The unbearable manner of the “me too” syndrome

There is nothing more annoying than the “me too” syndrome – the ever annoying human behavior of seeing something good and copying it – while doing a lousy job at it.

So, what am I ranting about this time? I’m ranting about the lousy job companies like Sangoma, Yeaster, Varion, PhonicEQ and other Digium would-be ‘clone’ companies are doing. Being the founder of the Israeli Asterisk community in Israel, I get man people come to me asking for Asterisk support and assistance. I render this support as much as I can (at least when I’m awake and next to my computer), to the best of my abilities, but I am always amazed at the crap people are willing to take – in the pursue of a lower price.

Let us take the Sangoma cards for example. If you were to ask me about 3-4 years ago, which card is superior, Digium or Sangoma, I have to¬† admit that I would most probably say that Sangoma was slightly superior back then. However, since the introduction of the TE?10P cards and TE?20P cards, Digium cards are superior in my book. Now, even in the old days, installing a card like Sangoma was a hassle. Patches and drivers and modules and services and a shit load of configurations that didn’t always work straight out of the box. Now, about 2 years ago, I completely abandoned Sangoma cards, due to a simple reason, they were no longer worth the hassle.

Now, a friend of mine got stuck tonight with a Sangoma board that didn’t work right, no matter what he did, the configuration didn’t work right. Now, the guy has over 2 years experience with Asterisk, hell, the guy wrote a rock-solid callback system, that is serving over 10,000 customers daily. Surely, he should be able to install a simple Sangoma card, shouldn’t he? well, imagine my surprise when he called me on the IM, saying: “I now understand why Sangoma suck! They have no idea how to program or work with Linux, their installation process is a mess!”.

So, Sangoma (and its similar) are faced with a problem: We manufacture cards, they’re actually quite good, but damn it, they’re not fully Zaptel compliant, so we need various patches to make them work – which means, that a normal, non-guru person will surely run into problems installing them. So, what do they do? simple, they turn to the users for the solutions, supporting various initiatives (mainly: TrixBox), and transfer the entire process of provisioning the card into the distro, making it seem automatic. Great, the user can install in 2 minutes and be up and running, but at the background, they hide much of the work that needs to be done, making it a fairly unmanageable system.

Why do I say that? simple, I had about a dozen TrixBox based customers with Sangoma Quad PRI boards, which I migrated to Digium TE410 cards, simply because the integration was much much much better.

Now, I have no problem with the “me too” syndrome when “me too” actually means: “me too, but I’m better”, this creates a proper sense of competition, which is always good for the market and the consumer. But when “me too” means: “me too, but not as good”, the market suffers and the consumer suffers and even worse.

Lets take an example of a good “me too”. A good “me too” would be the OpenVOX mini-pci initiative. None of the manufacturers are currently making mini-pci based Asterisk boards, while OpenVOX had initiated an interesting niche here. Having done some embedded development lately, mostly on WRAP and ALIX, the possibility of a 4 port FXO mini-pci, in my book, is perfect. As Digium currently doesn’t make anything like this, then OpenVOX is it. If Digium decides to push out a mini-pci line, I would test it, if it is as good as OpenVOX and integrates easily, then I’ll shift.

Most people in Israel know me as a pure Digium guy, which means that I always use Digium products. But when such products are none existent, I will use a product that covers my requirements, even if Digium doesn’t make it. However, if and when Digium comes out with a similar product, I’ll revert to that product immediately – mainly for the sake of compatibility, simplicity and most importantly, the supporting of the project and the company behind it.