June 2006
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Month June 2006

Packing up and heading home

Time to go home

Heading home, with yellow dog

Hi

My one and half year old son calls a phone a “Hi”. When you answer the phone in the US you usually say Hi or Hello. Here in Italy you say “pronto” or “ready”. I remember when I was young hearing a story that in France there were people who thought you had to say “allo, allo” when you answered the phone to make it work.

Getting texting / SMS

After 5 months of living here in Europe I am finally understanding why SMS is mobile telephony in Europe. Estimates I have heard range from 50% to 80% of time spent on the phone is spent sending text or SMS vs. talking on the phone — very different to the us where approx 30% of mobile users use SMS. For Europeans this stuff is obvious, texting is mobile telephony. The reasons I have heard why SMS is so popular in Europe were (a) economics (its cheap and calls are expensive, and you dont pay to receive SMS’s as you do in the US), (b) standardization of data formats drove network effects, a lot of people text so a lot of people text back (c) cultural acceptance of texting and uneasiness with intrusiveness of voice calls in public and (d) little fingers… No wait that is a reason I heard SMS is popular in Asia (?!@), that one, doesn’t apply to Europe. Ok so, these are important enablers but there is more going on. Things I have observed living here and using SMS are:

Basic interactions w/ your cell co. here demonstrates the benefits of texting

In order to use a cell phone here in Europe you need to text or at least read a text. Use of the device for telephony (the reason why most people still buy phones) educates data usage — in the US, SMS is often an added feature that you pay for. Not so here, in Europe its standard. Couple that with the fact that most people prepay it Italy. Lots of reasons for it, but its the norm — so when you load up some time on your phone your carrier sends you an SMS with details. Like wise when you are out of time your carrier sends you an SMS with the calls you have missed (since your phone isn’t working), when you have a voice mail you get a text with details, when move carriers (cross a border) you get a text, you get the idea. And this is before you sign for any special services — anyone for world cup goal alerts?

Ease of use and other product features are different

SMS’s seem to have better threading here in Europe. I want to get back the US and see if this is just a setting on my device, but the default here is that messages are threaded. That makes a difference, messages are more conversational, more fun and more useful. Coupled with the threading they are well archived, so you end up starting a new SMS based on the last one you received from the sender. And SMS’s clearly minimize the social gestures that a phone call requires. You dont need to inquire “how are you”, “how was your weekend” or any of the other standard social niceties that phone conversations often require – you communicate what you need. This might fall into the cultural bucket. Maybe there are more social niceties in language here — that are required on the phone and SMS short cuts them. But SMS’s are short, and on top of that they are very fast. I couldn’t find anything but anecdotal data on this but my experience here is that SMS’s are delivered with greater speed and reliability than in the US. In the US messages can take hours to be delivered, here they usually arrive in a minute or two.

Europeans don’t love voicemail

It seems that voicemail isnt nearly as popular in Europe. At first I thought this was because my Italian is poor that I opt to use SMS instead of voicemail – but I found out that this is what most people do. It seems that Europeans, or at least Italians, don’t use voicemail that much. There are some clear advantages — most importantly the visual interface of SMS is a far faster method of scanning messages than a voice inbox.

SMS is asynchronous and interruptions are managed by the receiver

The fact that SMS is asynchronous and this offers a whole new dimension to communications on your phone, messaging isn’t dependent on state. You can manage how, when and from you who you want to be disturbed. SMS gives you more control over communications. You can do the something similar with voice and caller ID / voicemail but given that SMS is pushed to your phone, the interface is so much quicker to navigate. Whiles this is primarily an interface point — its worth nothing given the paucity of good software on phones. SMS and associated messaging functionality is well placed on the cell deck and well designed for high usage. The metaphors are similar to email, so if you use one switching to the other is easy.

As users and carriers make decisions about how to manage data on devices (on and off deck) its interesting to watch the progression of SMS in a mature text market. Here in Italy the incumbent (TIM) understands SMS well. They seem to be also watching leading indicators from Asia which suggest that a combination of a forward thinking technology strategy with aggressive marketing can keep *voice* arpu, flat to up, let alone data arpu. Data from South Korea suggests this is possible.

Granted the fact that everyone uses it and you dont need to inquire whether you can SMS someone is the single most important detrimantn of usage. But there is more going on here than meets the eye. Understanding the phone as more of texting device vs. talking device changes one’s perspective of whats important in terms of mobile communications.

Duck

At around 5.30am a duck flew into our bedroom window. I got up and there was a crow perched on the side of the balcony watching the duck jump up and down smacking itself into our window. Every so often the crow would screech, as if he was yelling take a look at what this duck is doing.

