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Browsing Posts published on June 12, 2012

At WWDC Apple unleashed FaceTime on 3G networks. While you would think a high-quality video chat and collaboration service would be poison to consumers’ restricted data plans, there’s another way to look at it: Compared to what mobile operators charge for voice, FaceTime is really a bargain.

When FaceTime first emerged, 9to5Mac performed some 3G tests on jailbroken iPhones to determine just how much bandwidth the app would consume. It’s findings: 3 MB per minute. So if you had a $30/2 GB plan from Verizon you could feasibly support 666 minutes of FaceTime calling, while a 3 GB plan at the same price from AT&T would give you an even 1000 minutes of video talk time.

Now look what those same carriers charge for voice minutes: For base level voice plans both AT&T and Verizon charge you me $40 for 450 minutes and $60 for 900 minutes. Making a FaceTime video call winds up being a heck of lot cheaper than a straight up phone call.

Before you get the bright idea of replacing your voice service entirely with FaceTime and a data SIM card, know there are some limitations, the biggest of which is FaceTime only works between Apple products. 3G network coverage, even over Verizon’s extensive CDMA network, can be spotty, and just because there is a 3G signal available to you doesn’t guarantee you’ll get enough of bandwidth to support a video call. Carriers’ circuit-switched voice services may be expensive, but for the most part they work — a claim we can’t yet make for 3G.

Of course, supplementing your voice service with FaceTime might not be a bad idea especially if a lot of your contacts own iPhones, iPads and Macs. Knocking $20 to $30 off your minute plans (AT&T and Verizon both sell unlimited voice for $70 a month) and replacing it with the next higher tier of data could wind up saving you a lot of money. Many consumers might not even need to bother with a data plan upgrade. According to a recent report from Ericsson, iPhone users only consume on average 350 MB of month of data over global HSPA networks, which puts them well out of reach of most data caps.

As for the operators — who already claim their 3G networks are overtaxed — this is probably not an ideal development. Not only would a sudden deluge of FaceTime calls load up their networks even more, the service could start impacting their voice revenues. Since they make far more for on a minute of voice than they would on a minute of FaceTime data, they have far more to lose.

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Clay Spinuzzi, an associate professor of rhetoric (yes, rhetoric) at the University of Texas at Austin, took an interest in the area’s budding coworking movement just as it was getting off the ground in 2008. For three years he immersed himself in the community, speaking with space users and owners, studying written and electronic materials put out by spaces and generally trying to get a sense of what exactly coworkers were up to?

The results of that research were published recently in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication in the form of a long and quite academic article (light reading, it is not) that tackles the seemingly simple question: What is coworking, and what do people get out of it? But, it turns out, the lived reality of coworking is not as tidy as Spinuzzi’s straightforward question. He got a bewildering set of contradictory answers from space owners:

Coworking space as community center. The proprietors of Soma Vida and Space12, mixed use spaces, told Spinuzzi that coworking as they all understood it was all about serving the local community. “The object was to work alongside, but not with, others. Consequently, both had quiet policies in their spaces,” writes Spinuzzi.

Coworking as collaboration space. If some spaces were all about offering community members peace and quiet, others insisted they were focused on creating a buzzy environment. Calling this type “the unoffice,” Spinuzzi notes spaces in this category, which includes Brainstorm, Link, and Perch, “encouraged discussions; interaction between the coworkers.” Spinuzzi summarizes the object of these spaces as recreating “characteristics of the traditional office environment that independent workers may miss.”

Some proprietors in this category even ruled the community center type of space out of the coworking movement entirely. “If a space had a no talking policy, ‘then it’s not coworking,’” Link’s Liz Elam told Spinuzzi.

Coworking as networking hub. Conjunctured, Cospace and GoLab Austin, “saw the mission of their coworking spaces as fostering more active connections between coworkers, connections that could lead to working relationships between businesses—contracts or referrals,” writes Spinuzzi. “Their focus was on entrepreneurship.”

He notes that while these spaces were as buzzy as so-called unoffice spaces, they were more focused on formal collaboration rather than informal connections and saw themselves as catalyzing the shift towards more independent work by allowing independent workers to clump together. “Proprietors saw these spaces as comprising a collocated network of potential contractors,” concludes Spinuzzi.

That’s how proprietors thought of their spaces. What did the actual coworkers within them tell Spinuzzi? “The coworkers I interviewed tended to emphasize the unoffice model, in particular, the combination of space and social interaction,” he says, but notes that they were far from in complete agreement about what they hoped to get out of coworking. “Some coworkers expected to work in parallel whereas others expected to work in cooperation,” he writes, noting different expectations for collaboration at coworking spaces.

The fundamental question, what is coworking then, is far from settled, and Spinuzzi isn’t expecting a single definitin to emerge anytime soon. “As cities become more porous and workers become more mobile, we can expect coworking and variations to multiply,” he writes. With larger companies looking at ways to adapt cowoking to their needs, and more corporate remote workers utilizing the spaces, things in fact may get a whole lot more complicated.

What’s your personal definition of coworking?

Image courtesy of Flickr user torisan3500

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One of the most vital (yet often dismissed) building blocks of a successful business is planning. The market is rife with examples of businesses failing from a lack of adequate planning and prelaunch preparation.

The planning process becomes even more paramount if you’re raising capital or taking on significant risk (such as bootstrapping a venture yourself or leaving a full-time job). Planning is vital, and here’s why:

1. To avoid mistakes: Planning helps ensure you’re going down the right path. Ask yourself these questions: Do you have enough capital? Do you have employees and partners with the right skills? What is a realistic time frame for when you will be able to sell your product or service and generate revenue? Addressing these issues in the early stages will save you precious time and money.

2. To make sure everyone’s heading in the same direction: You’re probably not building a company by yourself. You’ll have staff, partners and advisers involved — and a plan helps get everyone involved on the same page.

3. To develop a game plan: At a startup, execution is everything. During the planning process you’ll need to set priorities, establish goals, determine resources required and measure performance.

4. To raise capital: Investors need to see a business plan before they decide whether they will invest or not. Like investors, lenders will want to see a business plan too.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail,” said popular time management author Alan Lakein. For more information, visit www.trinet.com/startups.