to do it regularly.

But proper Quality Assurance testing picked up these issues. It wasn't until we ran these system wide test that the issues materialised. Generally this leads to further unit-test to ensure the issues don't materialise. Although in this case we decided to back-out this set of changes.

So unit-tests are an integral part of what we do, but good old grunt work testing is still the last, and most important, line of defence.

Two-Way SMS with Long Numbers

Talking to one of our network account managers recently, they told me that we were their best customer of SMS Long Numbers. I was a initially surprised but a quick search of other SMS providers sites reveals very few companies are promoting these heavily to their customers.

We've always believed that for SMS to be adopted as a business communication tool it had to provide a reply path. You can reply to emails, phone calls, faxes why not SMS. It's a core part of our offering. So much so in fact if you sign up for a trial, we'll give you one to try out.

The conventional approach is to use short-codes for this. Short, memorable numbers that are great for one time responses to ads or other marketing efforts. The problems with short-codes however are:

  • The subscriber is charged a 'standard network charge' to send in so the messages do not come out of their SMS plan or bundle
  • They are in limited supply and are thus have a premium cost associated with them.
  • You have to set them up on each network individually, making it even more costly
  • They do not work internationally

Now we've got round some of those issues by use of keywords to allow routing of inbound messages to the correct account holder. While this is great for single response channels, it's un-workable for conversational communication. You can't expect users to remember to prefix every message in a conversation with a keyword.

Enter the long number:

  • it looks like a normal mobile number
  • receives SMS like a normal mobile number
  • there are lots of them
  • there is no premium charge so the cost of sending comes out of your bundle/plan, well you need to be careful on this one

When it comes to charging not all numbers are created equal. Network providers in the Channel Islands (Cable & Wireless, Jersey Telecom) and on the Isle of Man (Manx Telecom) have numbers that are in the standard UK range, ie starting +44 (0)7.

Unfortunately however, the interconnection rates between these companies and the mainland UK operators (Vodafone, Orange, etc) is not regulated by Ofcom. This means that they can charge what they like and in T-Mobile's case they do.

T-Mobile regard messages to these providers as travelling to Europe Zone 1 and therefore treat them as an international messages rather than national. Which means, if you're a T-mobile subscriber, it doesn't come out of your plan

A quick peruse of the Ofcom's mobile number range allocations will tell you very quickly if the number your service provider is offering you will be affected.

In short if your number starts with 07786 or 07800 you're going to be OK, otherwise you need to beware.

At Esendex we provide numbers that are in the regulated number range in all of the countries we operate in. In our view there should be no difference between texting into a service or texting someone's mobile. Remove the silly barriers and users will adopt and embrace these services.

Ofcom have started a Wholesale SMS Termination Market Review. I have no doubt it will operate at glacial speeds but it could be just what the industry needs to remove this confusion.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Nokia PC Suite file sync problems - UPDATE

Seems it's a problem that's been acknowledged by Nokia. We've just got to wait for the next release of the PC Suite. No indication as to when unfortunately.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Nokia PC Suite file sync problems

Seems I'm not the only one having problem with synchronising files to my phone with Nokia PC Suite. File Synchronization using Nokia PC Suite 6.84.

Mirroring of my TiddlyWiki is working a treat, now at least only the mirror copy is being overwritten.

Have posted a question on the Nokia forum, will let you know when there is an update.

Create Mirror Copy of TiddlyWiki for Mobile Sync

In an attempt to resolve my synchronisation woes keeping a copy of my TiddlyWiki on my N95 I've added a new option to my TiddlyWiki file. This allows me to specify a path to create a mirror copy of the file. This points to my N95 synchonisation folder.

If I do work out how to enable editing on the phone I'll have to work out another approach but this does mean I can have a copy to read. Another benefit is that I can leave the backup copies accumulating in the folder or sub-folder and not have those copy across automatically as well.

I've created a new version of an empty TiddlyWiki and copied it to : The changes are summarised below.

Ln 571, added a new item to the config.options array:

txtMirrorPath: ""

Ln 791, added a new item to the config.optionsDesc array:

txtMirrorPath: "Path to mirror the file to"

Ln 831, added two new items to config.messages array:

mirrorSaved: "Mirror saved",
mirrorFailed: "Failed to save mirror file"

Ln 6152, added a new method saveMirror. Note this expects a complete path and not a relative folder as in the backup folder option.

function saveMirror(localPath,original)
 var mirrorPath = config.options.txtMirrorPath;
 var saveMirrorFile = mirrorPath != "";
 if (saveMirrorFile)
 // add backslash if not present at end
     var backslashPos = mirrorPath.lastIndexOf("\\");
     var pathLastIndex = mirrorPath.length - 1;
     var backslashEnd = backslashPos == pathLastIndex;
     mirrorPath = mirrorPath + (backslashEnd ? "" : "\\");
 // copy to relevant locations
     var mirror = config.browser.isIE ? ieCopyFile(mirrorPath,localPath) : saveFile(mirrorPath,original);
      displayMessage(config.messages.mirrorSaved,"file://" + mirrorPath);

Ln 6133, added a call to the saveMirror method from the saveChanges method:


Do let me know what you think.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Spinvox - Automatic or Not?

