Thursday, December 21, 2006

I always feel like I'm the different one.

Do you ever feel like you're the different one? Like you are the geek at the dance? I feel like that all the time, and often it's a bad thing. You see, if you are really arrogant, you can tell yourself that you ARE different, and everyone else just sucks. Unfortunately, I'm stuck with the wonderful combination of undeniable geekiness and marginal self esteem.

I'm going into this because I think I'm different about blogging. Many of my friends who blog (Jon Arnold, Andy Abramson and Alec Saunders) seem to make their bones by commenting on the news and events around them. And they do it really, really well. When something happens, and you need to know what it means, count on them to tell you. Smart people, for sure, and although I always hesitate to substitute other's judgments for my own, their's is nearly always as good or better than mine.

That said, I hardly ever spend time telling my three readers (thanks, Mom!) what things mean. Not that I don't have opinions, but I tend to be a long deep thinker, and it takes me a few weeks to form an opinion, if I ever do. Bad for blogging, I suppose. What's worse than a geek? A slow one. This makes me feel like a fish out of water.

Here's why I blog: I'm trying to be really, really transparent in my life. There are people in my life like family, friends and coworkers, and I really want to connect with them. I want them to know what I'm thinking about, and working on, and why. Here's a place they can find that out, if they are interested and (obviously) a bit bored. Until then, I'll have to let the quick thoughts come from others - and that's just peachy with me. This will stand as my professional diary crying out loud.

Hey... hold on. I saw the movie! In the end, the geeks win!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How many mashups are there?

Well, you can find out for yourself. On a daily basis, those neat people at Programmable Web scour the earth for mashups, and figure out which APIs are being used in them. Then, they tally who's using what to figure out which web services are the most popular, and for what.

Today's scores?
Yahoo leads in APIs, but google is running away in Mashups. The most popular APIs?

1) Google Maps
2) Flickr Photo Sharing
3) Amazon Shopping

Exactly 12 mashups using Voice, with 8 of them using Skype from Ebay.

Real Time Communications Mashup

Here's an article in the lastest VON magazine about the mashup between Skype and Unyte. Skype, as you probably know, is an peer-to-peer VoIP service provider with a very excellent API for delivering next generation features. Unyte is a company that provides application sharing for collaboration. When you put the two together, you can provide one button conferencing for Skype users, including application sharing. Now that's cool, but even better, saves a ton of money for the enterprise.

Don't you just LOVE the internet?

Who would have imagined couch surfing ten years ago?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Speaking about YouTube

My absolute favorite videos on You Tube are :

White and Nerdy : Yes, I understand. This is me. And I think it's completely hilarious to see Donny Osmond dancing in the back.

Goals. Gotta have'm. Love the physics explanation as well. Who said math was boring? Check the guy who pulls up at the end. Mo Do Chung Shin! (Total dedication to the task at hand.)

Ummm... that's exactly backwards, Verizon

Well, it looks like we now have the first deal struck between YouTube and the mobile carriers. If you are a VCast customer, you can now download a selected set of the YouTube library to your mobile phone. Yipeee! The blogosphere seems to be coming down pretty hard on the walled garden aspect of this... where does YouTube and Verizon get off telling us which videos we can see? And, as I've read, it's clear how YouTube and Verizon make money, but how about the people who added the content?

I think this is backwards in the extreme. I would much rather see a deal that allows me to upload my videos from my phone to my YouTube account, not just the other way around. The fact that I should have access to my YouTube account through my handset without Verizon getting in the way just seems obvious. Boys and girls, can you say disintermediation? I knew you could! And I'm sure the WiMAX and WiFI guys will give it to me, and given the big brother nature of this move, I'm going to take it.

You know what this reminds me of? AOL circa... 1995?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Sheep Market

A not so crazy way to use Amazon Turks.

This year, Aaron Koblin from Design|Media Arts at UCLA wrote his thesis document trying to answer the following questions :

  • Are the results of alienation apparent in massively bureaucratized labor systems?
  • Is there/what is the role of creativity in such a system?
  • And, who is responsible for maintaining culture as these systems permeate our lives.
To do this, he ran an experiment using Amazon Web Services to enlist Amazon Mechanical Turks to draw him a picture of a sheep looking to the left. For each sheep a person drew, he paid about 2 cents. His very excellent report may be read from his web site, and the ten thousand sheep can be see at here.

