Catching Up With Chikka

Chikka Review September 2002

Terms of Chikka-ing
Let’s Get Ready To Download
Registration
Installation
Joining up via 277 or 2371
When’s the FREE part?
Uninstalling
The Good and The Bad

Version: Teal version 1.3.15 and Globe IM 1.3.17
Company: Chikka PTE Ltd.
Download: chikkasetup.exe, 3.64 mb. download
Site: www.chikka.com
OS: Windows 95/98/2000/XP/ME/NT 4.0

The ad made this promise: “Send and receive messages via your cellphone to and from PCs.” Whether intentionally or not, I can’t help noticing how it avoids saying that you’re actually getting something for free. A PC user is not charged when sending messages from PCs to phones. I would imagine that a statement mentioning this would make Chikka a far more arresting ad, with SMS – crazy Pinoys looking for every possible way to save on their texting costs. In any case, the prospect of instantly communicating with one another regardless of whether you’re using a phone or PC is the ad’s theme – and Chikka delivers on that well.

After some thought, Chikka is probably the most appropriate name for a Filipino-created and inspired Instant Messenger. I don’t necessarily believe that Filipinos are more prone to idle talk and chitchat anymore than any other nationality, but for sure IMs are the perfect medium for such activity.

Instant Messengers are difficult to imagine as useful productivity tools, which is possibly the most common reason why they are banned in many offices. Ask any MIS Manager or Office Manager in any large internet connected company, and I bet more than half would frown at the mere mention of IMs.

Why? Mainly because inspite of the high-technology employed in these systems, the great expense their creators have poured into their research and development, and the corresponding deluge of Press Releases declaring these as the communication technology of the future, veteran IM users know that despite the hype, there’s one thing that IMs are good for, and that is to serve as an excellent medium for sending each other corny jokes, sending friends URLs of “interesting” websites and generally spending copious amounts of time in front of your PC pretending to be busy while actually trading gossip and idle chit-chat. All this activity is captured well in one word in our local parlance: Chikka.

Terms of Chikka-ing

First, let’s get some facts down. If you go by Chikka’s website, there are so many different services that I guarantee you will get confused, as I was the first few days I started making this article. The website offers you choice #1. Chikkavb (aka Chikka IM, aka Globe IM, aka Smart I-Chat, aka Globe IM+, aka Teal, aka Chikka), of which there are two versions: the original Chikka Teal (version 1.3.15) and the Globe IM version (version 1.3.17), which unless I missed something is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as Chikka Teal with only cosmetic alterations.

Then there is Javalite, which is the web-only version and quite useful for when you have no access to a PC with an installed version. Finally, there’s Txt2Mail, which is not a “Chikka” downloadable or even installable program at all but a service that offers the ability to send email to a GSM phone ala text, by sending 09++(your cellphone number)@chikkatxt.com.

That’s all ok, but the confusing part is when while reading through their site, you encounter other products being mentioned such as GroupChat, Smart’s I-Chat and all those other services. These definitely should be given their own sections of the website and described thoroughly.

The experience kept me wondering whether there were other things I needed to download, especially because of the constant mention of Smart’s I-Chat. Globe had it’s IM, so since the site kept mentioning Smart I-Chat apparently Smart had one too. I spent THREE downloads trying to find this out. I downloaded the Teal version, the Globe IM version, and finally had to click the link at Step no. 5 of the instructions on “Mobile Registration” which went “You may also use the PC to send and receive Text Messages. To Download Smart I-Chat on your PC, click here.”. Sure there was a picture of the Teal IM beside it, but I downloaded again basically because it said I would download Smart I-Chat, and not Teal. 15 minutes later, I got Teal.

I think that the best way to avoid confusion is for them to redo their website, and place these services into clear separate areas from one another. Downloadables in one area, pure services in another, and promos elsewhere. Within, they need to be segregated as well. As it is, you’ve got promos sharing space within the “Products” Category, and haphazardly done as well. There are icons and bits of pieces of old and new promos in there, when it would be much better if they were placed in their own section, and categorized as either inactive, ongoing and such, with a list of winners, a bunch of pics and other details where they can promote it to death, but the Products section is certainly not where you should do that.

It would also help if they simply rename their downloadables differently. Globe IM and Teal are both named “chikkasetup.exe”, and it’s the simplest thing in the world to rename it to, say, “chikkaglobeim.exe” and later on to “chikkasmart.exe” for the simple reason that it helps avoid confusion.

