Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My Absolute Favorite Company of the Internet Telephony Show

From the beginning of our lives, we found that we liked little, versatile things that we can put together in great ways. Legos- what an amazing thing they are. You don't need to tell a seven year old how to put them together to make a space ship.

My interest is in VoIP mashups. VoIP mashups take voice based services, control them using Web technologies such as REST or SOAP, and add in other web based services to make really cool new applications. Mashups, in general, make fantastic point solutions that can really address the needs of a narrow group of users quickly and inexpensively. Whenever I think about the vertically integrated stovepipe designs that dominate today's telecom solutions, I can't help but imagine a bunch of mashup geeks behind them snickering at how ridiculous they seem. I know - I need to get out more.

In the back of a booth (I think it belonged to ABP, and if it didn't Mr. Messer, get you *ss over there and sign them up) was a little company called CyberData Corporation. CyberData makes VoIP enabled ceiling speakers, paging gateways and loudspeaker amps. They even had a lock that you could dial into and give it a DTMF string to unlock it. I was completely enthralled. I know - I need to get out more.

Can you see what they are doing? CyberData is making these little Lego blocks that you can use for your own VoIP mashup. I imagine that I am an owner of a company that has multiple locations, but I want to have a paging system that I could deploy over the entire system without upgrading anything. I imagine that I am automating the floor of a hospital, and want to use voice prompts to remind the nurses about a particular patient's care schedule. With these sorts of products, I can just whip it together very easily. Cool? It gets cooler.

Stay with me on the hospital thing for a minute. As you thought about that hospital application, you might have imagined that the paging system was owned by this software reading the patient schedule. What happens when you want to add another application that wanted to use the pager as well? Let say we've got this disaster response program that was going to direct staff to the appropriate stations. In the OLD way of engineering, you would have to figure out how these two applications should talk with each other, so that they would share the paging system. In the NEW way of engineering, the endpoint is naturally smart, and would handle taking a request at time from any application, eliminating the need for integrating these two otherwise unrelated applications. Very cost effective, very scalable and very stable.

With the sort of stuff that CyberData is putting out, I know that I have a simple way in my new applications to send one way voice messages to any physical space, anywhere at any scale. Not only is that a tool that I know enterprises can use, it is an excellent example of the tools to come. Congratulations to them!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Telecom's Tsunami: Opening the VoIP community... to everyone

Just caught a link to this post by Thomas Anglero in Alec Saunder's log about the closed nature of the VoIP community: Telecom's Tsunami: Opening the VoIP community... to everyone

I can see where Thomas is coming from. There does seem to be a little clique thing going on at times. The thing that twists me about it is that the majority of the bloggers I see couldn't write a SIP stack to save their lives. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that, it's just that the VoIP blogs are fairly dominated by the business, PR and journalism types, not necessarily the geeks. Of course, Brough Turner stands out as the exception to this rule, geek god that he is. I would love to see a more well rounded discussion for the sake of the larger community; we will all benefit from it. I never go a day without reading Alec Saunders, Om Malik, Jon Arnold and Andy Abramson, but who's going to bring the deep technical analysis to the party? Brough's going to get tired, and I'm just a Paduan apprentice.

Podcasting with Jon Arnold

Last Thursday night from the Internet Telephony Show in sunny Fort Lauderdale, I had the chance to do a joint podcast with Jon Arnold. We talk about the impressions from the show, ObjectWorld, Anton, Open Source, cruise ships, viruses and more. We had a good time making this - hope you enjoy it. I think Jon and I are missing the warm weather already.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A sick thought...

I just had a sick thought.

I'm presenting tomorrow in the "VoIP Spam : Challenges and Solutions" panel, which means (of course) I'm writing it now. The other distinguished members of the panel appear are vendors, so my supposition is that they are selling solutions. Since I'm not a vendor, I'm writing about challenges. So, here I am thinking about VoIP Spam challenges, and I had a sick thought.