What I find fascinating is the outcry from people when they found out that he was going to sell the images of the sheep. Of course, this was part of his experiment - how alienated were the workers from the product of their work?

From his report :
The Amazon Web Services Blog picked up the story and embraced The Sheep Market as an exemplary use of the Mechanical Turk system, Jeff from Amazon writes,

“You might look at this and think "What's the point?" or "how does this relate to my business?" Think of this as an example of how to quickly, easily, and inexpensively get 10,000 people to do something for you. Today it is sheep, but it could just as easily be choices of color combinations for car interiors, evaluation of some logos for your business, selection of most important features when choosing a vacation spot, and so forth.”[1]

This is the important point for developers like myself. Web services like Amazon Turks answer the question "How can I make simple human labor massively scalable and available?"

I'm going to camp!

Hi all -
I'm going to camp! Mashup camp, that is. I'm going to be attending the Mashup Camp at MIT from January 15th to 18th. The first two days are a series of lectures and tutorials about creating Web mashups using APIs, the second two days are a get together. From the site:

Mashup Camp 3 will be conducted Open Space style (more about Open Space and unconferences can be found here). Much the same way Mashup Camps 1 & 2 were run, at the beginning of each day, there will be a general assembly where attendees can propose the discussion that they're interested in leading. Attendees will line up for their turn at the microphone, propose a discussion and, on a whiteboard that lists all of the available rooms and timeslots in grid fashion, slot their proposed discussion into one of the available room/times. We'll follow the same protocol as in other Mashup Camps where the details about the proposed discussion are written in magic marker on a piece of paper and then taped into an available slot (this way, they're easily moved). To get an idea of what this looks like, check out the images on the MashupCamp2Grid for Mashup Camp 2. On the second day of the event, one or more blocks of time will be reserved for Speed Geeking! Speed geeking is like speed dating. Developers and others with a technology to demo will set up stations and attendees will spend five minutes at each station before moving to the next one at the sound of a buzzer. Speed Geeking is one of the most popular parts of our events.

Anyways, I'm not sure if there's still space available, but if you show up - look me up! For more info, check out

Stay cool.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

VoIP 2.0 Mashup - Project 1

Hi all -

As I mentioned in my talk out in Berlin, me and bunch of geek friends are putting together a series of VoIP 2.0 mashups in 2007. The first mashup is going to integrate Amazon Turks with Asterisk Voice Mail, and have the turks transcribe the voice mail message. The idea is that not only can you have the voicemail in your inbox, you can have the transcription too. This is cool because you can search for the contents of voicemails, just like you can for regular mail. In the future, you can integrate it with your conference calls too. When we finish it, we'll post the code and do a podcast, so that we can teach others how to do it too.

As for the team, it looks like we've got a full one. Thanks to everyone who asked to be part of this team; I'll give you a call when we do the next project.

Stay cool,

Telephones Making the World a Better Place

If you're anything like me, you wonder what the real benefit to the world our work in next generation telephony is. Thanks to the Onion, I don't have to wonder anymore.
New Mobile-Device Purchase Makes Asshole More Versatile

The Onion

New Mobile-Device Purchase Makes Asshole More Versatile

NEW YORK—The new BlackBerry 8703c has allowed total shithead Robert McClain to assign more work to his assistants while he is gambling in Atlantic City.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Does it make any sense to design a broad-based communications service any longer?

At the recent VON show in Europe, Carl Ford dragged me up on stage to fill out a panel talking about the fight between 3G and and Fixed Wireless mobile carriers. One of the invited, as opposed to the dragged, speakers was Wolfgang B, the head of Internet operations for T-Mobile. As my day job has a good client relationship with T-Mobile, I sort of ducked identifying my self as much as anyone on a stage can. Carl dragged me up because Wolfgang was sort of trashing the whole mobile video space, including a "romp" through the logistics of adult content. He roundly dismissed any new mobile video service, with the flair of a German genius. At the end of his talk, he said "I wish there was a content provider in the audience", and up went my hand.

Of course, the REASON I put up my hand was that not that I claimed to be a P&R guy for Arista records, but I was one person who found himself in situations where I have taken video on the road, and wanted to share them with my friends. In my case, I wanted to capture this really neat Judo throw in my camera, and send it to my Karate teacher. What I was REALLY thinking about wasn't me, but my camera obsessed son, who takes videos of his friends with his phone constantly, and would gladly post them to myspace if he could. So, I made this point, and he conceded that you could specialize the market to such a degree that you COULD deliver that service, but the kids would become disinterested in three months, and how could you run a business on that?

