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February 2004 Archives

February 1, 2004

Skype: "Catch Us if You Can!"

A great article in last weeks (Jan 26th) Fortune written by Dan Roth on Skype. He travels to Estonia and beyond tracking down and talking to the creators of Kazaa and Skype. Can't help but wish I had been travelling with him. For potential innovators what is interesting is that Skype emerged from over four years of experience. Experience in the music industry, experience building P2P systems and a perspective built round intellectual property, lawyers and regulation. Headquarters now being established in London.

Two quotes really caught my attention.

It costs Vonage-the top provider of paid Internet telephony, with 97,000 users-almost $400 to add a new customer. It costs Skype one-tenth of a cent.

"What Skype is doing is like a toy," says Hossein Eslambolchi, AT&T's chief technology officer and president of AT&T Labs. "They will realize they can't scale it, they don't have a brand like the AT&T brand, and they don't have the local footprint, which we have. It's going to be very hard to compete with someone like AT&T."

I would have liked to have seen (in Dan's article) some reference to Skype's experimenting with forums and even bloggers. The "SkypeMe" initiative, the rapid infusion of ideas has from my perspective clearly helped Skype. My bet is they are learning from their marketplace faster than the "traditional company" or organization. That's a cost saving for development. The trick now is to accelerate

Add to that the tenth of a cent that they are demonstrating very effectively. Orkut like Skype is capturing people at a very low cost. I mentioned it with my first post on Orkut that I'd already created a larger network there than on Ryze or any of the other networking services. It's also true for Skype. However for Skype I don't know if I'm unusual or not (I assume I am) however I have more "connections" on Skype than I have on MSN, Yahoo and AIM combined.

Then there is the other perspective my SBC bill last month was $72m my Comcast Cable $91(std tv + broadband) and my mobile $70. Franky I can't wait to get rid of SBC, that is the least useful of all these services. I only keep it for international calls for which my bill has been cut by more than half in the last five month due to Skype. Plus I spend more time talking.

February 2, 2004

Is Orkut Disruptive

Hate it or love it it is hard to ignore. Drop out of the blogworld for a week and just start ORKUTTING your newsreader. Newsreaders make it so easy to catch up on posts and difficult to quote or capture them. From behavior to security breaches, Orkut growth appears to be continuing.

What intrigues me is the potential social networking software represents for disruptive innovation. It really clicked today when I saw Dave Winer's comments on Orkut as Google's identity system. Not that I believe that is the end game or the only one. Rather his example perfectly highlights how new value networks can emerge simply because a disruptive innovation is is creating a new context for competition and consumption.

The interesting thing about all the social networking services so far is they haven't impacted (for the most part) on how business is done. So using Dave's example the ad placement co's, and (add to this) the direct mail companies aren't taking an active role in their development. Similarly, the telephone companies don't see them as new dialing systems, or the spammers a threat to access, or the retailers as a threat to buying power.

So what's the test for disruptive market potential? Interpreted from Christiansen (The Innovators Solution)
First people have never before been able to aggregate their information in this type of fashion. So for the most part we've let the retailers do the buying for us, or the telephone company hold the numbers. These services were centralized but that centralization was location based and so is increasingly inconvenient. Information can use global nodes. Christiansen goes on to say that these type of market innovations are competing against "non-consumption" (in this case it wasn't possible before at a price that worked). Then more importantly when critical mass forms they absorb or is it consume what came before. For example could evolved services consume e-mail?

In the dating area (constantly quoted) I'm pretty sure the overall dollar market has grown. What is disappointing is there are not more comments like Dave's suggesting this is Google's identity play. It may well be and then it might not. The point is not enough effort is going into understanding the disruptive nature of this technology. A year ago I got really excited when I decided to start digging deeper into Ryze, and what was happening with DIgital Identity. My view hasn't really changed. Companies that want to prosper better take a long term view and not just at social software, but expand horizons to include communications and mobility. Frankly that's what scenarios are for.

Questions remain on how to make money. The problem is primarily perspective. The models to date are typically based on subscriptions, rather than creating power for the emerging value network. Social networks are tied to information asymmetries. Not enough work is being done to identify where rapidly forming social networking services can change information asymmetries. When they do --- their owners will be facilitating markets.

Dave is speculating on the uses of Orkut. If Orkut (or;any other premium service) provides a way for Google to get credit card information and other personal details (demographic data), it can begin the process of changing adwords to target keywords and user profiles. This would let them charge more for premium click-throughs and serve to differentiate their advertising service from all others. John Robb]
Scott Rosenberg wonders what's the big deal with href="http://www.orkut.com/">Orkut. Lots of people are wondering, me too. Like Scott, this is the first one I've joined, although I've been invited countless times to join Friendster, LinkedIn, etc etc. Like David Weinberger, I'm not impressed. It's a puzzle, why would Google bother with this? Well, first, it doesn't have to be very useful for Google to try it out. They've launched lots of speculative services that have failed to find users. This one is finding users. So what can they do with it? Easy. It's their identity system. At some point they'll add a web services interface so our comment systems can connect to their back-end to validate users. Now you can go to one place to see all your comments. Then it gets better. Give it your credit card info, and then when you go to an Orkut-enabled e-commerce site, you can have one-click ordering (modulo a certain patent). Think about all the relationships Google has with sites that run their ads. Even I run their ads on one of my sites, and it's a pretty good deal, that one site pays for the bandwidth on all my sites. Anyway, that's a ramble. The net-net -- it's Google's identity system, and if you trust them, it can be yours too. Scripting News

February 9, 2004

Skype and the Mobile Phone

Here's just part of the reason I want my next mobile phone to have bluetooth.

Skype — a software firm run by Swedish entrepreneur Niklas Zennström — expects to complete a deal with an unidentified handset maker to incorporate software allowing users to make free calls to other mobile or PC users with the same software. For such phones to work, the handset would need built-in wireless Internet access enabling mobile users to bypass conventional networks to make VoIP calls. The caller would also have to be in a wi-fi "hot spot" to get Net access.

