Friday, March 14, 2008

eComm 2008 - The Stars Come Out

I've had the ridiculous pleasure of sitting in the audience at the eComm show this week. I'm trying to write some mashup software for the show next week (more about that soon), but I just can't seem to keep my head down in my laptop when people like this keep distracting me:

Martin Geddes: For those in the the know, Martin is possibly the most insightful analyst in the Telco 2.0 space. Martin's talk about the future of carriers was excellent, and an excellent preview to his conference next month in England. Martin's invited me to speak, and I get the distinct sense that I better have my A game on. Martin's talk focused on a new, two-sided business model for the carriers of the future, where the fundamental roles of carriers was akin to a logistics company.

Dean Bubbly : Dean's another analyst, but he eats, sleeps and breathes wireless. Dean's talks and analysis on the current and future wireless markets made me feel like I had a lot to learn. My sense was, I wasn't alone. Dean's analysis of Rich Miner's talk is actually better than hearing the original talk, which in itself was quite good.

Dr. Dawn Nafus : What a wonderful talk from this Intel researcher. Dawn's presentation was full of her results from real-world presence and context research, all of which I found completely fascinating. My favorite? Apparently, our conventional wisdom of when people are busy is exactly wrong. We are more likely to be interrupted when we are at the computer or on some other activity... not less.

Irv Shapiro : Irv's company, ifbyphone, looks to me like the phone mashup service provider that's closest to getting it. His presentation was right on, his message clear, and the ifbyphone business model looks like it might be a winner. Pay attention to them.

Simonie Wilson: Simonie Wilson brought a much needed injection of voice design rationality to our discussion. A great example of how the technology we need exists... if we were to just design it in the right way.

And I haven't even the time to talk about Jonathan Christiensen from Skype, Marc Smith from Microsoft, Blaine Cook from Twitter, Nitzan Shaer from Mobivox or Mark Rolston from Frog Design, because today's completely full of more people to distract me.

I'm really screwed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Moving On Up

Well, the time has come to move the blog off of Google, and on to our new site at The Thomas Howe Company.  Pat and I will be posting to our blog there, and we're just going to let this one mellow with age.  (I'm going to imagine that, in this allegory, I'm George because I'm shorter than Pat.  Pat can be Weezie.)

See you on the other side.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Brian Mahoney and Jon Arnold Podcast: IPTV

When you have a chance, check out Jon and Brian's Podcast on PulverMedia. If you are basically unfamiliar with the IPTV market, this is an excellent introduction by one of the best marketing guys out there. Brian and I worked together at Netcentrex, and now he is the Vice President of Marketing for Espial, a leading vendor of IPTV middle-ware that recently went public. I think my days of PictureTel cured me of video, so I'm not sure I'm moving into IPTV anytime soon, but if you want to see good business cases for small, niched applications and programming, I think the IPTV market has them in spades.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ruby and The Role of Culture in Development

In the Web Integrated Telephony Architecture, I identified the middle piece as being a Ruby on Rails application. It accepts data from the User Interface (commonly implemented as Voice XML forms), and then drives action through Web Services, and for WITA, telephony web services. As I thought about this component, there are actually a number of technology choices. This could certainly be a Java component, as the functionality would be equivalent. You could argue about speed (as Java does run faster), and you could argue about installed base (Java is much more prevalent in the carrier and enterprise). Each is fair, each has technical advantages over Ruby.

The reason why I advocate Ruby is straightforward : it's what the cutting edge Web developers use. When I coined the term WITA, I wanted to emphasize that this was a Web integrated architecture - not an IP integrated architecture. By integration, I mean integration of culture - the way that the community approaches, understands and tackles problems. In order for telephony to spiral into the much larger market of the Web, and therefore into the Enterprise, it needs to be introduced into the culture of Web development. Ruby is the prime ambassador for this, especially on the cutting edge of development.

This will, undoubtedly, cause major headaches for telecom engineers, who by-and-large have no experience with Ruby. (Maybe this is the Karmic payback, as the Ruby developers have no experience with phones). However, when the Web mindset is adopted and understood, then Ruby becomes a natural language for its implementation and development. In time, it may become the lingua franca of Web development; certainly Web development over time will become the definition of programming and architecture. The successful implementation of WITA applications will require the adoption of this mindset. Personally, I have pushed myself down the Ruby road primarily for culture - so that I can learn Web development in it's native tongue.