EuroTelcoblog: Click up or shut up…

This will be interesting, I remember a long time back that Ebay as an AOL partner didn’t want to integrate IM features for fear that buyers and sellers would start to trade independent of the platform.

Click up or shut up

Just arriving in EuroTelcoblog’s inbox one minute ago was confirmation of Skype integration into 14 categories on eBay, selected on the criteria of “Skypeâ??s ability to positively impact the transaction.” The categories are:

Automotive GPS devices
Camera and photo lenses and filters
Wired networking routers
Skype devices
VOIP / Internet telephony
Diamond solitaire rings
Real estate (residential, commercial)
Manufacturing and metalworking
Beds
NBA basketball cards
Silver coins
Lost in Space collectibles
Radio control toys
Cars and trucks

Apparently, eBay considered that these were categories where “instant communication can greatly facilitate trade, such as those with high average selling prices, complex products, or new technologies that can generate a high volume of…

Read the rest of this post from EuroTelcoblog

History, Mussolini

We were driving up in the hills near a small town called Mezzegra yesterday. Outside of a villa there was this small cross with Mussolini's name it. Someone had placed flowers by it. As the photo's of Mussolini on wine bottles suggest he is far from demonized. A wikipedia search turns up that this is where Mussolini and his girlfriend were executed before he was taken to Milan.

Note, he was caught in Dongo on his was to Chiavenna where he was trying to board a plane to Switzerland. Weird, this is so close to Switzerland, he could have driven or walked from Dongo or Mezzegra.

Local, how local can you be?

 Happydent
Living here in Italy has made me consider what defines the boundaries of local and how my concept of local is changing.     Here everything is very local – local to a degree I hadnt appreciated to date.  By local I mean within the region we live in Italy (Lombardy) and more often than not the 20 sq. km around us.   People here think local, produce is local, relationships are local.   Many of the people who live in the tiny village we are in have never left Lombardy.  Very few have ever left Italy.  Most people dont speak a word of any language other than Italian.   Considering that we are 15 mins away from the Swiss border, 45 mins from Milan, 3 hours from Florence, this surprised me.    
People seem to relish how local life is here.   Last week someone was explaining to me that much of the milk that we buy here is from cows about 15 mins up the road.   Some friends told us that each year they pick olives from their olive trees and take the olives to Lenno where a local producer of olive oil (great oil btw) weighs them and gives them bottles of oil in exchange for the olives.   There is a trade off made between choice and quality.    There is often little choice, each item comes in a flavor determined mostly by what was available.  What is fresh.   But while daily choice is limited there is more variety.  

There are vegetalbles that we have never seen before.   One day back in Feburary my wife bought at the market a green vegetable that was somewhere between asperagus and an artichoke. Often we cant even get the name sorted for some of these items — different people seem to call them different things — the name for this one was erbetta, another one is called la barba dei priest  (the priests beard).   In the US there seems to be a need to replicate experiences, a need for consistency (are these needs or are they artifacts of a culture of consumption that makes us think they are needs?). Here there is little need for this.    Life maps pretty tightly to the seasons, one month its brocoli the next its appargus and thats about it.  It strikes me that is a lot more texture to a life lived like this.  

Down the street there is a butcher who sells among other things butter. His butter unlike anything I have tasted before. I cant really explain it.   The combination of the texture and the taste is unbelievable – its butter like nothing i have tasted.   Made just up the road.   Maybe I dont pay enough attention to taste — I never thought there could be so much diversity in a thing like butter.  I thought butter was butter, now I differently, so do my kids, they will ask us, butcher's butter please.

 Brands here are hyper local.     Go to a resturant and order sparkling water — what you get wont be Pelligrino,  there is barely a Pelligrino bottle to be seen around here.   Its local carbonated, spring water. And pretty much every restaurant we go to has a different brand.   Go the the supermarket (let alone the local aliementaire) and pretty much everything is local.  Not only produce, the basics — kitchen paper, trash bags, wine, drinks, yoguts etc. etc. most of them are Italian brands.   Glad bags, no can do,  wrigleys gum, no such luck (try Happydent, fabulous branding.) …  Maybe Italy is too small a market, non english spearking etc. for the multinationals to have paid it much atttention.   Most of the trade barriers have been levelled with EU membership.   But local is what people want, its what they trust. People spend a lot of time in their communities and so much is done just the way it has always been done.  

If you expand the concept of local to include a local online community I wonder if this is more what markets will look like in the future.   Another way of thinking about the tail vs. the head, but the tail vs. the head analysis is about how the tail is becoming more accessible from a cost standpoint.  Here the trade off's that are so compelling re: scale and efficiencies have not been made.