Thursday, February 23, 2006

The end user: Noticing a red flag - Technology - International Herald Tribune: " is one of those right- place, right-time, right-technology companies that has nearly all the elements for colossal success. But it also has hovering over it a big red flag that could wrong-foot it at any moment.

A premium text-message service that does most of its business outside the United States, is straddling that valuable space between the Internet and mobile phones at a time when messaging of all kinds is taking off.

Its service lets subscribers find like-minded people, whether soccer fans or single-man-looking-for- date, and connect through text messages over cellphones.

Unlike the traditional SMS, or short message service, that is automatically part of your cellphone subscription, allows you to text people you don't know for a price that the company says ranges from 5 to 30 cents. You can also send the messages from the Internet as well as a phone, a service that most carriers are loath to offer.

Executives at say the service has 50 million members in 187 countries and some kind of business relationship with more than 400 network operators and that it makes a quarterly profit. According to Wireless Business Forecast, was the ninth most frequently visited entertainment site for cellphones last October in the United States.

But it has had enough uncomfortable dealings with customers - both consumers and carriers - that I must advise anyone looking into signing up with to be cautious. (The .ac stands for "always connected," according to the company, but it is also the Internet address suffix for Ascension Island, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.)

At least a handful of consumers, however, have complained on the Internet and in the mainstream press that has charged them for services they never asked for, making that billing relationship into potentially its greatest liability."

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