I remember hearing once that, after years of building SPAM filters for e-mail, a very effective method of determining SPAM was simply looking at people reporting SPAM from their inbox. If a bunch of people reported an e-mail as SPAM.... it was probably SPAM. Of course, this makes some sense.

Forget that approach for a second, and you are only using SPAM filters. Imagine that, to increase the chances of getting through the filter, you just changed spelling and smaller parts of the text. That would help get the SPAM through, but in general, there are only so many permutations because you are dealing with a fairly small field of possibilities, and in the end, you still had to have some sort of HTML link in there, and how much could you vary that?

My sick thought was that, with voice, I can vary it nearly infinitely such that it would be impossible from simple correlations to determine if two voice messages were the same. As a human being, I would hear them as the same message. As a computer, forget it. And even if the computers got better at correlations, I would simply need to add more noise to the message, knowing that human ears are really good at picking out the voice from the noise. Any Aerosmith fan will tell you that. This is really hard stuff. That takes away a very powerful tool that we have with e-mail SPAM.

On the good side, I have a brand new application for Amazon Turks! You could pipe all your voice mails through a real person who would throw away that voice SPAM. Don't laugh - it might be what this all comes to.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Internet Telephony Show - First Day

Welcome from sunny Fort Lauderdale and the Internet Telephony Show! For all my friends at home in Boston, I'm not rubbing it in. Really, I'm not. Unless you are talking about sun tan lotion, and then yes, I am rubbing THAT in. But I digress.

I had exactly two hours on the show floor last night, and that's exactly enough to get some basic impressions:
  1. I'm seeing much more innovation around business model than technology. It used to be that, when you walked into a booth, the first thing out of someone's mouth used to be something about functionality or technology. Not today, as every one I spoke to talked about innovative channel strategies or business models. A good thing, really.
  2. Where have all the big companies gone? To the VON show? You would claim that this might be an enterprise show, but then where are all the large PBX vendors? I remember walking around Fall VON asking, looking for the new entrants. I suppose they come here now.
  3. I found exactly ONE iPBX vendor and ONE application vendor so far that understands deployments of real time voice services in a services oriented architecture, or honestly, could spell mashup. My antenna's up with this one... I'll give you a full report at the of the show.
Jon Arnold and I are planning to record a podcast together tonight about the show, so I won't disclose my "Best of the Show" just yet. Stay warm all you Yankees.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jon Arnold and Marc Robins Team Up

Just caught the press release from my old friend Jon Arnold about his new partnership with Marc Robins. My best wishes go out to both of them.

I can personally attest to Jon's analytical brilliance. I met Jon when I was the CTO of Versatel Networks in Ottawa and he was the main Frost and Sullivan analyst for VoIP. After he left there, and I left Versatel, we teamed up on a few projects such as doing a due diligence project for a second round venture capital investment. I did the technical due diligence; Jon handled the business end. Jon's reputation for independent and thoughtful analysis is well deserved.

Oh yes, and there was that time about two years ago where we ran up that impressively large dinner tab at a restaurant in Sweden during VON Europe and charged it to my boss. Something about translating Kroners to Loonies. I suppose our reputation for fine dining is well deserved, too.

Business Drivers for VoIP Mashups

Don Van Doren is a regular columnist for VON magazine, and his recent article in his regular "Focus on Contact Centers" column put into a few short sentences what I believe are the business drivers for VoIP mashups. I believe that the next big wave of real time communications lies in the integration of technologies like VoIP and presence into the larger business process. This will increase business efficiency and customer satisfaction in a single move, and is a no-brainer for businesses of all sizes. Here's a concrete example: If my plane is canceled, I'd like an SMS message that tells me so, and says "Sorry your plane is canceled. Press SEND on your phone to reschedule now." When I press SEND, I call an operator that already has information on hand, and answers the phone with "Hello Mr. Howe. I'm sorry your plane is canceled. We can put you on a 4:30 or 7:30 plane. What one would you like?" That would be awesome service, and when you integrate real time communications with business backends, you can provide this service.

