Web 2.0, SunRocket, and the library brand

SunRocket, the second largest VOIP phone service provider behind Vonage, recently, and suddenly, went belly-up. I was one of the 200K plus victims of phone service that was there one day and gone the next. I talked to my parents on Sunday night (7/15). Monday night (7/16) I noticed that the usually green light on my SunRocket “gizmo” (their name for their analog telephone adapter, or ATA) was red. On Tuesday, when I logged into WordPress, their highlighted post was about how SunRocket was dead and gone. There was no word from SunRocket and I was left to figure out for myself what was next; should I go with the local phone service provider, should I jump on one of the offers from SunRocket’s competitors, or wait for SunRocket to tell me where I should go next. I ended up sticking with VOIP and going with a competitor that had been one of my early choices.

Suddenly I was one of 200,000 people scouring the web for for any hint of what was going on. Reading posts from laid-off employees. Obsessively following the news, trying to figure out what I should do next. For VOIP providers, 200K new customers were suddenly ripe for the picking (assuming that they didn’t feel so burned by SunRocket that they went running to Ma Bell or Verizon – or whichever monopoly is your local provider). There were press releases picked up as news stories about how this or that provider was going to “save” SunRocket’s abandoned customers.

Some of the offers seemed too good to be true. After all, I had chosen SunRocket for how cheap it was and paid for a year’s service (actually 15 months with my 3 months of free service for signing up! I really should have gotten the free phone instead). I looked up reviews to see who had a go reputation – although clearly financial information would have been a better basis for a decision. I looked at 3 websites that allow users to post their reviews of VOIP providers. Reading the reviews, something was clearly wrong. The reviews varied wildly for any one provider.  One reviewer would describe the service as “the best they’ve had” and the next would tell a horror story of hidden fees. And if you read long enough you would eventually come across reviews for one company accusing another company of padding their own reviews or sabotaging their competitors.

How was I to interpret these reviews? How was I supposed to choose a VOIP provider (if you are considering VOIP for your phone service I would recommend getting any financial data you can and see if you can get information on their strategy for acquiring new subscribers)? What I needed was someone to tell me who I could believe.

This made me think about recent focus groups we had conducted in order to redesign the website at MPOW. In those focus groups it was evident that the only reason that some of the students used the library’s website at all was because of the library brand. They were told by their instructors that they needed to use “academically valid” websites and the easiest way to accomplish that was to use websites with the libraries imprimatur. I really could have used someone who would have told me where to look for good information about VOIP providers.

When I was in library school, we were taught that users rely on the library to sort out the quality stuff from the chaff. These days it seems that this is a forgotten role of libraries, at least in the discussions.  For books, at academic libraries the approval plan dictates much of what the library buys, assuming there is money in the budget to buy books.  For journals, “the big deal” drives the library’s purchasing decisions.  For everything else, users – including librarians – turn to the web, where both need to evaluate the resource on a case by case basis.

This is my frustration, I want one place to go that has good information about VOIP providers.  Consumer Reports is a source for good information, but thre is too much lag in the information available there (the last review of VOIP providers appears to be in the January ’06 issue).  I see this as somewhere the library can still intervene.  That we can still collect good information, so people (me, myself and I) don’t have to cross their finger and hope what they are reading is reliable.