Finally, if there’s no Smart I-Chat yet, then please they should say so with a simple declaration when it would be available, else people will wonder why they get something that looks and works suspiciously like Teal when a link says they’re supposed to get I-Chat.

Let’s Get Ready To Download

Before one gets to download Chikka you are asked which chikka version you prefer, Globe IM or Teal, and then asks if you are already a Chikka user. If not, you are asked again if you have a Globe or Smart phone, and to press the corresponding icon.

If you do not have a cellphone or wish to use Chikka for PC to PC communication only, another set of questions comes up. First you are asked if you learned of Chikka via Friends or Family, Ads or via a Chikka agent. This is somewhat incomplete because it does not include “Just found it all by myself while surfing around” or something to that effect.

At this point a prompt asks you if you are already registered, which I think is a useless extra step. This is because if you say you aren’t, you are made to register before you download. I consider this unecessary because once downloaded, you are asked again if you are registered or not, so apparently there was no need to ask that on the website anyway. Chikka should just let people download it as much as they like. If they’re not registered they’re going to have to do so anyway later on when they try to install it. Otherwise, every time a download session is broken, you’re going to have to enter details again just to resume your download.

The Website also doesn’t display essential details before downloading, such as which Operating System does it work with, file size and such. This would save Mac and Unix users time from having to find this out themselves, and the size of the file will help a downloader make an assumption on how long it will it take – an important consideration for dial up users who want to make the most of every minute they’re online. It doesn’t even say what the name of the file to expect is.

Registration

Anyway, next comes Registration. You get to choose your own 6 to 13 digit Chikka ID and Password. The rest is standard, asking things like Name, Country and Email, although there are some quirky questions like Age (instead of Date of Birth), Gender – with the choices: Male, Female and “Not Disclosed” and lastly “Other Personal Information”, which is possibly the last thing one would want to put on a non-secure website. Granted, Chikka marketing staff probably wanted people to place interesting things about them in this section. If so it would be a lot better if it would be accompanied by a short example to help users along plus a disclaimer stating one’s privacy rights.

But to anyone who’s ever created a member directory, the fact that Chikka’s registration process asks for Age instead of Date of Birth and having a third Gender option clearly stands out. Among others, one of the marks of a well made database is that it provides clear, pertinent information of it’s contents. If an entry is not marked one thing, it’s marked another and is marked clearly so. Therefore, it does not make sense to declare a person’s gender as “Not Disclosed”. A person is either Male or Female, or you can add if you like, lesbian and gay, but “Not Disclosed”?. That would be useless information and is of no consequence to anyone, taking up space in a database.

Finally, Chikka is also the ONLY registration process I’ve seen that asks for Age instead of Date of Birth. This clearly will not help Marketing efforts to determine user’s demographics. It will also severely limit the use of their database for other purposes – say for example in the future they decide to offer a dating service and match up users, one of the most popular services on the Internet – they will not be able to effectively do that because they only have age of the person when he, she or “it” signed up. These are basic flaws that could easily have been avoided if they had just stuck to how it’s usually done.

On the other hand, Chikka can possibly boast that they’ve got the only database that has a membership of, say: 30% male, 30% female, and 40% androgynous members, all remaining the same age forever.

Installation

While installing, it asks you if you want a Single User or a Multi-User installation. When I first encountered this when I installed the Teal version (1.3.15), I checked and rechecked what the difference was and I had to reinstall again and again using a different setting each time to try and find out what the difference was. The logical difference I thought was that you would not be able to change the user if you installed a “Single User” installation and vice versa. I only found out what that question was for when I installed the Globe IM version (1.3.17), which was nice enough to take the time to explain to me that the reason why it was asking was if I wanted Chikka to automatically log in or not when Chikka runs.

This is different from launching Chikka automatically every time one starts their PC. If you choose to, Chikka CAN start up automatically when you turn your PC on, but it will not log on automatically if you choose Multi-User mode. Single User Mode however will log on automatically, assuming you are the person who last used it.

The logic behind this is quite understandable. Using Multi-User mode, Chikka developers added an extra security layer that will ask for your username and password so that you can use it at an Internet Cafe and not have to worry that after you leave, someone else will start up Chikka, see your account details there (because you’re the last one who used it), log in as you and start terrorizing your friends.