TIME Europe Magazine: Good Call -- Feb. 16, 2004

I wouldn't mind a wireless headset too!

VoIP - Dialing & Always On

Is it time for a new "always on" study? Andy Abramson picks up on the BBC link below on VoIP and how new programs like Skype are changing the meaning of dialing or making a call. Still the premises behind the article stay remain very much within the boundaries of thinking about phones as phones. I believe that more fundamental shifts in behavior are afoot.

The contrarian would consider whether "always on" changse access in ways that infact make getting to a person more difficult rather than easier.

Imagine a world in which,,,,, you are in a series of online conference calls. Some are almost permanently on. You can no longer dial me.... the question is whether you can get access to one of my conferences. You might just need a little social networking product to help you find someone out over the network. May have to holler, just like trying to locate someone on a playground.

The BBC Magazine has an interesting discussion story about VoIP and how it is changing communications.

By recognizing that the paradigm has changed from dial, talk, hang up, it is showing that how voice communciation is changing.

Free services like Skype, SipPhone, Firefly all now mean that instead of typing and chatting via an IM client, you can now "talk" to the other party in real time. For those who are "always on" the phone becomes less and less of the primary means of communication with tools like email and IM at their disposal. Now with high enough voice quality being available for free think of these new VoIP services as the intercom for the distance workers.

[Andy Abramsom]

February 10, 2004

Tom Coates on ETech

Tom Coates has a great set of posts coming out of ETech. Wish I was there! This is the summary of day one in total. Is it Flickr over Orkut already? I have an account ---not yet enough time to check it out. When will these sites bring voice in???

So ETCon Proper Day One ends and I'm basically high on some kind of highly emotionally charged intellectual hysteria-generating buzz. So far I've only managed to write about the things that have caused me frustration and irritation - probably because irritation can be easily quantified and described while the enjoyable papers cause an explosion of possibilities that are hard to collate and contain. The papers I've found most stimulating today have been threefold:

The first two in particular I can't rave enough about and have pushed me into some kind of weird euphoric intellectual trance - but I think it's best that I talk about them later when I'm feeling more centred and can produce a more rational response. The Castranova piece on cyberspace economies intrigued me and stimulated me because of the question-and-answer component rather more than the paper itself - which was more of a bringing-up-to-speed piece for people who haven't been reading Terranova or read Richard Bartle's Designing Virtual Worlds.

But it was the final talk of the day that was the most heady, but more because of the launched product and the play around it than the talk itself. I'm going to let Cory describe what was launched because - frankly - I'm a bit fried:

Flikr is a social image-sharing application: it's a mechanism for creating ad-hoc chats, using a drag-and-drop GUI interface that lives inside your browser, and share images from peer-to-peer and within conversational groups.

I've beta-tested this at various points and at each time I've been struck by Ludicorp's amazing combination of utilitarian, usable interface aesthetic and genuinely witty whimsy. As Ben Ceivgny, a developer on the project, said:

We collect images with cameraphones and so forth, but we have no good mechanism for advancing them out into the world. Here's a mechanism for batching them into a locked-and-loaded tool for firing them into the world.

I'm not a Ludicorp adviser, but I have been beta-testing it. It's bloody good fun and I highly recommend it. Much much better than Orkut - introducing Flickr!

Read the comments


February 11, 2004

My UnBlogged List

I just thought I'd compose my unblogged list tonight. It's a place setter if nothing else. It has no live links. The still unblogged:

  • An update from Tech-Muck, particularly a dicsussion with Etienne Wenger on Identity Theory.
  • The changing face of conferences. What happens when everyone is web-enabled and using a wiki? What happens to the flipchart activities? How does it impact on listening?
  • Holding the Crest Spin brush. Power is going into consumer products, particularly those where tools can be enhanced.
  • Stowe Boyd covered Gush a two pane IM system in great detail. I'm going to be trying it out.
  • Jerry Michaelski shared his brain at Tech-Muck --- really I mean "the Brain" program. Jerry just has more entries than anyone else. However it makes for an interesting possible directory interface. It's also short sited not to connect it to Blogs and RSS feeds.
  • Ah then there is a new search program. Eurekster. Not sure I want to share my searches with everyone. Still will check it out.
  • Then it is time to consider Google's future strategies. Orkut is a bigger play than just social networks. Potential it is a gateway for tomorrow phone system. Watchout!
  • Blogging - simply what I've learned recently doing a couple of simple installs.
  • How social networks are changing the definition of self. And a follow-up to Danah's ETech paper.
  • Jon Husband and connecting to the game of life.

  • February 13, 2004

    Go Flickr Go Figure

    Final questions. Could Flickr stimulate a new visual chat language? Will cameraphoneaholics adopt it? Will it change how people share phone pictures? Will it expand and grow the market for chatrooms (they use the word forums)? Will anyone really go beyond looking at the interface and wishing that someone would solve and integrate the "chat " and "presence" problem? Who else thinks that screen space is now at a premium?

    There are days when I want to rave about emerging social software and others when I want to rant. Today I realize I'm just going to have to break up my efforts. I've been playing with both Flickr and Gush side by side this morning. That's probably not a good idea for they are radically different and will serve different audiences. As always each one has a little of what I want and is not really what I want at all. In the end they both leave me feeling a little empty.

    This post is only about Flickr, the emerging story of a small band of programmers launching a new product on the world. They've met their deadline and now shipped (probably) not quite sure what they have unleashed. So lets start with the Flickr announcement by Stewart Butterfield at Etech...

    It is too hard to figure out how to use, even though everything is easy-as-heck drag and drop. But people aren't expecting drag and drop. When I demo it, people REALLY, get it. I worry that the people stumbling in will just stumble out again without understanding what is going on.
    Sylloge: We ship!

    I have to concur. See too Scobleizer . It's still at a stage where personal demonstrations matter. Ross says: "best social software at ETech" and Judith makes a very relevant connection to Greg Elin's Fotonotes It is only this afternoon that I start to get the drag and drop going when experimenting with more pictures and dragging others into conversations. Alan Reiter should introduce this to the camera phone audience. You can e-mail your pics direct to your shoebox in Flickr and then share them with friends.

