No Mr Bell! I want context and your profile! Who’s calling???

March 10, 2009

in Wikis

This is a comment I left on JP Rangaswami’s blog a few minutes ago. He writes a lovely post about Alexander Graham Bell. I read it and thought we need a better way to augment the setting up of voice calls. I don’t see enough focus there. So this is the comment I left.

I love this post too! Although calling someone to “come here” long ago became a joke with me. It reflects an autocratic time when “commands” came via the telephone. That’s one of the issues I still have. I think the receiver should be in control.

That means that our signaling system is no longer quite so appropriate. Yet why make this point?  Here on this historical reference. For me it is simple. We still delight in hearing another voice and we often forget how nice it is. Yes it may take our attention away from other activities, yet it is richer, and we get nuances that we will never get in text.

I have an observation coming from your post above. Telephony is increasingly falling to text at a time when a little “talk” could save the world.  Our text based gestures are failing us. I might write here that I send every email with an open invite to call me. Yet few ever do. I could add the same thought with this post. So what’s the problem.

Our credentials! If you were to phone me today other than on Skype (for which you would have to get approval) you would probably go to voice mail as an unknown number. There’s also a good chance that it could interrupt me at an in opportune time. Yet more likely I would smile and go “great” and take the call. Because it’s a connection that is a little outside my buddylist. And only voice can close this connection more quickly.

In our focus on trying to make voicify the web we haven’t or aren’t mastering an improvement in the gesture. I think you know I created Phweet. It sends a signal with the context for the call and attaches a Caller ID (some social network profile which I’m happy to use if you are which will broker the identity layer for us).

As a gesture it says… or can be attached in principle to anything I send by text. It’s a an offer to have that “voice” conversation.

Ringing out of the blue is basically dead. It appears. Yes the gesture of “I want to call you / I want to talk to you / Let’s have a conversation” has never been bigger or more important.  With such a move to text we need to bring more personality in before the call. Again approaches that give a rich callerID and context before the call without crashing the gates or providing unwanted interruptions is the way forward.

That’s why we got excited when we started sharing live telephone records. Stuart is talking to David etc in Twitter. Thus opening up voice conversations in real-time. For those outside the buddylist, or those that perhaps you don’t want to share all your channels with its a worthy solution. More importantly you can blow up the exchange after the call. I bet Alexander Graham Bell never thought of that!

  • Great post by JP and good comment too. When you say “We still delight in hearing another voice and we often forget how nice it is.” – I find myself hesitating to make the call, and often rely on 140 characs or less. Now if my callerID contains much more than a mere number, a more complete profile, it will change the social dynamics of the call. There’s a lot of power in shifting the control to the receiver of the call – and it allows the caller to provide rich context for the call.

    Your last line – “More importantly you can blow up the exchange after the call. I bet Alexander Graham Bell never thought of that!” Haha. It’s a great thought, especially as we are trying to protect our privacy!

  • I don’t agree with your claim that receiver didn’t control the call in traditional phone networks. In early times when phones were mostly used by privileged people, an agent of the intended receiver mediated the call. When it became widespread, for a while the receiver lost control. But once answering machines became routine, receivers used them to monitor the caller’s message before answering the call. Also many providers offer “whisper” service in an attempt to satisfy that need. Isn’t the dreaded IVR system a manifestation of receiver asserting control over the disposition of the call? Agreed that due to UI limitations, the interactions may be tedious; but depending on the predominant device used by Phweet users, this may or may not be true.

    By the way, I have been meaning to ask you whether you consider URL based signaling and use of third party authentication are novel? Didn’t SIP come up with the concept of SIP URI? I could embed Yahoo plugin in my blog so that my readers can use that to initiate a comm session? Aren’t they prior art? About two years back I wrote a blog entry where I described how we can use OpenID as an authenticator in a SIP session. Isn’t that a prior art?

  • Aswath, right in the stately home one had the butler to answer… presume that is what you mean. While answer machines may have done the same thing and your whisper service example is one all of those are intrusive and not aware of context. As for answer machines becoming routine I don’t see them on mobiles and if I go to the third world well….

    Re your IVR’s. They are personal based systems they are routing systems. It may be the company taking control over where calls go.

    In Phweet you choose your endpoint that’s true. Depending on the set up you can again have the same missed me setups or be sent into a voice mail is some system auto answers etc. As the host I’d see this a poor manners.

    Re prior art – I don’t think they are the same thing. We’ve promoted a layered approach to setting up context and providing profiles before the call. Yes you can initiate a call from a web page. So what???

  • So what?? How is Phweet any different from that? The embed code is nothing more than an URL. Phweet uses Twitter to store and access that URL; Yahoo used my blog page. Just like the accompanying text in Phweet carries the context of the invite, the text accompanying the widget and the blog post carries the context of the call. As for profile, I get it from Yahoo? Finally, Yahoo allows for escalation of comm from text to voice to video.

    This is not taking anything away from Phweet. But I have heard you mention about patenting this and I am trying to understand the scope of that patent(s).

  • This post had nothing to do with claiming ownership or patents. So I don’t really get where this string of thoughts is coming from. It’s good to know Yahoo is doing something similar – best of luck to them!!!

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