West Coaster raves globally over ICQ

Deep in the heart of the South Island's West Coast, software developer Mike Mee is running a business providing voice capability to America Online's messaging service ICQ.

Deep in the heart of the South Island’s West Coast, software developer Mike Mee is running a business providing voice capability to America Online’s messaging service ICQ.

Mee, who lives in Haast, and his Moscow-based partner Nicolai Retin, have developed Rave2. The product lets ICQ users talk to each other via their PCs. Since Rave 2’s July release it has garnered more than 2000 users worldwide.

Mee created the initial version of Rave for ICQ in January this year. In doing so he posted questions to a Web site called Experts Exchange (www.experts-exchange. com) and received an answer from Retin.

“We exchanged email and I ended up sponsoring him and bringing him to Haast,” says Mee.

Retin, who had worked as a coder for the Central Moscow Bank, stayed in New Zealand until Rave 2 was completed in July. He rewrote the software, which is created in C++ and Assembler, and added cryptography. Now the two programmers have formed a partnership called Earthspeak International and are working on the next version of Rave which will support firewalls, an answerphone facility and eventually video.

Living in Haast has not proved a drawback to running an international business as the product is marketed, sold and distributed entirely over the Internet. The majority of customers are from South America, followed by the US, Europe, Australia and finally New Zealand.

Mee believes most customers hear about Rave 2 by word of mouth.

“We’ve noticed from our Web site statistics that most downloads are straight from the Web site which means somebody has been told the URL, as opposed to searching for ICQ and linking from there. We’ve extensively publicised ourselves through all major search engines.”

He says that with more than 30 million ICQ users worldwide, he would be more than happy to gain 1% of them as customers. Which is just as well because there are plenty of competitors out there.

AOL has signed an agreement with Internet telephony vendor Net2Phone to offer phone calls over the Internet to ICQ users, while Excite and Yahoo have offered “voice chat” in a limited way since April.

Neither of ICQ’s closest competitors, AIM (which is also owned by AOL but is restricted to AOL users only) and Microsoft Messaging have voice capability yet — but both plan to.

In the face of competition Mee touts Rave2’s small file size and compression technology, which enables it to work over connections as slow as 7200bit/s. The next version, due in four weeks, will work over links as torpid as 800bit/s and will support firewalls and answerphone functionality.

He says EarthSpeak could also port its technology to other services such as Micro-soft Messaging and AIM.

Apart from sales revenue, Rave2 has also benefitted Mee by providing an alternative means of communications in a geographical area where telephone lines are in short supply.

“We’re in a area where Telecom will only give us two phone lines. We have one computer for taking credit card details and that leaves only one other line for PC and phone. Most of the people I deal with now use Rave2 so I don’t have to use the other line for voice only,” says Mee.

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