    The other night I posted Tom Coates entry from ETech. He said it was much better than Orkut. It's actually not a comparison at all. As I've experimented I've come to the realization that it serves a different purpose altogether. Like Gary Lawrence Murphy I'm not sure I can give it rave review.

    The paint isn't quite dry and of course it is getting rave a-lister reviews --- their innofateful share-hook is that real-timeyness ... which seems to mean signing up for yet another disconnected IM. Hard to say other than the caution, "Flickr is built on Ludicorp's platform for messaging and event distribution" and Caterina's comment "today George and I were trying to greet every single person that came in ..." TeledyN: My Friend Flickr

    Then "Where's my mind" see's behind the screen and get's the extra meaning. This post stopped me from abandoning it and drove me forward while eWeek gives it the quick heads up PR overview. Guess I was also lucky to get welcomed to Flickr by Frank Boosman one of their advisors today. Still how many hours should one spend on these things?

    From an end-user viewpoint, Flickr is chat photo sharing social networking. If you think about it from a photo sharing-centric point of view (which is only one way of looking at it), the social networking determines with whom you want to share your photos, while the chat provides a narrative context for them. But it's subtler than that. Is Flickr a photo sharing application? Yes. Is it a chat service? Yes. Is it a social networking tool? Yes.

    From a technical standpoint, Flickr is built on Ludicorp's existing engine technology, which means it's a Flash front end communicating with a J2EE back end using an XML-based protocol. pseudorandom: Flickr Launches

    The thec really did impress me and yet I was instantly frustrated. Almost all the pictures I have on my hard drive were taken on high quality. The system won't upload them at higher than 500mb and I didn't have the time to convert them. An auto converter is mandatory, I'm not going to resize etc them one by one. I wanted to share some MP3's straight away but I'm betting that is not on. I'm not sure what all this photo sharing does for bandwidth and I'd bet the RIAA would have something to say about music sharing. Later I just grabbed images from Google to share. On the other hand Frank doesn't say enough about the forum component. We could see thousands of forums (PictoChat Rooms?) just like you see them on the IM platforms. "Adult" channels may pose a challenge for Flickr.

    There is potential for things to come. When in a chat session with another right clicking on their name provides the typical Macromedia (cam/mic/etc) settings. If you want expansion then "voice" activation will be a must add. These functions already work in other platforms, why not here too? Bandwidth again? Flickr also provides another example of why we increasingly need a multi-screen setup on our desktops. At least it can reside on my second screen (I note Dina's added one too! - I must blog the rationale!). Otherwise it simply takes over my desktop and hides any work I may want to do.....

    The net net is this. I'm not recommending my friends try out Flickr, IMHO it is too difficult and too time consuming to get them to play and little things will get in the way. This is in stark contrast to Orkut where connections are quickly made. Flickr also has a ratcheting up of relationship status. This is frustrating. Really does everyone have to start as an acquaintance?

    If you want to experiment with Flickr I may leave it on for awhile, although I don't think I'll be here in a week. I became frustrated as hell when I first logged in and created a profile around "stuart henshall" then logged out and created one for "stuart" and then deleted it. I wanted "Stuart" instead. Now it won't let me have it (or the old one back) and set up e-mail address conflicts. Concurrently I registered something a little less obvious, but don't know "socially" what it is best to be in under. Frankly some pseudonym seems smarter. Why's that? This is a place where you may begin by sharing many photo's with people you don't know. In such a situation where the norm already appears to be "cryptic names" I think I find my full name too revealing. I'd also say the same about Yahoo chat. This is not a place where I'd want to be taken too seriously.

    Next little gripe would be around "online contacts". There is no double click functionality in Flickr. Instead hold the button and then initiate what you want to do. I find it weird. I want to double click to start a conversation with an online friend. I can right click if I want an alternate. Later you can DRAG someone new into an already going conversation. Seems you can't drag to initiate. The drag and drop the picture in is great! As noted that's a real threat to Yahoo style chats. When people first arrive Flickr should provide a few pictures or make it clear you can select some easily from the public gallery. Possibly some of these pictures will become tomorrow's smileys, more importantly it confirms the intent and the type of behavior they are trying to encourage. That is chat with pictures. Be interesting to watch what sort of visual language that becomes.

    February 16, 2004

    Breakthrough Skype Conferencing Solution

    The promised Skype conferencing capability is nearing launch. The preview version is available for additional testing today. To confirm I just connect a conference with Bay Area (2), France and India. Great call quality. I then connected another with China and Bay Area. All off my IBM t-40 laptop. Sound quality was pretty good. There appeared to be no lag. I had excellent voice and sound quality although not all participants could claim this 100% of the connection time.

    Skype Launches Free Conference Calling
    LUXEMBOURG - Up to 5 People Can Talk Together From Anywhere in the World -
    Skype Technologies S.A., the Global P2P Telephony Company that offers consumers the ability to make free voice calls using their broadband connections, today announced the world's first peer-to-peer (P2P) Internet telephony conference calling feature, allowing up to five friends to talk with each other simultaneously, regardless of geography. The new version also includes a multiple call hold feature that allows for 16 callers to be simultaneously put on hold by a single user.
    Scoop: Skype Launches Free Conference Calling

    An early release on 0.97 is on the Skype forums. (UPDATE: Note this file downloads as beta-preview and still registers as when installed. However lots more functionality) Where Skype's small team needs help is with "getting the numbers" for testing. I'd find it pretty hard to immediate conference six people in and start a conference and see if the system breaks.

    We have been working hard on our next release and we are pleased to make this available to our forum readers before the general public. You can get the latest version of Skype here: http://download.skype.com/SkypeSetup-Beta-Preview.exe

    Note that we have identified a bug which may be specifically related to IBM Thinkpads (T40) whereby when they try to add a 6th conference participant they get Blue Screen of Death error. Please let us know here if you see this error (or any other feedback) as soon as possible along with which setup you are using. As with any beta release, we encourage you to download and use Skype at your own risk. Thanks for helping us to test and improve Skype! Skype - free conferencing version - Feedback pls.