What Don said in the article was that there are three distinguishing characteristics of successful implementations of IP contact centers. I would amplify that by suggesting that successful VoIP mashups for enterprises would have the same three. I quote directly from his article:
  1. They are customer facing. That is, the investment facilitates direct communications between a company and its customers or business partners.
  2. The communication links... become embedded in an established or new workflow or process.
  3. The effect of implementing the communication link is to reduce cycle times or latency by eliminating or reducing the time waiting to reach someone.
The canceled flight example has all three, and is therefore valuable to both the customer and the business. From the larger perspective, this is why I believe that with the advent of service oriented architectures, integration of real time communications into the business process will be successful and inevitable.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I'm an optimist

I really wanted to share this one with you - I found it fascinating.

The New York Times has an excellent article about Optimism and Pessimism. As most of you know (since the only people who read this blog are blood related to me, or manage my case at the parole board), I am leaving my position at Comverse to go back to consulting, and to start a small custom development firm. Of course, I'm pretty optimistic about the future, even if I do wake up in a cold sweat once and a while. (OK... nearly every night.) One thing I read in this article is the common fallacy of believing yourself to be better than average:

Optimism tends to reign when people are imagining how their own plans will turn out. Research shows that we systematically exaggerate our chances of success, believing ourselves to be more competent and more in control than we actually are. Some 80 percent of drivers, for example, think they are better at the wheel than the typical motorist and thus less likely to have an accident. We live in a Lake Woebegon of the mind, it seems, where all the children are above average.

This isn't the first time I've read this, and I have to admit, I see the truth in it. I am a better driver than average, without regards to the warning that I received this morning for running - no speeding - through the stop sign near my house. I didn't stop for it. No one in my neighborhood does. No good driver would. So, I thought I'd share this story with you, because most of you are better than average drivers. Right? Right.

And the winner is...

Remember the speed geeking post from Mashup Camp last week? I am now ready to reveal my favorite mashup. But first, the final FINAL results are in. The speed geeking winner of Mashup Camp 3 with 18 nickels is..... drum roll please..... The Hype Machine!

The Hype Machine ( combines music blog discussion, tracks, youtube video, concert and sales data to create a unique music discovery experience. (Powered by a healthy mix of Perl & PHP). Congratulations to Anthony Vlodkin - geek of the day.

My favorite? GBlinker by John Herren. gBlinker takes a Google blinky pin, interfaces it to a laptop via serial port, and uses a hacked a Gmail widget (using the Yahoo! widget engine) to make the pin blink when you get new mail.

Why is it my favorite? Simple, the big deal behind mashups is re-purposing. As creators of technology, you simply don't know exactly how it will be used in the real world. Mashups recognize this fact by a clear delineation between the service and the application. In Voice Over IP, I think that's been traditionally seen as a 'bad thing', as business models are hard to see in that environment. However, in the 'Internet World', there's apparently more of a willingness to throw caution to the wind. That's why this was my favorite mashup. That and, I suppose, the complete and sheer geekiness of this one was too much to ignore. Serial port hacking? Very nice.

Introducing the Voice Over IP Literacy Podcasts

One of the best parts of my life is when I get to meet new people and teach them about the technology that I've worked in most of my professional life : Voice over IP. One thing I've noticed is that there's a lot to learn in our industry, and for some people, it's hard to know where to start. For these otherwise brilliant people, I'll be your host for a series of podcasts called the VoIP Literacy series. We'll touch on a number of basic points about voice over IP, from protocols to equipment, from the history of this industry to where it's likely to go from here. I hope that our listeners will learn the basics of next generation voice architectures, and it will provide a starting point for their own exploration.

Don't worry if you are just starting out and feel as though there's too much to learn. I've been involved in this field since the early nineties as an engineer at PictureTel, an early videoconferencing vendor that pioneered the use of packetized audio and video over all sorts of networks, and with little exception, have been in it ever since. I am continuously amazed at the sheer number things I don't know.

