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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 28, 2007 at 11:02 AM

Jubii’s Microsoft connection

That would be Jan Wergin, executive vice president at the bold new Danish social networking site.

Wergin studied and taught communications and languages at the University of Washington from 1995 to 2000, eventually receiving a Ph.D., before joining Microsoft. He was a program manager in the business tools division, working on Visio and Project, and then worked on the Office and Vista teams.

Now he’s executive vice president of Jubii, which is based in Denmark. But he also travels a lot — the company is a subsidiary of Germany-based Lycos, and it has a development office in Armenia. Within a few months it will also open an office in the San Francisco area.

Despite its international background, Jubii is initially targeting the U.S. market. In April it will launch in Germany and then other countries in Europe.

I said bold because Jubii’s squaring off against companies like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! with its all-in-one social networking, file sharing, online storage and communications suite.

“I think there’s still a lot of opportunity in the whole market,” said Wergin.

He said consumers are tired of using multiple services with different logins and Jubii’s simple, consolidated approach will appeal to them.

“I think at some point people are going to get very tired of having to manage all these different sites and profiles and inboxes,” he said. “I think what we will see in the industry is a consolidation of these services. The service that is positioned the best is the one that will win eventually.”

Jubii has been taking registrations for a few weeks but formally went live with its service on Tuesday.

It’s one of several next-generation social networking sites with advanced privacy and sharing controls like Vox and Microsoft’s Wallop.

Wergin said the service was designed to feel like a desktop application, rather than a mishmash of online services.

“Basically everything a user will use or can use on a normal desktop application he can also do in Jubii,” he said. “We wanted to make sure people don’t have to switch paradigms or think in different ways.”

Jubii has a few lures that may help it stand out from the pack. One is the offer of 10 gigabytes of free online storage (it’s going to eventually be offering tiers of free and premium services and storage).

The other offer — and the one that gives Jubii a fighting chance, I think — is free telephone calling services that could put pressure on free Internet calling services such as Skype, Google Talk and Microsoft’s Live Messenger.

Jubii’s trick is that you don’t have to rig up a headset and talk through a computer. To place a call, you click on one of your contacts. Jubii routes the call through its network, and rings your phone and the phone of the person you are calling. Pick it up and you are connected.

Users can place free calls up to five minutes long apiece, totaling 30 minutes a day. That’s for calls between land lines, or land lines to cellphones. Beyond that, you’ll have to buy a bundle of minutes from the company.

The free level of service will be supported by advertising.

Jubii’s also pitching itself to telecommunication companies as a potential partner. At first I thought that was odd — wouldn’t they be miffed about the free calls?

But Wergin explained that Jubii offers a compelling online package for telcos to add to their mix of services.

I’ll bet Jubii is positioning itself as a way for phone companies to compete with Skype in particular. It will appeal to Skype users, and give phone companies a way to get in the online VoIP game (and charge for the additional minutes beyond the free ones).

Wergin put it differently. “I think we have a very competitive product,” he said. “It gives a little bit different spin on this communication environment.”

Comments | Topics: Microsoft, Web

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