    It looks easy. I got the head's up on it from Bill Cambell when I logged on this morning.

    How to conference:
    If you want to dial several people all at once and start a conference call with them, you first need to select participants from your Contact List by holding "ctrl" and clicking them. Once they have been selected, click the conference toolbar button. This will show you the conference tab and you will see the names of the participants you have called. If and when these participants answer your call, they will be added to the conference.

    Or, if you are already in an active call and would like to add an additional participant to a conference, you can select the person you want to add to the conference from your contact list and click the conferencing toolbar button OR you can simply right-click a new contact from your Contact List and choose "Invite to conference"

    Keep in mind that the host of the conference (the person who started the conference) is the only person that can add new participants. In addition, because Skype conferences are done Peer-to-Peer, it's important that the conference host (the person who starts the conference) has a good Internet connection and computer. If you are planning to conference with many participants you should choose the person with the best internet connection to be the initiator (host) of the conference.

    Summary: Breakthough conference calling application, will work globally with quality broadband connections and recent PC's. Text messaging is maintained with individuals although there is no aggregated conference call text system from what I can see.

    Skype Conference Calls II

    Skype's conferencing announcment today takes us ones step closer to the "always on" world. We can expect a new wave of excitement as new users now discover new and very compelling reasons to try out Skype. From always on, running multiple conferences, new incoming call functionality, and then bridging functionalities across different programs.

    Quick Reflections:
    After my first Skype conference calls I realized how just how "different" it is. In a traditional conference call you dial-in to a phone number and the conference is pinged as you enter. No-one knows who is coming in unitl they announce themselves. These calls are usually scheduled for a specific time. Hardly a spontaneous way to connect a few people or in the "spur of the moment" bring someone new into the conversation. Phil Wolff met my Dad today! So if you haven't tried it here's what happens.... I'm Skyping with you and want an additional person in the conversation.... I right click on the new contact in my friends list and that individual is added in to the conversation. My screen (see TDavid for picture) expands to show the new connection. I can introduce them, knowing exactly when the connection is established. If you want more info on them you can right click and view their profile. You need 0.97 to see them once added. Either party in a two way conversation can initiate a conference call.

    After the first time... you realize that making a conference call just became that much easier. More importantly, being always on in Skype doesn't mean you will miss calls from others. You could simply toggle between your "permanent conference" and "individual" calls. Given the number you can put on hold you can be linked and in and out of multiple conferences at any time. Although you personally can only hold one. Experimenting with the auto answering functionality may become interesting here.

    Then it is also a surprise (BIG SURPRISE) the first time that you are in a Skype call and another Skype call is incoming. To date we've not had this functionality. This puts call waiting to shame! For it is not just a buzzing, rather I see their name and have a choice I can put the other person on hold, I can text them or dial them back and add them into the orginal call expanding it to an instant conference call. Or I can just leave them on hold etc.

    I quickly missed a "conference text" capability or even the capability to message all with a link. While in a conference currently you can continue texting one to one however there is no group texting capability. I imagine there are some additional issues to overcome. Perhaps a short-term Skype solution is provide a broadcast text component for the conference moderator that messages all simutaneously. Thus a link could be shared quickly. Almost concurrently with this I found myself in an IM session with Stewart Butterfield Ludicorp and Flickr. It would be pretty neat to run a SkypeFlickr conference tomorrow. I do wonder if programs like these could be activated by the Skype callto: function. Thus an inbound Skype call would provide a Fickr profile (or a group of my choosing) and thus enable photo conference..... etc.

    What could be coming?
    We've posted earlier in these pages about the potential for premium pricing plans, and the business model. I believe we can add to that list a premium conference services which will include a time based dialing capability with advance notification and the name of the conference handled with a group text message capablity. Other functionality could quickly be added. The thing is that Skype is already proving that "integration" strategies for voice are probably flawed. I regularly use Skype and Glance, have tried Skype and Groove, use Skype and Yahoo etc.

    I'd expect that more than five participants will become a premium conference service.

    Expect to see Skype adopted by gaming kids.

    Tomorrow's Experiment?
    I'm still thinking about how to establish a virtual room, a little like an IRC chat channel. The problem is a the moment that conferences have to be initiated. You can't dial in and be bridged to a conference. Bill Campbell demonstrated that using "TightVNC" you could log to a webpage and then instruct the conferencing computer to call you. This isn't going to fly for the majority. However, it would be pretty neat to run a series of conferences where you could sign up and automatically be connected when the "threshold" number is reached. Similarly, a group may use another machine to time schedule conferences. Why think about this? I believe there are opportunities for workgroups to have an always on conference. This would bring virtual workgroups closer together. If you initiate this... via Skype as the initiator you can only run the one conference throughout the day. At the moment you are limited to five people.

    I bet there are more ideas out there!

    February 17, 2004

    Morpheus a Phone Company Too?

    The latest VoIP announcement suggests communities driven by fat broadband connections will join the VoIP telephony game. Streamcast's announcement below is correctly identified as a VNO or Virtual Network Operator by TechDirt. Short-term the opportunity exists to convert a number of large communities (eBay comes to mind) over to VoIP. In the case of eBay they have an incentive to bring the cost of calls to zero. Given the hours ebayers spend online it would be a pretty neat service. While despite current optimism the flat rate plans aren't going to do it in the long run. In fact the Vonage model probably has a pretty short life ahead. Concurrently the need for adaptors will be eliminated in most households.

    StreamCast's jump into VoIP is part of broader trend among peer-to-peer software makers, which are trying to use their presence on broadband-enabled desktops to launch Internet phone service. Several months ago, file-swapping software maker Kazaa unveiled Skype, a peer-to-peer VoIP service that's been downloaded six million times already, according to the company. StreamCast's voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service is open to the 120 million people that have downloaded Morpheus, provided they also buy a Morpheus-branded adapter. The adapter is needed to allow traditional home phones to make calls over a broadband connection.

