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Eating Our Own Dog Food Revisited

tn_old_telephoneOk, this is going to be a rant. Consider yourselves warned. And worse than that, it’s more or less a repeat of a rant from not long ago. The theme is essentially “Eating Our Own Dog Food” and it harkens back to thoughts of the Emperors New Clothes, or perhaps the state of the mechanics own car.

To what I am I referring? Well, in this case it’s the Squawk Box podcast from Feb 29. The topic was, netbooks vs smart phones and was extremely interesting. However the call, and resulting podcast, was also profoundly aggravating.

Why was it so annoying? Call quality, plain and simple. The hosts call quality was very good, but call quality of many of the guests was woefully sub-standard. No doubt some will say that I’m picking nits, but it occurs to me that more than anyone else those purporting to be telecom experts should be paying close attention to the conveyance of their voice. What I hear on many podcasts, including this one, is basically that people just don’t care. Even people who should, and that just makes be crazy!

I wonder, do these same folks go into the office wearing a tattered t-shirt & ratty shorts? No? Then why pay so little attention to the basic quality of their presence on such a conference? It shows considerable disregard for the audience and others on the call.

Imagine the CTO of Skype arranging a video call to a address a trade conference and having call quality troubles.

Oh, wait! That actually happened!! It surely casts an interesting light on whatever he was trying to say. Doesn’t it?

Listening to this particular podcast I hear people in noisy rooms making use of speakerphones. Speakerphones can be a problem. Even great speakerphone hardware can be a problem, depending upon the acoustics of the room. Your basic drywall office is usually very reverberant resulting a bright, boxy sound. Large glass windows and walls exacerbate this problem.

If this describes your workspace you can easily provide a tasteful, practical remedy by adding some acoustically absorptive elements to the room. For example, decorative carpet, bushy plant material, or upholstered furniture. By the way, acoustical ceiling tile can be part of the solution…but it’s a really small part.

Even in a room well suited to using conference phones, if I’m the only one in the room I typically use a wired headset. I just know that I’m going to sound better close mic’d.

audio615mBack to the podcast: I hear people not muting themselves and only a few people seemed to show enough care to use a headset. Somewhere in there there’s a massive amount of low frequency thumping. What’s that about? It’s one of the call participants disrespecting the rest of the group and anyone who might listen later on.

On most conference services *6 will mute or unmute your phone. David Frankel’s excellent ZipDX wideband conference service has a great page on Conference Call Best Practices

But also, kudos where they are due. The host and several of the guests were properly prepared for the call. They used a headset and are close mic’d. They sound great and make their points clearly. If they were consultants I’d consider hiring them as they present themselves professionally. It really does matter.

polycom_ip650_256There’s one participant who sounds simply dreadful. His speech can barely be understood. Using VoIP is simply no justification for such lousy call quality. In fact, I use VoIP almost every day and my VoIP calls sounds better than calls passed to the PSTN. Why? Because the Polycom IP650 that I use is great hardware and when possible I make wideband calls, even wideband conference calls.

There are times when I have to attend conference calls under less than optimal circumstances. Usually that means calling in via cell phone. Except for self-muting and using a decent headset there’s little that can be done to improve such cases. When my call quality is poorish and can’t be helped I fully expect that the host will ensure that I don’t negatively impact the call, and forcibly mute me as necessary.

I find my little rant is winding down but here’s the takeaway thought for podcasters. If your calls sound like crap I for one won’t listen anymore. As I’ve said repeatedly hereabouts, life’s just too short to put up with a lousy phone. The same principle holds true for substandard podcasts.

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Michael,

    Consider me well flagellated. The call quality was terrible and short of muting all the lines there was little I could do about it. That’s why I plan to do next time. Mea culpe!


    1. Alec,

      Sorry to be such a nag. But y’know, I wouldn’t mention it if I didn’t care. And I care because the content is wonderful!


  2. I think that you are dead on. A few months ago I was shopping for a new PBX system for the office at work. As you can imagine, I was on a ton of conference calls getting Webex’s as the sale’s people all tried to sell me there systems. I really picked up on a lot of audio problems and noises when on these calls.

    Now obviously most of the time it was not the PBX system causing the issue. But, if you are trying to sell something like that I think it is in your best interest to have the best audio possible.

  3. One other things worth mentioning…it’s not all about the host or the conference service. Sure the host can mute people using the conference controls, but the core of my complaint is really aimed at the conference attendees.

    If your call quality sucks its a reflection on you and your company. You really need to ask yourself, “if my call quality is sub-standard do I want to participate? Will it impact my reputation? Will it strengthen or weaken the public perception of my company?”

  4. The problem is the cell phone industry and consumer voip has lowered the bar so much on what counts as acceptable, that the traditionalists are stuck in a mediocre world. I am also tried of mediocrity. We have the technology, we can rebuild it, faster, clearer, and better.

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