I feel there is no point where this is clearer to me than when I consider IMS. As an architecture, IMS is clearly the son of the companies that advocate it: big vendors making big equipment for big carriers with big budgets. It is a product of the culture of carrier based telecom development. The essential issue is that IMS, although making claims to enable the deployment of innovative services, makes the implementation of new applications nearly impossible because of culture. It is unreasonable to think that development of high value, niche applications is served by ever larger architectures. It is implausible to think that, with a ratio of nearly ten Web developers to one telecom developer, that the web developers will toss Ruby for P-SCSFs and HLRs. I recall a conversation with Henry Sinnreich a few years ago, where he said that he loved SBCs, as they hastened the demise of carriers because they were wasting their money purchasing them, instead of deploying pure SIP networks. I wonder if IMS has sent him into some sort of Nirvana.

Ruby is about culture. WITA is about deploying telephony architectures where that culture rules.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Depressing Mashup of the Week

Apparently, the one thing you don't want to be in LA is a male Hispanic on Sunday. Avoid that, if you can. Especially if there's a gun around.

I love my hometown on Cape Cod, and (I can't believe I'm saying this) when I see things like this, I wish it could hold more people.

Mashup Competitions (or Telephony Finds it's Tail)

Well, the ten thousand dollar VoxBone competition is now over, and Oigaa from VozTelecom took first prize. Oigaa is a web based telephony service targeted towards small and medium businesses, much like Flat Planet Phone Company. My congratulations go out to them; it is an example of a service that simply could not have existed five years ago. I was considering entering the VoxBone contest, but I know I have the greatest success in my projects when they come from the heart. Personally, I like VoxBone's API for allocating PSTN numbers I can forward anywhere, but every unique and commercially useful idea I had was a bit purient. My Mom might read my blog one day, and I don't think I ought to get myself in that situation. Damn - maybe I just did.

As I'll reveal soon, the mashup contest fad is coming to our neck of the woods too. Have you ever stopped to ask why there are mashup competitions, but not VoIP design competitions? Sure, on the trade show floor they have some "best of shows", but we all know how that game is played. You don't see designs done just for competition in telecom, but you do in the Web / Mashup world. As an example, the 2006 Mashup camp mashup I liked was the blinking Google pin. Some geek took a blinker pin from the Google booth at a trade show, attached it to the serial port of his laptop, used the Google Mail API to check for mail, then it blinks the "G" when new mail arrives. So geeky. But why compete with mashups?

The knee jerk answer is: because you can. Mashups are pretty simple to put together, but more so, you can do pretty creative and impressive things with them. Mashups are more about imagination than shear technological prowess. Designing even the simplest of VoIP devices (say a phone) requires an impressive amount of time and money, much more than the typical engineer can afford. (Never mind skill set.) More so, designing even the simplest of VoIP devices for a competition is more than most companies wish to spend in time and money. Therefore, the marketing kick or product risk doesn't make sense for traditional services, but not so for mashups.

The business answer is: because every Internet technology has a long tail. Amazon proves that products have a long tail. iTunes proves that music has a long tail. EBay proves that junk has a long tail. Mashups prove that Web services have long tails. Telco Mashups prove that telephony services have long tails. And that's stunning, because it means that we finally have an environment in which we can create new services. After all our efforts since the divestiture, it comes down to the simple fact that single greatest reason that new services often fail is not because people don't want them, but they were too expensive to develop and deploy for the masses. When they are inexpensive enough so that you can make one just for yourself, then people develop them just for themselves, or rather, just for mashup competitions. Just like iPTV, if you can make a video in your house that ten thousand people want to see, it makes complete sense to make it. NBC needs what, a million viewers to break even? If you have ten thousand people who will pay ten bucks a month for your find-me-based-on-my-facebook-whatever service, you and your two technicians will make a living. In the grand scheme, a good one too. Mashup competitions are, for me, prima facie evidence that Telephony has finally found its tail.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thank you for some serious link-love

Wow - thanks to all of you out there for some serious link love: Ken Camp's Post, Jon Arnold's Post, Solomon Ige's Post, and Phone Boy's. As I told Ken, I sometimes feel like I'm designing in a cave, and never really know if anyone else cares. I absolutely love what I do for a living (and I know some of my clients are hoping I'm going to say that I would do it for free), but it's a pleasure to see someone else cares, too. Thanks.

What's even better, though, is that these bloggers have readers, and at least some of those readers are just like me : telephony guys trying to create cool things that people will use. Each of these guys recognizes that telephony engineers have a new tool in the box : mashups. And hopefully, because of this sort of light weight programming model (I call it the anti-IMS), the wider world of engineers have a new tool in THEIR box : telephony. Telephony was once heavy weight, now it's light weight. Telephony used to be capital intensive, now it's pay-as-you-go. Telephony integration used to mean that enterprises would buy telephony equipment and integrate it, now enterprises can integrate with hosted, online solutions. Telephony mashups provide the right sort of light weight programming models that finally lower the barrier to integrating telephony with applications that will allow all engineers, not just us deep telephony geeks, to include telephony in the application.

