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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jaxtr : A VOIP-based social networking community


The ever-growing list of Social Networking communities sees yet another aspirant - Jaxtr. However, what may help it stand out from the crowd, is the fact that has also employed a VOIP-based form of communication rather than just plain text. It also allows one to send free SMS-es to any cellphones/landlines in over 155 countries, India included. The community, which was in Beta testing, finally came out with a stable release this February 25th.

Signing up is simple - fill up a few info and you can start sending out SMS-es right away, even before your registered email id is verified. However one thing that I found extremely odd was that while registering, you need to enter the password only once.

Send SMSOnce signed up you can immediately start sending out SMS to people’s handsets. Just select the country where you wish to send the SMS - the country code will automatically append to your number once country is selected and then type in the Cellphone number (if the recipient’s landline accepts SMS-es then you need to add the STD code also). Then type in the message (65 character limit) and click send. Here in India the SMS-es service appears to be reaching the recipient. I had sent messages to Cellphones who either have Airtel or Idea as their service provider - the 2 largest Networks in India, and all of them successfully reached their destination across the country. Every message that reaches the recipient on their cellphones will contain a URL in it. The recipient can go online and enter the URL where he/she can reply back to the sender. This reply will be forwarded to the member’s e-mail inbox. The SMS feature appears to be working fine in India. One can also send text messages to a fellow Jaxtr member (100 character limit) from his/her profile page. The message is also routed to the recipient member’s email inbox.

Voice communications in Jaxtr is done in two ways - voicemails or phone calls (needs the recipient member to have a verified phone number). Voicemails can be made even if the member has not entered any verified phone number. A member can also have voicemails forwarded to their cellphone or landline. Before you can start receiving this, you must get the phone verified, which was again a simple process. At a later date you may also choose to remove the phone from the account thus preventing any further forwardings. In order to make voice calls or send a voicemail to a Jaxtr member, one can go either to the member’s profile page or use the user’s Jaxtr widget (explained later). Clicking on the link marked, Call me will open a small window, where you enter your number along with the country of your residence. Once entered it will try to generate a Local number to which you can call and talk to the Jaxtr member. This especially useful if the Jaxtr member you are trying to call is residing abroad. Thus you can call the person and just be charged for local calls instead of the actual International call rates. You need not be a Jaxtr member to make voice calls, but the recipient must. At present the list of countries for which it can generate local numbers is limited and India is not included. An Indian, when tries to call up a Jaxtr member, is allotted a +1 code US number to make the call to.

They have setup a Social Networking community around this service. It is called Cafe Jaxtr. One can 20080424jaxtr06choose to be listed on its member page or opt out of it. You can enter your interests and likings (things that you would like to talk about) in your profile page. Clicking on your listed interest in your profile page will take you to a page showing you the other members who have listed the same interest in their profile. You could select one of them and call them up to have conversation about your common interest (a good conversation starter). Alternatively you could click on the flag of your country (attached automatically when you list your country in the profile page) and find fellow members who have claimed similar Nationality or could click on flags of other countries to view the members. The latter could be useful if you are learning a new language. You could call up a person from that county and practise your language skills with a native. However, there are a few issues that needs to be sorted out. Though a person may be added as a friend it need not always be shown in my profile page.

For example, I had created 2 profiles for this - guyjaxtr and guyjaxtr007.

My guyjaxtr friend’s list.

guyjaxtr friends list

It also lists me in my friend’s list. I am my own friend :D.

However my profile page does not list guyjaxtr007 as a contact

guyjaxtr profile page

I also apear to be a visitor to my own page.

However things appear to be working well in my guyjaxtr007 account

guyjaxtr007 friends list

guyjaxtr007 profile page

Also removing someone from a friend’s list seems to be a little tricky (outright impossible as I am beginning to conclude). However you can filter calls from anybody you wish not to receive them. In my opinion a member must be asked if he or she would like to add another member in her or his list and once accepted, each others profiles must become automatically visible in the other’s profile page.These quirks, though not alarming, need to be dealt with if it wants to emerge as a noteworthy social networking community. However to its credit, the stable version is only in version 1.0 currently.

Jaxtr WidgetOne can also include a flash-based widget on ones site/blog/other social networking community (the one shown here is a dummy). It can be customized according to ones liking. Using this widget, anybody can contact you either through text messages, or voicemail or even call you if you allow. The procedure is same as above. You can also send the person a text message which will be directed to his/her mail inbox. However unlike text messaging him from his profile page where you will have to login to text message him and also have a limit of 100 character, from the widget no logging in is required and one has a character limit of 180. Yet another thing that I found quirky was the fact that even if you do do not verify a phone for your account the Call me free! button will appear nevertheless. Without a verified phone two-way voice communication is impossible. IMO this button should not be present or disabled when there is no verified phone in the member’s account. This discrepancy, especially in text messaging IMO should be done away with as the messages are getting routed to the email inbox in both cases.

Yet another oddity is how you can search for friends if you do not have their profile link. Through your friend searchJaxtr account you log into your corresponding email inbox account (a substantial list present there) and download your contact details for cross checking. Not only are people uncomfortable with the method of logging in, I also think it is ineffective. People (like me) have compartmentalized tasks and identities by setting different accounts for different tasks (though all consolidated into one account with POP3). So it need not be necessary that the email id I give my friends for contact would be the same I had used for signing up here. A more conventional search for the person’s name would be more appropriate and appealing.

Having said this, I found their approach to social networking quite refreshing. Their voice and text communication feature is in place. They must now find ways to use this to make their social networking interactions more vibrant and engaging. Otherwise, it will turn into just another a service for sending out free SMS-es and making cheap calls (wherever applicable) - something it is now, in India at least (on the SMS front). As an Indian the only useful feature I found was sending out free, ad-free SMS-es. However other services too offer this feature in India and some with the option to send out bulk SMS-es, something Jaxtr lacks.

Though generation of a local number to make voice calls affects the revenue of the host Telecom company, it shouldn’t be as much of a thorn as Skype is. This is because, unlike Skype that allows free direct pc-to-pc voice chat, any voice-based communication conducted through Jaxtr will have to be performed with an existing landline or cellphone, thereby adding to the telecom company’s revenue earnings. However making international calls at local call rates will hurt them.

Jaxtr is backed by pedigree though. One of its investors is Konstantin Guericke, who had earlier founded the social networking site for professionals - Linkedin.

Jaxtr Inc. is a Californian startup by two individuals - Phillip Mobin and Touraj Parang.

Expecting further versions of this community to have more refined features and services.