October 10, 2007


Let a thousand Vakows bloom

If you think, the telcos are ripping you by charging exorbitantly for GPRS/EDGE, or ISPs for broadband, think again. The most expensive data service in India is SMS, especially to the short-code services. To send less than 160 characters to a premium short-code service, you pay Rs 3. That is Rs 19,659 per MB, if you consider each message to be 160 char long, which generally goes grossly underutilized. It's like paying a peti to watch Sony's ad on YouTube. That's outrageously high, unless your name is Mukesh Ambani.

Such SMS rates remind me of the long-disntace calls by BSNL some 5 years back, when calling to a location more than 500 kms away was charged at Rs 18 per minute! Now it is anywhere from Rs 0 to Rs 2. Or the tariff for international calls was Rs 60 per minute which have now come down to Rs 2 per minute. During those days, waiting till 9pm to call home, when rates used to be a third of peak rate, was not uncommon. Now, nobody thinks about time of the day or distance when calling. Also, nobody thinks about duration of the call. If you take into account annual inflation of 5%, the telecom charges have come down by 90-97%.

I think, time is ripe for another telecom revolution. The SMS should be dirt cheap. Like, say, Rs 100 per month for unlimited messages. The premium message can be dropped to Rs 0.5, which can easily result into 20x increased traffic. The oligopoly of private telcos need to realize this.

That would be the trigger for hundreds of innovative services like Vakow!.


Vakow: Forwarding culture brought to SMS

It's been a long time since I received an interesting forwarded mail. In my very first email account on Hotmail (which expired long time back), there was a folder (It was not called "label" or "tag" then. That old!) named "Forward" which had interesting forwards. With a stunningly big 2MB mailbox, I was forced to keep only short and text-only forwards. No images, or PPTs. please. We have only 2MB. That folder had the highest concentration of quality forwards.

Gmail now gives me a cute 2911MB (and growing) mailbox, but the sources of forwards seems to have gone dry. Occasional, mildly interesting forward landing the mailbox is invariably documented in detail on snopes.com or breakthechain.org. The only amusement I get in my mailbox are of "read this blog entry" or "watch this YouTube video" variety, which, I must admit, are not amazing the as the good ol' forwards.

While the email forwards have been on steady and sad decline, the SMS forwarding is experiencing a viral growth, reason being 200+ million cellular subscribers in India. As written more than 2 years back, age has really caught up fast (and it's been 2 freakin' years since then) and I don't find SMS really really cool. I still don't find them uber cool as I insist on using "regular" English on SMS, albeit with the help of T9 dictionary. (That is a polite way of saying I'm so darn uncool.) I don't receive much SMSes because I don't send many. People forward SMSes to people who forward SMSes. So, yeah, that kind of leaves me out of the loop.

Vakow! is the newly launched service which lets you forward cool SMSes to your friends. It offers the convenience of internet (easy forwarding to many friends, managing subscriptions, paying Rs Zero, discovering cool SMSes, etc) and reach all the friends. If I go by experience with email forwards, I can easily assert, this fun service can really get addictive. Like, say, YouTube.

The guys behind this venture (drum rolls, please!) are Rahul Gupta and Amit Upadhyay, my former colleagues. I wish them all the success! Rock on, guys.

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