BT Contact “your personal communication hub” has officially entered its public beta phase. We previously wrote about BT contacts when it was still in alpha. The goal for this product is to provide a one stop website for all of our “federated communication” needs -i.e combining in one place various IM + Email + Address Books + SMS + Directory Enquiries etc.
Going forward I assume BT Contact will want to become our browser homepage and offer us a similar widgets plugin strategy like PageFlakes, NetVibes, Google, Live etc.
Longer term I can imagine new BT services being integrated through this personalised homepage e.g the new BT Digital Vault already has been. What about BT Vision? Overtime I am sure current stand alone BT (older) services such as online bills, friends and family, dabs.com, BT Shop etc will all be accessible from this interface via one single BT login.
The problem is BT is caught between a rock and a hard place right now. On the one-hand BT want to convert their old & newly acquired customers to use these new BT services but on the otherhand BT’s deal with Yahoo requires that their joint walled garden portal is the first place that most of these new BT HomeHub customers are sent.
I recently got my shiny new BT HomeHub and as part of the installation process I ended up having to install Yahoo Toolbars, IM/Email client as well as some BT software etc. Of course I uninstalled every bit of it because all I really wanted was to use the software I had before and benefit from the faster BT broadband connection.
Om Malik pointed out this week that BT were not the only short sighted telecom company that signed up to this stupid one-way Yahoo deal. So whilst BT wait for their contract with Yahoo to expire, at least they have a chance to experiment with these web 2.0 apps.
Another problem for BT is that more agile competitors are starting appear. Today Cerulean Studios released some more information on Trillian Astra, the long-awaited next version of its popular multi-protocol instant messaging client which now supports social software features and widgets.
Another company BT would do well to look at is Germany’s Dial O which has taken Deutsch Telecom’s white and yellow page services and given it a bit of web 2.0 map magic by integrating it with microformats, social networking, tags and google maps.
BT is at a cross roads trying to rollout its next generation 21CN network onto which its new revenue cash cows will run i.e BT Vision, Fusion etc. whilst trying to maintain its broadband market share by buying up smaller rivals . BT really needs to accelerate its platform and services rollout before and integrate what it has. BT Contact is a very brave project that has many stronger competitors in the market right now. It needs to find a unique selling point but maybe that will come in the form of free broadband or cheap calls?