Sure, there are a bunch of tools in our tool box, but for me, mashups are a keeper.

Fall VON Innovator's Track

Well, now that the programmable web ball is rolling, we're getting ready for the tradeshow season. A big part of that for us is going to be in our hometown at this year's Fall VON in Boston (Wait a second. Does that mean we have to buy the beer?) Carl Ford, a pretty impressive bunch of telephony guys and I have been working on a new addition to the VON show floor : the innovator's track. The innovator's track is roughly based on an unconference, and is focused on cutting edge telephony innovations. Our basic model is to have eight sessions, and we're sort of looking at the following topics :

Rapid Apps on Rails:
A discussion about the impact of Ruby on Rails, Ajax and other tools that aid the developer in building new services rapidly and how combined with Amazon and Level services represent a new era in service deployments.

Enterprise 2.X
This is a discussion that looks at how the Enterprises are finally gaining the ability to provide services across a network and how it changes service models.

Social Networking
According to Cisco its working. Social networks are eating up the bandwidth and the Internet is again growing. What makes these services compelling and who is going to gain from these changes.

The New Age of Communication
We have talked about the concept of these new services now lets look at some of them and lets talk about why this is the perfect time to
offer services in the marketplace. Is the price of rollout so low that adoption can be small and niche, or do we all need massive viral adoption?

New Services with old lines
Single Number is thing of the past, now we have disposable numbers and with the ILECs having to watch the Cable companies expand into their space the time may be ripe for these kind of services. Best of all by extracting the person from the number the service is much more intriquing.

As you might notice, there's only five topics here. That's where you come in. Not only are we looking for audience participation during these five sessions, but we need to hear what you want hear at the show. Do you have an idea for a topic that's not here? What problem are you trying to solve? Something you really need to learn? Spit it here, and we'll talk about it there. Bring your two feet with you, participate, and let's make this worth more than our time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Thomas Howe Company Now In Partnership with Programmable Web

Well, the day is here - today we announce our partnership with ProgrammableWeb, the leading go-to place for mashup developers. I met John Musser at the O'Reilly Web 2.0 show this March, and we've become fast friends and partners. John's site is invaluable to everyone in the mashup community, and all of us at the office are flattered and excited to be part of that family. We see our position in the market as ambassadors of telephony to the larger Web community, and as ambassadors of the Web world into the telephony market. ProgrammableWeb is the capital for mashup developers, and now telephony has established an embassy.

If you haven't visited ProgrammableWeb (which is to say, you haven't written a mashup or web services based application), here's some places you ought to look at real quick:

  1. Let's say you want to see what APIs are out there to write your application with. Here's a list of all of them.
  2. Sure there are five hundred APIs, but which are the popular ones? Here's a great twist - mouse over the matrix, so you can drill down and see all the advertising mashups written using the Google AdWords API.
  3. What's a mashup? You can check out the two thousand, two hundred and twenty listed here.
  4. Do you think mashups are simply cool sites that have no business value? Check out the markets section of the site for another opinion. That's where we live, next to shopping and mapping.
So, take a spin and check out the site: you'll be amazed at how much momentum this market has already. If you haven't seen it, I attached the press release below:

Award-winning consulting firm and application developer shares business communications solutions with ProgrammableWeb's online mashup community

W. BARNSTABLE, Mass., and SEATTLE - Aug. 14, 2007 - The Thomas Howe Company, a leading designer and developer of interactive voice and data solutions for businesses, has been named as a premium content partner for ProgrammableWeb, the leading web site for mashups, APIs (application programming interfaces) and the new "Web as Platform" approach to site development.

As a content partner, The Thomas Howe Company is providing expertise in the form of communications mashups, original articles and other materials that are posted in a new channel of under the "Mobile/Telephony" section. The content will focus on telephony and mobile web services, APIs and mashups.

"Thomas Howe and team have an entrepreneur's knack for hunting down business-oriented APIs and an engineer's skill for putting them together," said John Musser, founder of ProgrammableWeb.

Howe was the first-place winner of the recent telephony mashup contest sponsored by O'Reilly Media and data-services provider StrikeIron. His entry, "After Hours Doctor's Office," transcribes office voicemails left by patients for doctors into text and then sends them via SMS to the doctor. A case study of this mashup is one of the items posted in the new section of ProgrammableWeb.

"At The Thomas Howe Company, we're interested in building real-time communications systems that help our clients save money while also increasing the quality of service for their customers," said Howe. "I hope that by sharing the information we have found useful, along with details of our own experiences, it will drive further creative thinking within the growing mashup community."

To view content from The Thomas Howe Company on ProgrammableWeb, visit