Monthly Archives: July 2008

Sydney Plus acquires Cuadra STAR product line

As users of Cuadra STAR, we were alerted late last week by Cuadra Associates of their acquisition by SydneyPlus Group of Companies. It was a considerate call to make, reassuring us that all will remain intact (management team, technical support and development staff to remain with the company, etc.). The deal was not unexpected given the current marketplace for smaller players like Cuadra Associates. There’s some news on the deal here.

Having worked in special libraries for the bulk of my career, I have a special fondness and high respect for the class of products that Cuadra STAR fits into. If you don’t know Cuadra STAR, you may have heard of a similar product in the same marketplace from InMagic. Both products have their strengths, but I personally give my thumbs up to STAR despite InMagic’s bigger market share.

I’ve used both products and I recall the sense of WTF I had with my first experience working with Innopac (and also later SirsiDynix’s Unicorn). With Cuadra STAR you can change indexes, work with non-MARC fields and databases, use one of their turnkey solutions or build your own from scratch.  You have accessible interfaces, very good API support (we’re big users of  Cuadra’s XML and STARDB APIs), and with a reasonable learning curve, STAR remains a strong candidate as a backend database for any special library. Affordable and cost-effective, I was always surprised how many smaller libraries still overlooked these tools in favour of the big clunkers.  For reasons I won’t go into detail here, we use both Cuadra STAR and Millennium in our shop (the former due to bibliographic database requirements that just can’t be met with the big clunker).

Cuadra STAR was in many ways providing a model for what I thought a big vendor systems should be like: cost-effective + turnkey options + general database functionality + power API support when the job requires it.  Cuadra Associates did well by not exercising any of the usual vendor lock-in tricks, so what data goes in can come out and their licensing model was reasonable. They’ve been around and stable for decades, so it looks as if this acquisition will be a good move for the privately held SidneyPlus.

As usual with these acquisitions, what will happen to the smaller company’s product? Clearly, SidneyPlus wants to get a foothold into those niche markets where most of Cuadra’s customers reside: special libraries, museums, archives and company libraries. In the short term, I don’t think Cuadra’s customers have much to worry about as it’ll take some time just to integrate the businesses, identify and exploit the synergies, etc.  And I can think of a lot of worse players to be driving this acquisition. It’ll also be good for Cuadra Associates: the company has a stable and loyal customer base, but marketing and growing the company to the next level would have been a serious challenge given the competitive pressures coming from open source as well as other vendors reaching into their marketplace.

So for now it’ll be in SidneyPlus’s court to decide: the usual customer grab, or something better for all their customers?

More telecom shenanigans

Two of Canada’s largest telecoms announced plans for charging additional fees for incoming text messages on their mobile users’ subscription plans according to today’s Ottawa Citizen article. For Bell Mobility customers, the fee would include charging 15 cents for incoming text messages (apparently including charging for spam messages!).

In arguing for the change:

The companies say the phenomenal growth in popularity of text messaging – to 45.3 million daily today from 369,000 per day in 2002 – has increased costs on their networks to keep up with the demand.

So with higher costs, then pass it on – that’s fair enough, right? But as consumers footing the bill, how can we assess this?  Most marketplaces (imho) have consumers who are just too busy, too uninformed, or just plain lazy when it comes to being active, informed, and engaged with their vendors – but maybe not in this case. There was enough of a consumer uprising that even the Minister at Industry Canada joined in on the consumer backlash.

So could it be a fair price increase? Sounds not, when you consider this assessment:

..wireless technology expert Ken Chase said he doesn’t accept the rationale from Bell and Telus that the volume of text messages places great demands on the networks. The consultant with the Toronto-based firm Heavy Computing said that while 45.3 million text messages sent daily sounds like a lot, the amount of space this takes up on a network and related costs to a telecom company are minuscule.

A text message sent via mobile phone can be no more than 160 characters, and each character is about a byte. If 45 million text messages are sent throughout Canada every day and each message is about 100 characters, this totals 4.5 gigabytes. This amounts to about the same amount of gigabytes required to download two or three high-resolution movies from the Internet.

And in comparison to the cost of transmitting a voice call on cellphones, text messaging chews up far less space on a network. “A voice call is five kilobytes a second to get an average quality call. That’s the equivalent to 50 or 100 text messages,” Mr. Chase said [my emphasis].

So a whopping 4.5 GB of text messaging data per day across Canada! How many of us would have taken the time to figure that one out?

On a related note, there’s a similar consumer backlash associated with the introduction of the first iPhone in Canada.  See the Ruined iPhone site.

Postscript (from a letter to the editor):

At the rate of 15 cents per incoming message, and with the industry standard maximum length of a text-messages being 140 characters, the minimum price per megabyte of this data is a whopping $1,123.47. That’s only to receive SMS text messages.