    Techdirt's perspective: Perhaps Mike has it right. Anyone can set up a phone service. The real question is where the value added will be. It won't be in the cost of the calls or a cheaper service. It will be in sound quality and enhancement, and in the ability to connect it to information and location sources. It may have no relationship or it might just be an interesting look at what "voice" attributes could be enhanced. See todays launch notes on Wave Market and apply a voice context, then add stereo.

    The obvious connection most people make will be with Skype, the software-based voice-over-the-internet play, because it was written by the folks who created Kazaa - a competing file sharing system to Morpheus. However, the Morpheus offer is quite different, and opens up a much more interesting line of discussion. In this case, Morpheus is just becoming a virtual network operator (VNO). More commonly, people have talked about mobile VNOs (MVNOs) such as Virgin Mobile, where some other network operator handles all the dirty technical details, and a company like Virgin simply slaps their brand and marketing efforts on top. In this case, Morpheus is basically offering a Vonage-like service (powered by i2 Telecom), but with their own brand. It will be interesting to see if other brand companies start jumping into the VoIP VNO business as well. It's even easier to do than jumping into the MVNO business, and I could see a lot of companies deciding that there's a fit - though, it may be a tough sell to a lot of customers. Are people really going to gravitate to a Morpheus service over a Vonage offering at the same or similar price? Still, one of the nice things about such a VoIP system is just how easy it must be to create your very own VNO. How long until companies are offering the ability to automatically set up your own VoIP telephone company the same way you become an Amazon affiliate or put a Google search on your page? Anyone interested in signing up for a Techdirt phone service? Techdirt

    Wave Market is worth more study:

    WaveIQ consists of three software products, all now available:
  • WaveSpotter—a cellular map interface that allows users move about, letting users drill down to street level and post or consume blogs.
  • WaveBlog—a company-hosted super blog serving as a multiple channel informational clearinghouse engineered by uber blogger Russell Beattie, WaveMarket director of blog engineering.
  • WaveAlert—wireless operator infrastructure that allows users to be notified whenever they enter or leave a designated area. The server software powers a scalable system that reduces network loads and hardware requirements.
  • February 18, 2004

    Skype's Mobile Conference Potential?

    Last night I had a mind bender from a friend who said: "With our solution each Skype conferencee (each on a different continent) could be on a cell phone - and each one could be on a different continent to their PC-now there's a weird extension!"! It sounds pretty farfetched and I'm still trying to get my head around it. Yet effectively this is just one of the possible implications that may emerge from current progress.

    PCPro gets the news out today heralding in Skype's new conference service, while Clay Shirky sums up my ramble from two days ago in a nice crisp short sentence. However, I think it runs deeper.

  • Today sees Skype claiming the accolade of the world's first IP-based conference-call service using peer-to-peer technology. PCPro
  • The biggest difference between VoIP and the circuit-switched phone network we've got is not going to be cheap phone calls. It's going to be ridculouly easy group-forming. Many-to-Many

  • Via Roland I know more than a few perked up their ears at the next link from Telepocalypse. This brief paper makes clear the emerging disruptive world of WiFi. When WiFi become mobile many new things happen and not only with mobility but also the handsets and who competes in that market.

  • You don't have to be a genius to see that low-latency plus high-bandwidth looks like a tasty recipe for next-generation IP-based voice apps. Voice is still the aśkiller app. But it is evolving once freed from the clammy dead hand of circuit telephony. Should enterprises start demanding end-to-end encypted voice, then Flarion can deliver it using off-the-shelf technology. Integrate presence, IM and voice a-la Skype? No problem. Anyone left with a faux-circuit network will be left spluttering. Telepocalypse
  • The cool thing about 802.20 is that it has "doppler tolerance" which means that unlike the currrent version 802.16, 802.20 can be used for mobile. Go Wireless ISPs and 802.20 go! Roland Tanglao

  • However that's only the tip of the iceberg. In all of the above we are only talking about new mobile solutions to the same old problem --- how can you talk while on the move:

    Voice Avatars:
    Last night I suggested we take a deeper look at Wave Market, while I've also had a few more thoughts about Flickr. The real voice applications are still to emerge. While I'm encrypted in conversation with Skype I think for the most part I pretty much sound like Stuart Henshall. Now imagine a different world. A mobile world where people are not identifiable by their live voice but rather by a voice avatar. You may never hear the real me if you are outside my direct social network. Peeling away layers of identity may involve exposing voice too. Think this is weird? Just think of the TV interview where the investigator wants to protect someone's identity. Extend that to conference calls you are in. Some may hear the real you others may not! This game is played in chatrooms around the world. Provide the same anonymities as text and watch for an explosion. Join a wireless chat channel in the Airport etc.

    Voice and Location:
    Similarly, as systems improve full stereo may become the norm. Total immersion in a game would enable me to hear where my friends are and where the danger is. I still want to play America's Army this way with my mates in the soundscape. In other situations walking towards one another in a crowd could be directed by sound.

    These last two items just begin to show new ways for rapidly forming groups and tying them into social networks. They are just one part of trying to solve the "always-on" connection questions and what it means to have an open line and varying degrees of presence no matter where you are. I'd also suggest we don't limit the exploration to the current paradigm. Small group conferencing via Skype is just the beginning. Playing music to the group while in conference might be the next item.... Might just give a reason to leave an open channel on.

    For those trying to learn more about Skype's conference call function a forum group put their experiences down in this pdf document. Skype Forum

    See also comments via Skype on future conferencing additions.

    February 19, 2004

    The Disruptive Nature of Skype

    No it is not free telephone calls that are Skype's disruptive punch but free conference calls that obsolete current networks. Disruptive innovation takes a path that others can't follow. Skype is vulnerable in only a few areas and that has nothing to do with telephony. It is only to do with consumers (and perhaps governments and regulatory authorities) and I'll leave that little bit of hyperbole for later. (For more posts on Skype)

    Various reader questions today caused me to stop and think over Skype's likely conference business model, being always-on, running panel conferences, using Skype for gaming applications and presence (to be posted separately). BTW the current link to the SKYPE conference beta is here. There's been plenty of talk over years of call costs going to zero. However I've never heard it promoted that conference call will be zero cost. As I think back over scenarios and ideas I've heard --- no one ever seems to ask:

  • What would the impact be if all conferencing capability was instantaneous and free?
  • Who asks what a world is like in which 75% of the calls made are conference capable?
  • Who knows what happens when people go from seconds per month in conference calls to hours and hours?
  • What happens to wireless providers when people find they like an always on capability? Will the current networks cope? I don't think so...