What he didn't say publicly, but admitted afterwards in a side conversation, was that the problem was in the structure of carriers - they were too large, and the opportunities too fleeting, to really take advantage of the very niched application. I hope I didn't offend him when I suggested that the problem was with today's carriers, not tomorrow's.
Here's where my head went - as carriers search for new services, should you just generally rule out any service that's too general? Is it true that a general service will not have enough value to have staying power and resist commoditization? Should you go as far to say that anything that most people would need and pay money for is a non-starter? Talk about contrary thinking... maybe I'm low on my meds.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I'm a hype-ster!

Oh - I gotta tell you this...

At the end of my presentation, a person raised his hand and suggested that I was a hype-ster, and used every hype term in the book except for Ajax. I hope he's reading this....

Let me tell you, Mr. Smarty Pants, I just MIGHT use AJAX in my new Web 2.0 VoIP Mashup... and you can't stop me. And I might use OOP, and case tools... maybe even think win-win, team based, bottoms-up and get some 360 degree feedback. It all could happen.

But I absolutely WILL integrate Amazon Turks with Asterisk Voicemails, and it ain't bragging if you can do it, and it ain't hype either.

Intersection of Web 2.0 and VoIP

In a recent conversation with my wife, I lamented that I may never have another chance to work at the very beginning of a truly disruptive technology, like ADSL or VoIP. Lucky for me, I'm wrong about ten times an hour. (I better hurry up and finish this post before I get something else wrong!)

We are at the start of a major upheaval in not only technology, but in the basic business models that drive our industry. The intersection of Web 2.0 technologies and business models and the communications industry will result in a massive change in how applications are created and delivered. Don't get me wrong, I'm not shorting my Verizon stock just yet. Bill Gates put it best in 1998 - we overestimate the short term effects of fundamental technology shifts, and underestimate the long term effects. We still only at something like 10% penetration of VoIP into US households with broadband service. We are seeing this fundamental shift, and in ten years, we will point back with confidence to 2006 as the time when the shift occurred.

In essence, the real hope and promise of VoIP is that businesses can truly tailor the business and the communications processes. Make no mistake, our market is still driven by cost savings and increased revenue opportunities that arise from an increased customer base - not by truly compelling features. Name the number of new telephony services you've seen in the past five years. I like ring tones and ring back tones... the Versatel Call Pod idea was pretty cool, but it's a short list. I can name dozens of new web applications I like from this year alone. This is a direct result of the innovation and customization that Web 2.0 provides. The promised land of VoIP comes from this integration.

Tomorrow at the European VON show, I am announcing a project I am leading in 2007. Myself, and a small group of like-minded geeks, are going to spend a few weekend days to create examples of these applications. The first application is going to make a service that will automatically translate voice mails left on Asterisk into text using Amazon's mechanical Turk service. With this, you can not only have a copy of all the voice mails in your Outlook mailbox, but you can have TEXT copies, that you can search with Spotlight or Google Desktop.

The point behind this effort is only to prove that we can do it, and to learn from the experience. We will take what we learn, and publish it to the industry in the form of a Wiki and a podcast. With a litle luck, we'll see somebody take this and add it to their conferencing engine, so I can stop taking notes when I attend a conference call.

I posted my presenation to the right; I tried to record my talk too - I'll see if I can clean it up enough to post.

Stay cool,

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Missing some of the FMC point

I never comment on other blogs, because it seems too recursive for my defensive programming blood. That said, I was reading a fairly good criticism of FMC in the Telco 2.0 blog, but I think there's some FMC points that was missed, and in fairness, should be mentioned.

1) As I understand it, the largest customer complaint about current mobile service was that signal quality was low inside many houses. This is a big deal, since a very large percentage of cell phone use (something like 10-20%) occurs in the house. FMC directly solves this problem, and in my opinion, is worth the effort.
2) FMC means more than modal transparency - it means service transparency as well. I really would like to have my mobile phone appear exactly as my business desk phone. I would like both to ring at the same time, have the same voice mail, have the same features, work extension, DID, auto-attendant... everything. For me, this would be valuable.

That said, the Telco 2.0 blog is very cool - but I think just a bit out of bounds on this one.