As you know, I'm a SpinVox user and generally love the service, albeit with some reservations as I've posted about before.

Ewan at SMSTextNews met with them recently and is planning a series of posts as a result. The first one prompted some interesting comments. Check out the third one.

SMS Text News meets Spinvox - intro

Now I appreciate it's anonymous but in an industry you get to hear things and this comment corroborates those things. If true it does put some serious question marks over the scalability of their offering.

I'm interested because I've looked at speech recognition technology in a previous life, several times, and it always came up short. Too much training, too specific to a given user and even then not really usable. I was impressed that SpinVox seemed to have cracked it.

I'll be following this one closely.

Esendex SMS API in the wild

I'm completely hooked on Google Analytics or rather the information it gives me about how our web site is being used. One of my favourite information sets is the referring web sites. Where did people click through to our web site from.

This throws up some occasional gems where real people are developing against our API and sharing it with their peers.

One that cropped up recently was a plug-in for Nagios an Open Source host, service and network monitoring program. One of the users as developed a Nagios plug-in: SMS HTTP Gateway - Esendex that sends system alerts using our SMS API.

Another example is EsendexSMS, a plugin for the SugarCRM open source CRM system. We actually managed to track this one down to one of our Australian customers.

The power of Internet service delivery is demonstrated time and time again by these and similar applications. Nice to be a part of it.

The Marque Hotel, St Kilda, Melbourne

Stayed here during my recent visit to our Australian office. Highly recommend it.

The location is fantastic. 5 mins walk from St Kilda Beach and the St Kilda Sea Baths (perfect for a morning constitutional swim). There's a tram stop (Number 96) pretty much outside that'll take you directly into the heart of Melbourne.

A great range of bars and restaurants along Fitzroy Street as well as the hotel restaurant being very good.

Rooms are good quality with all the necessary facilities.

Couple this with a bargain price when I booked this with my flight through Expedia and I was a very happy traveller.

Progammable Web

Discovered Programmable Web recently. Looks like a fantastic resource of web services and mashups that use them.

I've also subscribed to the RSS feed and the quantity and variety of web services available is just stunning.

Obviously I've added a link to our API:

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

TiddlyWiki - mobile synchronisation problems

Hmmmm seems that I'm having issues with the automatic synchronisation. Versions being overwritten, notes getting lost, etc.

Back to the drawing board

Friday, 3 August 2007

TiddlyWiki - browser shortcut

Created a bookmark in my phone browser to the file. It's save on my phone memory, waiting for a big Micro SD card (somehow sounds oxymoronic!) to come. The path I'm using is:


c: - for the phone and the rest is the path.

TiddlyWiki - backup

I'm having a few issues backing up my TiddlyWiki to a different location to the main file. The reason I want to do this is that every save results in a new complete copy of the file being created which is quickly filling up my phone.

In the interim I found this Alternate Backup Method which saves everything to one file.

Outlook SMS - Redmond gets SMS with the Outlook Mobile Service

The Development team put up a beta version of a web service to support the new Outlook Mobile Service that ships in Outlook 2007.

After all the faff of setting up Outlook plug-ins and downloading software, etc this seemes like a great way of SMS enabling Outlook. It's fully integrated and just requires an Internet connection to operate.

If you want to try our service, you create a new email account of type 'Outlook Mobile Service' and set the Web Service Address to:

The username is in the standard Esendex structure for email integration:

<Esendex Account Referrence>\<Esendex Username> 
eg: EX0123456\

I found a full restart of Outlook (by logging off and on to my Windows account) was required to get the service properly configured. But after that, it worked a treat.

Currently this service is Outbound only. Replies will still come back into you Inbox with email forwarding but Outlook won't recognise them as SMS messages until we make some changes to our Email forwarding logic. Due for release at the end of August.

Keen to get feedback on this so please contact or leave comments here with any thoughts, experiences, suggestions.

TiddlyWiki goes mobile too

Jonathon at work found this little gem: TiddlyWiki.

It's a Wiki site encapsulated into one HTML file. You view and edit it like a Wiki but save it locally. It's your very own web notebook.

Here at Esendex, we're big fans of Wikis having an internal one which contains a wealth of knowledge on how our company operates. This includes, system documentation, sales and finance processes, system performance records and a whole host more.

What's really neat about Tiddlywiki for me is that I can push this HTML file to my Nokia N95 and it works a treat. I've got access to everything I want to make notes about, wherever I am. All I've done is saved the file to a synchronisation folder on my PC so it's always in sync.

The only thing I can't do currently is save changes made on the phone which I'll investigate further. In the meantime I'm definitely moving from a random collection of notes in Outlook to this far more useful contextual notebook.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Addiction is blind

I found this amusing article on the Wired Gadget Blog : Ten Reasons To Throw Away Your Cellphone.

Reminds me of reasons to stop smoking. Wonder if we'll be banned from using phones in enclosed public spaces in years to come. The scene outside hosptials (see Hospital Pariahs) repeated outside workspaces across the country. ;-)