My beef with this obviously well-intentioned “feature” is that there is very well no reason why they have to ask this during the installation process if it could be changed later on at the Preferences setting anyway. It merely added an extra step in the installation process. If they had to it would at least help if they just change the “Single User” or “Multi User” query into a plain question such as: “Do you wish to log in automatically when Chikka runs? Yes / No.” It’s purpose would have been far more easier to grasp the first time around. Essentially I was being given a choice the consequences of which I didn’t know and it would have saved me from the 4 or so times I installed and reinstalled just to find out what “Single User” and “Multi User” meant.

Better yet, Chikka developers can elect not to ask this at all. Frankly, there is no reason why anyone would want to run Chikka without wanting to log-in – a Chikka that’s running without being logged on is 100% useless – so why would anyone want to do that? Instead, once logged out a small checkbox below the username and password box asking “Save Username & Password?” would help assure Internet Cafe users that their identity is safe once they log out. But don’t credit me for that suggestion. That’s how the other, more popular IMs do it, and frankly it’s been pretty effective, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel in this case.

Joining up via 277 or 2371

You can join up by sending “I-Chat” to 277 (Smart) or “IM” to 2371 (Globe). My friend, a software developer and I tested the Globe system and we noticed that we weren’t sent our new account information as shown in Figure 2 of the mobile registration on Chikka’s website. Also we had to take two steps so we could get our password. It took some level of knowledge for us to use the interface texted to us, and we both seriously doubted a newbie would have found this user-friendly.

Eventually we received an easy enough menu of sending A, B, C, D, E or F, with corresponding commands each. Here the argument for being up front about what’s charged and what’s free rings strong and clear. What we wanted terribly to know was how much this was all going to cost us if we wanted to experiment by sending, say, “E – MyProfile” just to find out what that means, or “PROMO” to find out what their promos are. I would imagine that the possibility itself of being charged just to find out what promos are being offered would turn off a lot of people from asking this. Although of course, you would think that such information would be offered for free, you can’t be too sure. Again, especially for cheapos like this author and his friends, clear-cut information on what’s free and what’s charged would be highly appreciated.

As a footnote to this, it’s obvious that the logical thing to do is to keep checking one’s balance, unfortunately I’ve written off Globe or Smart’s Account Balance Checking as extremely unreliable and unpredictable, which of course did not help matters at all. While testing this, I had no idea how much time I would give the system to “catch up” to what my latest balance would be after sending “test” texts using Chikka. Among others, I wonder how Globe’s rounds off one’s account balance. Chikka charges cost P2.50, and neither Globe’s nor Smart’s balance checking doesn’t factor P.50s. Does it round of to P3.00, or P2.00?

I tried this by checking my balance before sending a message to my phone using the Chikka PC client. I had P83.00 in it, I sent one message, waited for 15 minutes, checked again and had P75.00 left. Since I wouldn’t know where to start pointing fingers if I had to, I just gave this up.

When’s the FREE part?

Ok, so here’s the deal: If you’re a PC user sending SMS, you get 30 credits if you’re a Globe user and 20 if you’re a Smart user per day, and these are as free as the wind. Needless to say, a PC user sending message to another PC user is also free. Yes sir, that’s the free text part, sure to bring smiles to every text-happy Pinoy everywhere.

Why their ads fail to mention this escapes me. Not only do people all over the world light up when they hear the word “free”, but I’m sure those who start using the service want to ask details about the “free SMS” right away. I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of first time users want to know about this ASAP. I think it would be a disservice of sorts if subscribers are not given absolutely clear information about what is free and not free. And finally, since they’re going to find out about it anyway why not broadcast the happy news immediately, instead of hiding it away in fine print or FAQs which few people read?

Anyway here’s how it gets tricky. If you send an SMS message via your phone to a Chikka PC user, it’ll cost you P2.50 per message (P2.00 if postpaid). That hurts if the one you’re sending to is in the country (it’s still P1.00 per message last time I checked), but still that’s not a bad deal at all if he’s abroad. With international SMS cost these days pegged at P10.00 per message, a 75% savings will go a long way.

Again if you’re a PC user, a message sent to you from a phone “replenishes” your daily credits, which effectively means that the person you’re sending to is paying for your own use.

Uninstalling

Uninstalling version 1.3.15 is easy as pie. Using the Control Panel to do this, I got rid of Chikka within a minute or so. I got a lot of practice doing this over and over again when I was trying to find out what the difference between Single User and Multi User was as I described earlier.

