Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Next Generation Communications Primer

Now that I've stuck my foot firmly in my mouth, it's time to come clean on what I think the future of our industry is. I'll put together a comprehensive article about it soon, but as a preface to it, here's my "Next Generation Communications Primer". Each item in the list is critical to understand, because I believe it will have a deep impact on every aspect of our technology and our business. You may not agree with some of the items on the list, but I encourage you to at least become passingly familiar with them, so that your head will be clear when the arguments are made. This list is not exhaustive, and I cannot say which are the most important things on it, but I can say that each is critical to understand.

  1. Web 2.0 : This takes the cake for the most overused marketing term of the decade, I know, but the concepts behind Web 2.0 are absolutely critical and real. Tim O'Reilly wrote "What is Web 2.0" more than a year ago, describing what it really means. Read this article, and commit it to memory. When Om recently said that there was nothing Web 2.0 about Grand Central, this paper describes what Om meant. Even though the paper itself doesn't address voice specifically, it does provide a basic understanding of the current state-of-the-art of web technologies. Web 2.0 does not mean "whatever we do next on the web"... it has a specific meaning for the design and deployment of web applications.
  2. Amazon Turks : I've been blogging on this for a while. The concept behind turks is that it is artificial artificial intelligence; it's a way for a computer program to call a function that is performed by a real, live human being. Even more so, it does so in a way that can use a thousand people for a single hour, and then never again. Amazon Turks makes human labor available at Internet scale. The implication for telephony? Here's a quick one: how about professional receptionists that you rent out for a minute at a time? Another one - do you want to test out your new service with ten thousand people calling at once? Another one - how about near real time transcription of conferences and messages? Another one... do you get my point? The applications are endless.
  3. The rest of the Amazon Web services : It is important that you understand the implications of storage and computing power on demand. So much of our industry depends on capacity... both over and under. With the Amazon Web Services, you only need what you need. You can nearly instantly ramp it up, and down. You may argue that Amazon will not be the final vendor for this sort of technology... whatever. Somebody will.
  4. New Presence : Alec Saunders and his crew at Iotum developed an application that finally gives presence back to the user, and away from the service provider. Presence is so earth shattering because it's the first time human beings can express, in real time, their preferences for how, when and from whom they would like be contacted.
  5. Long Tail : The long tail refers to the phenomenon for large distributions, where there are a small number of very heavily weighted items in the distribution, and the rest of the items in the collection have, by comparison, a small weighting. As an example in music, something like 80% of the sales used to be in the Top 40. Since the Internet radically lowers the barriers to entry and costs of sales, it becomes possible to be profitable with a much smaller audience. In addition, since it's possible to offer a wider selection of products and services, increasingly larger amounts of sales go to the tail than the head. The implication for telephony is clear - services like voicemail which are big sellers remain that way, but the bulk of revenue is in the smaller services, now possible because of VoIP.
  6. Ruby On Rails and The Geeks : The technical and cultural shift of web development outside of our industry is massive. I could go on about how blindingly fast web development has become, but it's only half of that story. Today's geeks live with a different ethos about asking permission, content ownership and architecture, which results in massively scalable applications which are simple to write and deploy. Because of web services and VXML, telephony development is now web development. You don't need a million dollars or months of development to deploy innovative services. No one does.
  7. The carrier-class argument no longer holds. It used to be that innovative applications for telephony were difficult to scale because you could only stack so many Dialogic cards in a server, and so many servers in a rack, before it became silly. Packet based architectures are intrinsically more stable and robust than TDM architectures, scale better, are easier to deploy and are less expensive to develop and maintain. In fact, architectures such as TDM and (in some ways) IMS actually contribute to lower reliability and innovation. Pure SIP, and it's son P2P SIP, are systematically better.
  8. Programmable Web : Please visit programmable web. The web is now the platform, not a 2 million dollar piece of iron. When's the last time you heard of an interesting application being delivered on any other platform? If you think that mashups are the province of geeks, I would remind you that every successful travel site is now a mashup. If you think there are no good web APIs for telephony, I would have you visit PhoneGnome, TellMe, Voxeo, FlatPlanetPhoneCompany, JaJah, Jaduka...


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