    We know that every day wireless steals minutes from landlines and the internet steals viewing time from TV. And yet combined it is more! These wild card don't above don't appear to be common questions. They are as difficult to ask and answer as it was in the early 80's when trying to predict the market for PC's. Who would have predicted in 1980 that by 1990 the market would be 25million per annum? IBM certainly didn't.

    On reflection I believe Skype will retain a free conference calling for up to five people matching their original free telephony statement. This will be enabled because people will want multiple numbers or profiles which were suggested here. I've ranted on Personal Communications Exchanges before and clamoured for conference calling from my second Skype post.

  • As a telephone company how do you compete with not just free global calling but free conference calling and persistent presence?
  • Will your current model dispense with the concepts of lines and numbers? Will it embrace profiles, presence and collaboration?
  • How will the bundling arguments and the investment by Cingular in AT&T wireless make sense? What happens when the economics behind their whole infrastructure is destroyed?
  • How long until the consumer can actually buy the mobile phone of their choosing? Is the "free-cellphone" contract close to breaking point? At what point will WiFi force a change in headset pricing strategy? Skype and hotspots anyone?
  • Will stupidity on the parts of telecoms and phone providers enable the HP IPAQ's of the world to bridge the consumer gap?

    That's my rant of thought starters today.

    More questions for "Always-on"
    Bill Campbell wrote me and says he can see the opportunities for games and social situaltions but wants more examples for applications in the business world. He provides these illustrations: "A taxicab radio is "always on". What is it used for? Sharing of information so you can adjust your path and position your vehicle to produce optimum economic value. Similarly: FedEx parcel info is sort of "always on". Customers can track their freight, and the knowledge used to better plan their resource scheduling in their facility". So asks what's an always-on conference? Or how would companies use an "always on capability? Chatrooms are at form of what they might be. So rather than focus on the capability to initiate impromptu ad hoc conferences in moments lets take a look more structured use where a conferencing capability is just second nature and becomes as integrated as the phone on your desktop.

    Let's make a couple of assumptions here and project towards a possible launch. As we noted here there exists a plausible "chargeable model" for premium services as soon as you have more than one profile you can potentially have the profile "stuart" and another "stuart's meeting room". Stuart's meeting room has auto answer enabled and is on hold at any time the room is empty. It may just be playing my itunes files. Should someone enter then a persistent reminder to me is provided. The presence of those in Stuart's meeting room could be made visible to others on my buddy list or say to those on my corporate profile list. It would be nice to be able to share the topic too! Sorting by profile is bound to become a premium feature. Similarly the conferencing feature that enable group chat will also enable group notification to all that are subscribe to that profile. Notifications may also involve auto call features.

    Thus my "who's online" window increase to show which of my buddies are running public conference capabilities and their topics. They may even have the times scheduled and present. So this is the formal aspect of arranging virtual meeting spaces. The informal aspect is just the same as it is in a physical space. I see a few people over the cubicle going into a meeting I think I need to catch them and so I walk down the hall at the appropriate minute. In our virtual system I see that Bill and Bob are in a conference call with agency exec Sarah and I just got an update from Fred on our budget. I can IM in, or simply join the conference. What was once done inefficiently physically may now be done even better virtually. In a world like this the majority of my calls to customers are conference capable and topic visible. Concurrently my boss might be in another conference and yet they could put their participation in that one on hold and join mine if it makes sense. IM backchat can make these introductions even more seamless. Thus the power of Skype's conferencing solution is even more powerful than you might at first glance expect.

    By talking the cost of bridging and joining additional people into calls to zero the approach to business calls will change. While many calls may remain one on one, more collaborative calls will accelerate decision-making. Creating sales call environments where multiple "expertise" is available at a click or customer service environments where you aren't transferred to a supervisor but joined by is a powerful capability. It's a small step change. It's also a killer for current online call centers. Under skype you can patch someone into the conference and then put it on hold while you start with another caller. It is also functionality that the traditional telephone structure has not been able to bring us.

    What's most interesting about this observation is Skype has no need to make its basic conference calling capability chargeable for less than five people. Premium services would use the multi-profiles and thus enable the "virtual room" features. That's a seats model in companies and in the home. There are other slick things that can be done to the sound to add additional value to conferencing. For example stereophonic placement consistent with the multiple pictures in the call window. 3-D stereo is also a must for gaming applications.

    On Gaming and the Skype conferencing capability:
    Take a look at X-Fire and now ask Skype to activate it or partner with it as some sort of plug-in..

    Xfire automatically keeps track of when and where gamers are playing PC games online and lets their friends join them easily. It works regardless of game type, server browser, or gaming service that a player is using. Xfire eliminates the hassles of running multiple programs like IRC, instant messengers, or in-game buddy lists to keep track of when and where a gamer's friends are playing.

    Given the low cost of conferencing via Skype it becomes the gamers natural companion. For game developers and providers it makes no sense to centralize a large rack voice server when friends would rather play as a team and enter battle. If you are a game company you invest in porting your soundscape into Skype on demand. It's just another chargeable or premium aspect that Skype can provide. So whether you are WebEx or Electronic Arts the phone system is free. For the games the effort goes into piping sound and location in the game into the conference. That may still provide some challenges.....

    Potential Skype Talkback conference:
    Some months back I suggested that Corrante sponsor for the first Live Panel broadcast on Blogging using Skype and involving audience participation. The potential was proven with some experiments where callers from around the world could call into an internet radio show. Or try this one. Now that Skype has a simple conferencing capability a similar experiment should be tried.