The podcasts are hosted from my website at, and I've even placed transcriptions on the resources pages. Each podcast is about five minutes long, so you can probably get through one before your SIP phone rings. I would really appreciate any feedback you can give to me, because I'm sure that as much as I can help others learn, I'll be repaid ten-fold in what they can teach me.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mashup Camp : Day 2 : Amazon EC2 Web Services

Starting out here at day 2 of Mashup Camp. This is a shorter day for us than yesterday, but I think we're going to make up for it in quality. The first conversation that I'm attending today is given by Amazon, and concentrating on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud. In essence, EC2 are computer in the sky. Why have a computer working for 700 hours, when you can have 700 computers working for an hour? The EC2, you can scale capacity up and down in minutes. Developers can control their machine instances, and is very inexpensive, since you only pay for what you use. If you only use 700 hours, you only pay for 700 hours.

EC2 works with amazon machine images. You can clone these images over as many servers you want using a web services call. Typical images contain LAMP stacks, Ruby or Ruby on Rails. Once you have loaded that image to one EC2 instance, you can clone them to as many as you need, and tear them down. The example Jinesh (our speaker) is using is a typical web server farm, where a load balancer is sitting in front of ten web servers. You can increase your capacity by adding an eleventh server, or decrease your capacity by removing one. It is your responsibility to update the web balancer with the IP addresses of the server.

Now, here is (for me) a very exciting development for VoIP. With a system like amazon web services, you can quickly scale up the capacity of your VoIP service. You simply add more servers to your application. Here's an example. Imagine a SIP application server running an application like voicemail. In front of the application, put a SIP proxy server to load balance inbound calls. Instantiate a single instance of the SIP proxy server, and a single voicemail server. Run these both on an EC2 servers. (By the way, if you were using it all month, it would cost you $72.00 a month for one of these servers.) Adding subscribers? Add an EC2 server. Shampoo, Rinse, Repeat. At this point, the software you want to write will manage your server instances.

It gets better. Want to update the voicemail? Simple, take a new EC2 server, put the new image on it. From the SIP proxy server, send a small amount of calls to it. Test it. Work OK? Great - start migrating over. What about storage? You can use Amazon's S3 to store the data, with a similar dynamic nature. Want it to sync to your local database? No problem, use the S3 web services interface to synchronize it with your local data storage. And you have done ALL of this without buying a single piece of hardware. Of course, all of these things COULD be done by buying your own hardware and putting it into your co-location space. How much money are you spending on installation and maintenance of your servers?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Speed Geeking!

What's speed geeking?

Twenty eight mashup developers open their laptops in a large conference room. The other 200 people, in groups of four or five, line up behind each one. For five minutes, the geek shows you the application, you ask questions, etc. A siren sounds to tell the people to find another geek to listen to. Like speed dating, but substitute potential sex for potential software.

This being a mashup conference, each geek had a mashup to show. And boy, were some of them excellent. We were each given a wooden nickel to give to our favorite mashup. I'm not going to tell you MY favorite one until I can get my pictures on the web - because you have to see it. Now, I'm an unabashed voice guy, and I was looking for cool voice mashups - but to tell you the truth, my favorite ones didn't use voice at all. Looking for a complete list of the mashups? Look here.