Version 1.3.17 (the Globe version) is an entirely different story however, using Control Panel > Add / Remove Programs proved useless, a message window appeared stating that an error occured, and that Chikka version 1.3.17 (the Globe version) may had been removed earlier, and would I care to remove the icons at the Program Manager. I said Yes to this, rebooted and icons including program were still there. I tried to use the uninstall program included in the Chikka Menu, but Windows just started to search for the program “Unwise.exe”, a utility that’s usually bundled with programs that are installed via the Wise installation program. Unfortunately, Wise is commonly used, and since the uninstall software couldn’t find it, Windows looked for the closest Unwise.exe, which was for another software. A quick check currently have four Unwise.exes lying elsewhere in my computer, none of which are Chikka’s.

The Good and The Bad

Let’s start with the bad. Chikka is slow as molasses in my ancient PIII. From opening the app (takes as long as 45 seconds), to waiting for the message window to open. Activating Chikka also activates messages that appear in the middle of the screen that say such arcane things as “Loading DialWindow skin properties..” and about ten or so similar messages, none of which mean anything to me and I really do not need to know, especially since they’re set to “Always On Top” and continually get in the way of whatever it is I’m trying to do.

There is also no auto-sensing if you have an internet connection. Instead, an annoying round message window (square in Teal’s case) with NO message in it comes up begging to get pressed OK. When you do so, it will exit Chikka altogether, which might surprise you if that’s not what you wanted to do.

If you ignore it, and it’s hard to do that since it’s also set at Always On Top and you can’t put it behind anything else, the Connection Options window comes up in a few seconds and assumes that you need to change your Server Configurations and such. Finally when you do get back online, you will have to enter your username and password to get online again since there is no single button that will allow you to do so.

There is a serious bug in the “Save Messages” function. This saves your conversation with any of your buddies on their server, and for some strange reason continuously bombards me with the same messages over and over again even if I don’t ask for it. Adding to our conversations only makes it worse, the next time I log in I’m sure to receive the messages Chikka saved once again, and not just the recent ones, but all of them since Day 1.

Because Chikka is ad-driven, it likes the attention, and since I like alt-tabbing across open applications, I inadvertently call on it from time to time, and it appears on the screen unneeded. The Globe IM interface, unlike Teal, is not “stretchable”. It’s cute and scores points in aesthetics, but you can’t make it bigger or smaller and that’s not the way to go if you have a long list of friends on your list.

All help files are also stored on their website, and this brings about a major beef. Help leads to FAQs, a Glossary and Troubleshooting, and even Glossary seemed to have been made by a writer with a marketing bent rather than a techie-person with an aim to get to the bottom of the situation and fix things. A sampling of a paragraph, (with some gratuitous editing on my part), goes:

What is a Java Client?
Chikka TXT Messenger’s Java version is a fast loading application, which can be used in any PC that has internet connection. Enjoy sending and receiving real-time, two-way text messages from any computer to a mobile phone, even on the GO! Since it’s web-based, there’s no downloading necessary, all you need to have is a web browser (e.g. IE4 or above, Netscape-will soon be supported).
Is my e-mail kept private and am I protected against unsolicited mail and spamming?

Yes.
TXT2Mail is supported by Chikka’s powerful and intelligent blocking system to offer protection from unsolicited mail and spamming. TXT2Mail utilizes several security measures to help safeguard the confidentiality of your personal identifiable information and, shall not, in any way, disclose and monitor the content’s of a users e-mail or text message.

It seems illogical to keep trying to promote the use of something that’s free, and in some cases, already being used. Help files should be written to get directly at the problem. Users usually aren’t in a good mood when accessing Help or FAQs, the only reason they’re there is because they’re experiencing a problem and it’s their last resort, and the last thing they’d want to see is promotional materials.

Finally, I received no response when I sent an email asking for help.

Good.

Here’s the good part. All messages I sent were instantly received by the recipient, just as quickly and effectively as a message sent the usual way via cellphone regardless of whether they were Globe, Smart, Touchmobile or Talk n’ Text. Chikka automatically sends the recipient name from the User’s List to the Online Users list, which acts as well as an assurance that the recipient is “online” (his phone is On) and received the message. I think that Chikka possibly has an advantage here that it probably should place on their ads – I only found this out by myself when I was experimenting with it. When my phone received a message I sent to it via Chikka and the Chikka app moved my name to the Online list. Conversely when I shut off my phone and tried to send a message to it via my PC, Chikka IM did not send my name to the Online User’s list and remained quiet.