IMS applications

Hi all -

Well, summer is over, and it's time to get back on the stick. I wanted to share something with you. If you're like me, you always hear that the future of telephony is in applications. Well, here's some data from a VDC report on the future of IMS. In the report, they ask a number of carriers what applications they plan to deploy on their IMS networks. The results :

1) Fixed mobile convergence : 80% of carriers
2) Music streaming : 79% of carriers
3) IP Centrex : 69% of carriers
4) Gaming : 68% of carriers
5) Video streaming : 63% of carriers

I find these numbers completely fascinating. For instance, three of the top five applications are based on entertainment. Also, we hear so much in my industry about FMC, but nearly as many carriers are looking for music streaming. The gaming one is fairly surprising to me, as I also have access to current gaming numbers from the mobile industry, and they aren't really that compelling.

As always I'm on the hunt for new applications - let me know what you are seeing.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

IPTV Blogging

Hi all -

Just a short note. As I am working furiously on Ernie, I am also doing some triple play blogging over at the Triple Play Blog at TMC. For those of you that are lazy, here's what I said :


We all know that service providers that deploy a triple play radically reduce customer churn, but they also set themselves up for new and exciting services.

I caught this one today and said to myself, I would so use this! UK incumbent telco, BT, has signed an agreement with Video Performance Ltd. (VPL), a UK music industry organization that licenses the broadcast and public performance of music videos. With this agreement, a subscriber can access music videos on demand from his living room. I can't tell you how long it's been since I've seen Devo's Whip It, but it's been too long. As Apple has shown, there is a real appetite for increasing the richness and spontaneity of our entertainment choices. I think BT is on to something here, and I'm sure it's not the last neat value added service that triple play will deliver. Now, if I could just find out how to watch some of those old Cars videos....


For those of you that attended the triple play symposium and heard my talk, I have the presentation posted on this blog, right over there ==>.

Stay loose.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thank you to the MLAC

Hi -

I wanted to thank all of the employees of the Massachusetts Legal Aid Corporation that I met with today in Boston. I spent a few hours with them to speak about Voice Over IP and deploying it in their system. If you are unfamiliar with the organization, or their misssion, The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the state's largest funder of civil legal aid programs. MLAC-funded programs provide free legal advice and assistance to low-income Massachusetts residents with non-criminal legal problems. You can check them out at

They had some questions for me, which I promised to answer for them. Here's the first few :

Q: Can VoIP work in conjunction with an older phone system?
A: In general, yes. Devices called VoIP gateways translate between older phone systems and VoIP based systems. They work well for most purposes. The biggest problems come in when you need to have a "feature" work between new and old systems. As an example, if you have a phone system on one side of the gateway transfer the call, it may have problems on the other side. You've probably got to test those feature interactions pretty carefully.

Q: Will the cost of VoIP outweigh the benefits of the system?
A: Well, VoIP is pretty much a slam dunk for nearly all applications. It either makes sense because of the cost savings in toll charges or maintenances, or it can do things that your old system can't. If you have to get a new phone system, you probably don't have any other reasonable choice.

Q: Can you name reliable sources of information of independent information on the VoIP industry?
A: There's so much out there, the basic problem isn't necessarily in independence - it's in digestion. If you are considering deploying VoIP, get an expert to help you understand the issues and guide your purchases. In general, find someone independent from vendors if you can.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ernie site is launched!!!

Hi all -

After months of threats, and months of head scratching, the Open Ernie site is now up and running at . Off we go to the races - I make the formal presentation at the VON Europe show tomorrow.

So, Ernie's mission is to enable LAMP developers to quickly develop VoIP applications using an architecture that scales. I've been looking at other open source efforts for raw material, including Asterisk, Yate, Shtoom and the offerings from SIP Foundry. Although the design stage will take some time, here's my thoughts on how things should be put together :

0) Ernie is open, free, standards compliant and quite SIPPY. Open means only open source will be used. Free means that no one should become the God of Ernie (that means me). Standards compliant and quite SIPPY means not only do we only implement with published and reviewed standards, but that we follow standard SIP and 3GPP architectures.

1) The SIP stacks from SIP Foundry are as good as it gets, commercial or open source. I can't think of a good reason to use anything else. There's too, too many SIP implementations already, so making a new one is just way out.

2) My personal feelings about Asterisk architecture are well documented, but the Asterisk developer community is large and vibrant. Many of them are taking Asterisk to make new applications. We need to find a way to integrate these efforts without inheriting the architectural problems.