Here's some of my favorites :
  1. I love Amazon Turks. What do you do when you know the melody, or a few words from a song, but don't know the rest? WhatsTheTune( - by JineshVaria 3-way mashup for those who suffer from shower singing syndrome - means those who know the tune but dont know lyrics or song title/artist. This mashup records your tune, stores the wav file on Amazon S3, Creates an HIT on Mechanical Turk, Turkers listen to the clip, answers the HIT (title, song etc), the mashup looks out for the answer, takes the test and looks up Amazon (Via Amazon ECS) and tells you the price of the CD/DVD on Amazon.
  2. Jinesh uses Turks to play Chess. ChessTurk( - If the Nobelman in 1769 play chess with the turk, Why can't we in the 21st century. Mashup of playing a game of chess against the rest of the world where worker gets paid for every single move. ChessTurk is mashup between Amazon S3 and Amazon Mechanical Turk Web Services. The thing I asked was "What's in it for the Turks? They have no emotional involvement in the game." Jinesh said that he wants to extend the game by giving the Turk a small set of moves to choose from (like from a Gary Kasparov library).
  3. I saw this really cool ambient chat mashup. It listens to your AOL IM chat using the AOL Web Services, and searches your conversations for nouns. It takes that noun, searches Flickr for that term, takes a random picture and then makes it your chat background. So, if you are chatting with me one day, and I start typing "Charo" or "Irish redhead" randomly... you know why.
  4. This is a decent one - Gigul8r ( - ChrisRadcliff and NateRitter: Mashup (in PHP/AJAX) of Myspace, Google Maps, and Eventful to help bands promote their gigs online. Prints a poster, directions, maps.
  5. My favorite deep geek mashup: a Boxely mashup displaying a shared light box for pictures. The cool part is (now stay with me - this is important) it uses an IM session to tunnel the commands between the two applications. Not TCP. Not HTTP. IM. A chat message is sent, with some sort of XML formatting, and ripped from the stream before it hits the application. Oh the possibilities.


LignUp is an iPBX vendor that provides web services APIs into their box. I sat down with two of their marketing people for an excellent demonstration. Frankly, I found myself writing down SO many examples of how their switch could be used in the enterprise, I don't really have enough time right now to edit them all... speed geeking is starting up in a few minutes, and I'm not going to miss that one.

So, I do have time for at least one application. Imagine that you have posted pictures on the web. As you mouse over the picture, a helper window comes up and asks if you'd like to comment on the picture. If so, just enter your phone number. After you enter the number, you get a call on your phone asking for your comment. When you hang up, your comment shows up as a link on the page. You click on the link, and you hear your comment. I think this is a no-brainer for social networking services like Flickr, myspace, etc. How about dating sites? Yup. Easy.

How about the business ramifications? If you mashup voip with the business process, you can have the system call you on your phone to get your comments on anyone's work. How easy would that be to get feedback on the latest ad campaign? Or maybe it's better for approving business forms or purchase orders. When it's your time to approve them, you get an SMS message or a phone call, give your consent, and off you go.


Eventful - Mashup Component

I'm in the first session here, and our leader is Keith from Keith's service is targeted towards coordination between teams. The use case is your are soccer coach, and you want to tell your team that the soccer game is still on, even though it's raining a little bit. Or, more likely, it's raining TOO hard, and you want to cancel the game. Notifications can be given through e-mails and SMS. Of course, you can extend this problem to political campaigns, executive teams, etc.

One component of his mashup is data from Eventful. Events are managed (created, edited, viewed) though the Eventful API. This information is mashed up in padpaw's service. The benefit to Eventful is that they become a major supplier of calendars and events, increasing their subscribers and providing advertising information for them.

Of course, I'm thinking about mashing this up with VoIP. Why couldn't you use Eventful to schedule webinars, then using that information to push attendees to a conference call? Hmmmm.... You could actually have these unconferences on the fly.... Hmmmm....

Real Time Reporting from Mashup Camp

Well, the time for camp is here! I'm going to try to post as much as I can during the day, but the agenda that we are working on is so interesting, I might be able to keep up. This is my first un-conference, and it's really different than the other conferences I've been to.

Unlike most conferences, the agenda is not set before the day the conference starts. At the beginning of the day, the moderator asks the audience to come up to the front with the sessions that they are willing to lead. If you're unwilling to lead, but want to see a session, you can speak up too. I didn't see a session on real time communications mashups, so (lucky me) I'm running that one.

There are also some basic rules for the conference :
1) Whoever comes are the right people
2) Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
3) When ever it starts is the right time
4) When it's over, it's over

And the law of two feet:
If you are not learning or contributing, it's your responsibility to respectfully go somewhere you are learning or contributing.