    Here's how it would work. Using TDavid's orginal approach set up two computers and connect output and input perferably by a simple mixing board. The second computer is for generating the live feed via shoutcast and winamp to the web. Start your conference on the host computer. Invite up to three other experts in. Start the discussion. During the conference all of them can receive questions directly from the audience. Concurrently run an IRC channel. The conference moderator can call individuals who have submitted questions and bring them in and out of panel discussion.

    In this realm and with the discussion above it seems only natural that notification for "public" conferences may all go out by RSS and perhaps Atom feeds would enable more secure invites!

    That's enough speculation for one post.

  • February 20, 2004

    Skype and PDA's

    Skype is breaking new ground by trying to bring PDAs that can connect to the Internet into the VoIP mix, said Zennstrom, who co-authored the software the Kazaa file-sharing network uses. "It was one of the top requests from our users," he added.

    But the push to PDAs could have drawbacks. To make VoIP calls, a PDA would need to have a broadband connection. For now, only a limited number of PDAs that have built-in Wi-Fi connections would be capable of making Skype calls.
    Free Net calling goes beyond the PC | CNET News.com

    There are a few issues when using VoIP on a PDA. (1), PDAs need a Wi-Fi connection (2), Network Address Translation (NAT) traversal is often problematic. (3), Wi-Fi VoIP Roaming needs special support.

    Still, VoIP vendors are racing ahead with solutions. The Proxim AP-4000 Access Point (MSRP $899, $650 street), for example, is designed for roaming VoIP and supports pre-802.11e, the standard designed for quality of service (QoS).

    Competing VoIP software for wireless PDAs is available from Palm Computer, Pocket Presence, Telesym and VLI.
    Daily Wireless - Mobilizing VoIP

    February 22, 2004

    It's Official - Free Skype Conference Calls

    Skype formally releases 0.97.01 beta today adding free conference calls to its easy to use voice application. See earlier entries in the Skype Journal.skypeconferencing.gif

    February 23, 2004 Skype conference calling allows up to five friends to chat together on one call. The new feature is very easy to use and like regular Skype calls they are free, unlimited and excellent quality. Making a conference call has never been easier, cheaper or so much fun. The latest version also includes a multiple call hold feature that allows for 16 callers to be simultaneously put on hold by a single user. You can get from our main download page .

    You can read about how to make conference calls on our user guide

    Skype: Beta 0.97 with free conference calling

    Making Sense of Presence in Communication

    Douglas Galbi
    in his comment links to his fascinating paper Sense in Communications: Note Douglas is an economist with the FCC and his paper an in-depth study 190 pages on "Presence". He states that: "To avoid disaster, the telecommunications industry needs to shift from providing telephony to providing means for making sense of presence." I wholeheartedly agree!

    Summarizing elements from his paper is both quite a challenge and really doesn't do justice to the depth of thinking, historical perspective and gorgeous photos provided. So this blogspeed entry tries to make some small sense of presence. My favorite pages 6, 7, 126, 127, 128, 130, 133, 136, 137, 141, 142. Direct quotes are in italics.

    Key Insights:
    "Presence" is fundamental to creating future communications value. We are a a critical point where the interaction of photography (pictures) and telephony (calls) will radically reduce the cost of making sense of presence and create new opportunities for value creation

  • What makes a letter a joy, or a voice from an object (a telephone headset) a comfort, rather than a horror, depends on the sense of another's presence, despite that person's physical absence. The way this sense is activated, and at what cost, directly relates to sensuous choices in communication.

  • Three models of communications illustrate why: 1)information transfer (under different sensory circumstances eg face to face to new forms of social software), 2)storytelling (shared interpretation and different sensory economics), and 3)sense of presence (an element of real-time presence detection and participation). Of these only "Presence" provides the sensory opportunity to radically redirect strategies for mobility and social networking.
  • Since most demand for information is for textual information, information transfer offers relatively little scope for comparative advantage in sensuousness. In storytelling, high-production cost, streaming audio-visual stories dominate other feasible sensuous forms. At the other end of the technological spectrum, the extraordinary advantages of paper and ink as a storytelling medium - low-cost, highly portable, widely accessible, and durable - make it difficult for a sensory alternatives to create a competitive advantage.3
  • Providing means for persons to make sense of presence in the absence of physical proximity is a business in which sensory innovation has enduring opportunities to create value. Making sense of presence in social interaction among friends and family has long driven demand for telephony and photography.
  • Making sense of presence also drives demand for use of e-mail, instant messaging, mobile short messaging services (SMS), and camera phones. Making sense of presence is a good not constrained by conventional distinctions between content and communication.
    (my bold)
  • Communication services have enormous opportunities for innovation, differentiation, and
    commercial competition in organizing sensory modes to support production of this highly valued good. Not understanding this good could be disastrous for major, well-established organizations.

  • Linking Photography and Telephony is natural and complementary. Thus camera phones get their comparative advantages by developing an enhanced sense of presence rather than information transfer or storytelling. Note: Mobile camera phones are rapidly becoming the most prevalent photographic devices.
    Communicating using photographs and communicating by telephone calls are related in a fundamental sense: the sense of presence. The predominate uses of both photography and telephony involve actively recognizing another despite that person's physical absence. A photograph and a telephone conversation each provide only one mode of external sense of another person. Nonetheless, using a photograph or using a telephone call, bodily work can create a sense of presence. The complementarity of photographs and telephone calls suggests that persons complement voice-only experiences of presence with image-only experiences of presence.

    Providing a sense of presence at low cost is inconsistent with text messaging, which has a higher cost of making sense of presence than voice and images! This certainly gels with my early intuitive feel that "voice-centric" IM will kill "text-centric" IM systems. Thus Skype is winning on voice, and Flickr for the moment wins on text / photo-sharing. Neither of these manage effectively to handle audiovisual messaging. Similarly, the learning is that Orkut and similar social networking services that fail to provide a sense of presence will be of limited long-term value unless they somehow plug-in to or provide additional value by combining with a "presence provider".