3) Ernie should not be in any way a switch. It should be an applications platform, and that means that calls are present during the applications time, then should be ended or passed off. B2B = BAD

4) I think the basic top level API should be very close to TAPI in view and model, but implemented in Python/PHP/Perl. I happen to like Python very much. Es muy bueno.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ernie's First Applications

The point behind Ernie is that we need a framework to create server based, presence and VoIP enabled applications for next generation service providers and enterprises. Our first applications should be able to highlight these uses. After some internal debates, here's a list of Ernie's first applications, given in order :

1) An automated testing application for service providers. Ernie servers will sit on the edges and the boundaries of service provider networks, and will provide an active testing platform for them. Probably forward testing information to a Nagios system for display, monitoring, etc. We'll make it work with analog phone adapters as well, so you can test complete IP to PSTN connectivity. Ernie will test completion rates, voice quality, etc.

2) A basic contact center application that will handle inbound calls, agent interfaces, queing, etc in a SIP based network.

3) A find-me, follow-me service that can integrated into web pages. Presence and VoIP enabled.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Getting the Ernie Juices Flowing

Hi all -

So, now that I'm all married and stuff, let's get back to the grindstone.

Here's some prinicples of Ernie's architecture and design:
1) It should be standards based, as much as it can be.
2) The components should be naturally distributed and scalable. For instance, we should be able to add in a Convedia or Snowshore media server to accelerate and enhance media processing.
3) As much as possible, it should be fully redundant and fault tolerant.
4) It should be multi-application and multi-user friendly. Someone should be able to login to an Ernie server and manage (start, restart, stop, check, pause...) the applications that are running there.
5) People may want to make money with the Ernie applications they have written. Billing interfaces should be built into the platform.
6) The highest interface should be as simple as possible. Simple things should be simple to do. The ultimate customers are the millions of web programmers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Best Two Things I Saw at the VON Show

1) A hearing impaired man is setting up a VoIP network for other hearing imparied people. In this case, the "V" stands for "Video" not "Voice". I was really inspired here, because I think it is an excellent example of how our hard work will make somebody's life much better. With the global reach of broadband, and narrow-band switching technology, we now have a way to tie in this large, but not geographically dense, group of people.

2) The industrial design of the Polycom attendant phone. I am an unashamed PictureTel alumni, and seeing how slick this design was did my heart good. Design matters, and the lucky people who have this design on their desk will certainly be a little happier in their day to day lives.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I'm back again...

Whew - I've been busy. I've been traveling, writing, speaking, working, everything but sleeping. But, most importantly... Missy and I got hitched... eloped to be precise. I was going to lean the ladder up against the wall, but I'd probably fall or something like that. Our announcment letter below :

Dear friends and family,
Last Friday night, in the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, and with the greatest joy and happiness, we were married. Our wedding was very simple, with just the two of us, a justice of the peace and an old family friend, Marie McHugh, who served as chauffeur, photographer, witness and general go-to person. For us, it was a beautiful moment, and was everything that we could have hoped for. We are blessed with an ever-expanding family, one that is scattered all over the globe. Since we felt it would be impossible to gather all of our loved ones together in one place, and that we really wanted a simple day, we decided to elope. Frankly, in retrospect, it was an excellent decision for us. We tried hard to keep our plans secret to everybody, and didn't even know that February 17th would be the date until three weeks before. We are so happy to have that date, as it was Missy's grandmother's birthday. We know that our timing might be a surprise to you, but I can't imagine that our deep love and affection are. We are very happy.
We will be living in Missy's house in West Barnstable, on Cape Cod. We've both gone from being parents of two to four children, with the final child roster being Zephan (4), William (7), Abigail (8) and Jacob (12). No new sisters for Abby, but new brothers all around. Thomas has legally changed his last name to McCarthy-Howe, and Missy has kept her last name as McCarthy-Kraus. Go team McCarthy! We haven't planned a celebration yet, but imagine that this summer might be a good time for that.
Thanks for all of your good wishes; we are blessed in more ways than we can count. We are heading off to Florida in a few days to tell Thomas' parents, and Jacob and Abby get the good news when we come back on Friday.

All of our love,
Thomas and Melissa

p.s. We've posted pictures here...

Monday, January 30, 2006

I sort of got in a fight...