If this isn't a good example of the mass democratization of our culture, I can't think of a better one. At other conferences, the vast majority of people who are speaking are those who paid for sponsorships. Here, there's a place for people who just want to talk. If you don't want to hear, just leave... which I suppose is where the two worlds overlap.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Venice Project has a name!

From Michael Arrington's TechCrunch page, the Venice project now has a real name : joost. You can get to it now on their site .

What is joost? Joost™ is a new way of watching TV on the internet, which uses new and established technologies to provide the best of both the internet and TV worlds. We're in the process of making it as TV-like as we can, with programmes, channels and adverts. You can also see some things that we think will enhance the TV experience: searching for programmes and channels, for example, as well as social features like chat. There are many more new features to come!

It also happens to be what Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis are doing in their spare time.

Friday, January 12, 2007

How to SPIT at the IT Expo

How do you SPIT?

Imagine going to your voicemail, and finding five messages from people selling you timeshares or Viagra. SPIT stands Spam over IP telephony, and it is one of the downsides of Voice Over IP. Since phone calls could be free using VoIP, an industrious hacker might figure out how to find all the SIP phones out there and call them and leave a voice mail message. At this month's Internet Telephony Show in Fort Lauderdale, I'm going to show you how it might be done.

Don't hate me; I'm trying to help. How? Well, I'm not the only engineer on the planet, and if I can figure it out, you KNOW somebody else can too. By describing how SPIT can be created, the more intelligent people out there can figure out how to prevent it, or at least how to minimize it. Hope to see you there.

Apple iPhone

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard about Apple's new iPhone. I gotta tell you, it's been a long time since I've been this excited for a new product. Apple is the best design house on the planet, and this phone shows world class design points. If you haven't seen it yet, because your jail cell doesn't have a computer, check it out at Apple . Let's dissect some of the nicer parts of the design and add some beauty to our world. Let me say from the start that from a UI perspective alone, this phone marks a watershed event.

The biggest deal? The UI, of course. Look at the bottom of the phone. There's only one mechanical button. The other buttons, right above it, are in software only. Why? Because the buttons you need change with the application you are running, and they are implemented in software behind a state of the art touch screen. For instance, in the iPhone picture here, you have buttons for your phone, your messges, the web and your iPod. When you press the phone button, all of the other buttons change to buttons you want on your Phone - favorites, recents, contacts, keypad and voicemail. When you look at the contacts, you push the contact to make phone call. No stylus, no buttons. Just point to what you want . Visual voice mail. When you type in a number, and you go past the 10 digit US number, the numbers get smaller as you add them. SMS messaging looks exactly like iChat - easy to see how you can add video to this one. The keyboard is implemented in software too, and as you type the letter, you can see the letter you pressed above your finger, reducing typing errors. For the over 70 million iPod users, synchronizing the phone to your computer requires no difference in behavior.

Visually - I think it's stunning. Not a corner in sight - only smooth, round buttons and edges. Bright and bold primary colors leverage the high definition screen. Mac users will recognize the icons from their desktop. Highlights are done by bringing inactive or non-focused buttons into muted back and white tones - the active button retains the color.

Oh, is it sweet.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Iotum has a new application

Some of you might know that I am adviser to Iotum, a Phone 2.0 company in Ottawa. Their president, and Uber Blogger, Alec Saunders just posted a demonstration of their new application called "Talk Now" on Alec's site. I think it's plain awesome. See it here.

With Talk Now, you can use your Blackberry to create a list of people you want to speak with. The application is integrated into the presence information of both you and the person you want to speak with, and when both of you are available, it will tell you and complete the call. If the other caller isn't a Talk Now subscriber, it still does a pretty good job of coordinating the call. Check out the video - it's a very cool app.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Hello all!!!

From our Brady Bunch to yours, we wish you the happiest and most prosperous new year ever!!!!!