Apparently, unless that was fluke (I tried this 4 or 5 times), here lies a possible way of determining whether a recipient’s phone received your message or not. In order for SMS to gain widespread official use, such as sending memos, receipts, bills and such, the sender needs to be assured that the message at least made it to the intended recipient’s phone – never mind if the recipient left his phone at the car or is otherwise unavailable – so long as one receives a confirmation that it’s been received is good enough. Ordinary postage mail works that way. Utility companies send their bill via post, and are reasonably assured that the mail they send gets to their subscriber’s homes by the Philippine Post Office (which makes it still questionable, but that’s another story).

Anyway, if Chikka is actually a dependable indicator of whether a message has been received by the recipient’s phone or not, it can serve as a medium for official messages – a possible application that can apply SMS to a higher level of use that would make it a viable application for businesses sending official documents and not just individuals trading small talk.

Logging On

The ability to log on using either your Chikka ID or email address is also very cool and increases ease of use while logging on. Now one does not have to remember arcane 6 to 8 IDs such as ICQ’s style, which issues unique numbers to identify you against others but unfortunately adds yet another set of digits that we have to remember along with password(s), email addresses and other such things. Anyone who’s every gotten confused which password is matched with which account in which service to what username will empathize.

Question is, if it was designed to work with email addresses then why not just use email addresses exclusively to begin with, and not use ID numbers at all?

Apparently after some testing the PC Chikka ID is Chikka’s “mobile number” so that it can send SMS to the mobile networks like a regular phone. During registration you are allowed to choose your own Chikka ID, but really I think one shouldn’t be allowed to. It’s of little consequence because once I start sending a message to people they’re going to save my number as an alias on their phones anyway.

The fact that you can log in with your email address and there is a properly working “forgot your password?” system (it emails you your password) makes choosing your own number even less important. A person signing up therefore spends valuable time racking his brains trying to think of a nice easy to memorize Chikka ID when in actuality he doesn’t need to remember it anyway, since he can use his email to log in on the PC Chikka and people save his number using his name on their phones.

Another issue with all this username and password business is the fact that it gets confusing when you sign up your phone. Because I signed up separately, as a PC user and again with my cellphone, I now had a PC password and a two PC usernames, which could either be my email address or my Chikka ID. I’m also supposed to have my phone username and password as well assuming I received the second message when I signed up telling me my username and password.

Chikka calls joining with a cellphone a “Unified Account” since you can use the same details for your phone and your PC. However, I already have a PC account I’ve used much earlier, and I’d like to see my old account “unify” with my phone account. There must be a way to integrate all this into one username and one password, and with that in mind there should also be a way to migrate my old buddy list to a new account.

Conclusion

All in all, Chikka is still a promising application that can become an essential tool for SMS lovers worldwide, not just Filipinos. This is it’s main purpose and the focus should be on that. As an Instant Messenger, it scores points and has a great future mainly because of this – a genuine SMS sending machine, and I call it so because it’s an application specifically created to send SMS, not even our phones are designed that way – SMS sending is mostly added as an afterthought. Also, it’s designed by Filipino developers, something we can call our very own, which is one of the reasons I expect to hear feedback directly from them. As I write this they’re only a few kilometers away from where I am.

But as an application per se, it comes up short in many points, some of which are basic. Many times I wonder why the developers didn’t just copy how other more popular IMs do things such as registration processes instead of inventing new ways to do it themselves.

The appeal of free text, really, is what brings people I know to Chikka. Not promos, not having a cool thing to look at on your PC, or anything of that sort. Sending text for free is a very compelling argument in the Philippines. Many people I know would jump at the chance of signing up to a website that sends free text faster than you can say “illegal activities”.

Chikka may have it’s strange flaws, but I probably will continue to use it occasionally because of this. If Chikka can improve on being an SMS sending application, fix a few minor bits and pieces here and there, and maybe eventually try to learn how other IMs get more users (hint: look at Trillian), the possibilities are extreme.

SMS via the phone is now used for such purposes as finding the exact location of people or establishments in the city, sending anonymous notes and matching users up, even participating in dialogues on TV. Matched with the internet, the potential can’t help but become even greater.

There’s certainly more to SMS than just do promos. If Chikka can learn to use what its got going for it there’s no reason why it shouldn’t gain more success.

1 thought on “Catching Up With Chikka

Comments are closed.