No, not with fists or anything like that. I save that stuff for Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings. During the show, I had an opportunity to speak with Mark Spencer a few times, and I think we disagree about a few points. I'm going to think pretty deeply about it and maybe write about it later, but here are the points of contention :

1) Mark said that, in software, anything is possible, so it is not unreasonable to think that Asterisk can be all things to all people. I say that software isn't magic, and nothing can be all things to all people. My question was, "How do you design a car to have ultimate speed and acceleration, while at the same time having the best fuel economy?" His answer is, "Software isn't the same as cars."

2) Mark said that open source changes all the rules, and that is what enables Asterisk to be all things to all people. I say that open source doesn't change any fundamental rules, period. He said that with Open source, you can now make anything at all you wanted. I replied "With an assembler, you can make any software you want as well, and that didn't require open source."

So, here's a fundamental question that needs to be answered. In the absence of any monetary motivation, is software engineering still relevant?

I say yes, of course.

Back from the Internet Telephony Show

Hi all!

I'm back from the Internet Telephony show, and it was really hopping! I was really surprised at the amount of really good customers I met while I was in the Netcentrex booth. Thank you to everyone who attended my sessions - I put PDFs of the presentations on the bar to the right. I didn't get to catch up with everyone I wanted to, so I suppose we'll see each other at VON in about a month and a half.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

January Letter

Happy New Year!

I hope this letter finds you well. I'm still hacking out a living as a consultant. In fact, I'm pleased to annouce that I've signed on a new consulting client : Netcentrex. I'll be working with them over the coming months to work in a pre-sales and product management role. This is a great job for me, as it increases my direct customer exposure. It's been a few years since I've been able to concentrate this much on sales, and I'm very excited about the team I'm working with. I have a lot to learn; they have a lot they can teach me. If you are coming down to Florida next week, I'll be in the Netcentrex booth for much of the show. Please stop by and say hello!

I'm also speaking at the show next week - three times! I'm speaking about the impact, both from a technical and business perspective, of transparency and walled gardens in next generation architectures. I'm also speaking on the session border controller panel, as an interested outsider. Finally, I'm speaking at the open source panel, about how open source can be used to meet customer needs.

To keep my brain balanced, I'm working on an open source application I call Ernie. Ernie is a Web 2.0 platform, designed to enable web designers to easily create and integrate applications that use real time communications. I'm still painting the picture for myself and others, and coding hasn't started yet. One thing, though, it's certainly not a technology in search of an application. We've been collecting dozens of very interesting services that Ernie can enable. If you want to follow our progress, check for updates at

Netcentrex is a big job, but not full time. I've already had two due diligence jobs for two different venture capitalists in the last two weeks! I have another one in a few weeks... a good sign for the entire business food chain. I've also had two small research projects I've worked on - one on the integration of voice and instant messaging and another on soft clients.

Finally, the open source report is really humming along now. I'm writing it with Jon Arnold, formerly of Frost and Sullivan, who now runs his own company. Jon has been deeply involved in our industry for a while, and is an excellent analyst. We're spending most of the day on Tuesday interviewing people for our report. It's my first official analyst report; new horizons everywhere.

Good luck to all of you! I hope to see you in Florida, and if not, I'm sure we'll catch up sometime.

As always, I am very grateful to everyone for their continuing support and friendship.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Free 411 is the future.

Here's a little quiz for you...

Most cell calls in the US cost 11 cents per minute. How much does a 411 call cost? Mine costs $1.50 for about three minutes. Your's much better? Didn't think so. And you thought margins were going through the floor!

So, if you haven't heard of it, there's 1-800-free-411. From their site :

1-800-FREE-411 revolutionizes the 411 (directory assistance) marketplace by offering consumers a FREE alternative to the high cost service provided by traditional carriers. In addition, FREE411.COM on the Internet provides consumers with an easy to use Web-based destination for telephone number lookups. National and local merchants sponsor this service with a 12-second audio jingle about their services, which are played to consumers at the point they make a 411 request for a business in their category.

So, you call, it costs 11 cents a minute, and you get connected. You listen to the add, and off your call goes. Now, here's the great part. If you ask for the local pizza shop, they give you a number, but Domino's pays for their add to play before you are connected. Maybe they offer you a free pizza deal or something. If you like what Domino's is selling, you press 1, and the call is sent to Domino's instead. Good deal for Domino's, huh? They have the ultimate targeted add - this person is hungry. Good deal for you too, right? It costs much less, and maybe you'll get a better deal for your pizza. And, most importantly, good for the Free 411. I hear rumours that they get something like a 5-10% take rate on their advertisements. That's better than Google, by a factor of ten.

Here you go - an excellent voice enabled application.