    The emerging "broadband industry" will obsolete the telephone company and has probably already killed Kodak who remains focused on digital photography and albums. Similarly, contextualizing voice and presence provides new opportunities for security companies, reputation management etc. The implications for emerging companies like Skype is to keep the trade-offs of photo vs video in mind when developing additional funcitonality and assessing bandwidth implications. Thus Skype voice to WiFi PDA's is more important than adding real-time video. Concurrently adding pictures that can be shared during conference calls and providing interesting aspects for presence could add significant value quickly with little impact on quality. A simple example is pictures change when status changes. These elements are far more important to conferencing and mobility than live video streaming which can already be achieve by using Skype and Yahoo concurrently. Skype's real opportunity is when the application becomes completely mobile. Concurrently the mobile handset and PDA makers better get their skates on. It is just becoming obvious how much can be made here. In a crude sense every dollar currently made on telephony in the future will be made in the service of presence.

    February 24, 2004

    Down by the BlogPond

    What is the nature of the creative swamp down by the blog pond? Are current reporting systems really just reporting on the fly fishers? Are our views of the blogosphere too linear? Should we dip our toes in?

    These questions just emerged from a discussion with Jon today. We were talking about various social networking, blogging and newsreaders --- all as part of sharing information. Our reflections centered on the wired nature of the diagrams connecting all this data. From search engines to blogs and trackback there is a linear way everything is connected up. Similarly we wire information when we send it. I believe we tend to associate this visually with the network diagrams of the internet. Similarly we map the data. Think of recent Orkut Clusters. The majority of the current diagnostic blog tools we use all show the wiring rather than any physical manifestation or as any living ecosystem. This approach is very much a this is linked to that sort of world, at least on the surface. This is further reinforced when we look at Touchgraph or Technorati. It is no wonder the most common strategy bloggers use to get ahead is their linking strategy. It enhances google rankings too.

    However, perhaps this is only half the story.  Take a moment and contrast the wired view with puddles and pools.... we POOL our information.  Pooling experiences and stories are part of sharing, while pooling assets and resources is all about leverage. The level in the pond or lake changes and the shoreline too with the season. Technorati Google, Orkut, Ryze and their ilk don't give you this. The blog pond is much more intangible - fungible... And perhaps that is the challenge.  As long as blogging metrics are linked and linear we may never get a real handle on their collaborative nature and the quality of different ecosystems. Blogging is part of a living system. Could the intangibles be as hidden and difficult to measure in the blogosphere as they are in real life?

    Why get stuck in this quagmire, this creative swamp? Who will be the one to dive in, and who skips?

    Perhaps someone else feel like taking this further. There is plenty of data on keeping a pond. This little post provides a nice illustration. I could see the some deeper wisdom in this post for new blog owners. Finding the way to help develop the blog pond and the things we can do might emerge from this piece below.

    Certain biological processes must occur before a pond is fully seeded and balanced. Nitrifying bacteria must be present and working in the pond’s ecosystem before the pond can promote a healthy environment for aquatic life. New ponds will have none of those necessary biological processes in place. This creates a “New Pond Syndrome” that can be frustrating if the new pond owner is not equipped with knowledge on how to deal with it. Giving the pond time to develop these processes is the most important step and there are things that we can do to hasten the development.

  • Biological Filtration
  • Populating with Fish
  • Get Ready for the Green
  • The Crucial Tests
  • Keep an Eye on the pH
  • Not All Algae Is Bad
  • Supersonic Skype

    I've taken some flak recently for my "SkypeMe" middle name. Similarly I've had a few comment from different quarters that Skype will never be a real telephone company. With that comment I probably agree. My point is that Skype is leading us somewhere new.

    From time to time my work involves me in scenarios and strategy. I tend to press the boundaries of the possible. By now if you are reading this blog you will know I also like the devils advocate and contrarian roles when appropriate. For that divergent thinking is part of the real role of scenarios for minimizing risk and maximizing learning. Through that lens Skype remains an early indicator. Like Napster and Kazaa (for that matter) it is a radical change in the way things operate.

    Much of the debate around Skype focuses on the telephone industry rather than seeing something new. Skype may be the airlines and aircraft while POTS remains the train tracks and trains.

    I also believe there are a number of lessons from presence to mobility that "old style" telecom providers fail to understand or aren't actively pursuing. Most of the marketing I see remains phone centric rather than about communications. The type of new and emerging functionality that people includes things like can I handle my voice mail while on a plane? Of course you can, just most people have yet to experience it. Similarly in a car. Concurrently I've been more interested in the opportunity for new information markets around Skype type functionality. The future of call waiting, caller id etc. Even 0900 style numbers provide opportunities. No much is new here. Just the opportunity to tie it into computing applications and the big screen. Skype's biggest risk and challenge may just be the exchange on the desktop that just accesses the lowest cost solution whereever I am using the highest quality sound.

    Similarly I still get comments re MSN and Yahoo. What out Skype they are coming. From what I can see MSN has had more than six month to launch a voice centric version of their IM product, Yahoo the same. Both however have significant issues with increasing "voice" which I'd guess is much more expensive than brokering test messaging. Thus theyy have two problems. To compete with Skype for consumers and SMHO they must adopt a P2P approach and they must adopt a sound codec that is better than the one they currently use which is I think SIP compatible. Similarly they have to solve their NAT problems. MSN and Yahoo don't deliver on voice. Yahoo can deliver a fairly good but sometimes delayed webcam in conjunction with a clear Skype call even at full screen size.

    This is perhaps not the ultimate in communication. It's also not a full telephone system. However Skype has started a battle that the telecom giants are not well equiped to handle. That battle is around sound quality. It's also a challenge for mobile providers. I know there are also other technologies out their that are better than Skype. I expect they will continue to improve. I also see headset operators whether Nokia or Motorola or HP adding WiFi and bluetooth capabiliies everywhere. Then we will see which "quality" level is preferred.

    So.... Will Skype fly fast enough and high enough to break more than just the sound barrier?

    About February 2004

    This page contains all entries posted to Unbound Spiral in February 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    January 2004 is the previous archive.

    March 2004 is the next archive.

    Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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