Thursday, April 26, 2007

Motivational Video....

David Galbraith just dug out this video. It looks like somebody at Ernst and Young really thought this would motivate somebody. Were Dante Allegheri alive today, he would include elements of this video as one of his circles of hell, for sure. So, let me get this straight, if you want to work at Ernst and Young, you have to be between 30 and 45, white and you can't be able to dance. Did I get that right?

Gets Boost From 'Triple Play', Comcast Posts 80% Rise in Net,

Today in the Wall Street Journal, Comcast reports an 80% rise in profits due to the bundling of voice, video and data.. aka the Triple Play.

While I was at Netcentrex, this is the story we would continually tell our customers. Bundling these services creates a convenience for the customer, but it also radically reduces churn, a substantial cost for carriers. Netcentrex, under the capable direction of marketing Guru Brian Mahoney, captured and held the triple play position in Voice Over IP for the last five years. Now, Comcast has capitalized on this business model, proving Brian and the Netcentrex team correct. I hope all of the current Netcentrex customers are seeing similar returns, and that future clients will enjoy them too.

My emotional response is one of surprise, frankly. I'm not surprised we were right, I'm just surprised that we were THAT right. Gotta go buy some lottery tickets. Back in a bit.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Earth Day 2007

RocketBoom's Earth Day episode was just perfect. You gotta check this one out.

Monday, April 23, 2007

My Web 2.0 Talk

Thank you to Jack Ivers who put up this review and a link to my talk at Web 2.0.

My speech pathologist wife, who attended one of my talks for the first time said, "You didn't swear once! Good job, honey. Now, let's try to get you to slow down a little bit."

Good Thinking, Moshe

Check out this latest post from Moshe. Thank you for dreaming that we might live in a world where we can actually provide some value to customers, and that they might pay for it. Honest to God, I sometimes think our whole industry has this collective self-esteem problem.

Cure for Vonage's Woes?

Interpid reporter Andy Abramson digs this one up... Perhaps there's some movement in the Vonage patent matter, as 3Com apparently filed a patent in 1996 (patent number 6,529,501), which references the same approach, but might be considered prior art. I'm not a patent lawyer (don't even play one on TV), but if it's true that the Verizon patent's don't even list this one, it might mean trouble for the patent defense. It strikes me as a little odd though, as it was trivial for me to use google to figure out what patents it itself referenced, or those that mentioned internet telephony. Why didn't the lawyers see this one coming a year ago?

Here's an answer : it's muddy. A few weeks ago, a blogger gave a quick history of Voice Over IP. Trouble is... it's basically wrong. VocalTek no more invented voice over IP than Gutenburg invented books. (And that's giving a lot of credit to VocalTek, whom I respect nonetheless.) Just like Ana Nicole's baby, VoIP has many, many fathers - and it mucks up prior art big time. Let's look at some of the happy fathers not mentioned by the bloggers, and probably not mentioned by the patent attorneys, either :
  • H.323 was finalized in November 1996, written by many of my fellow employees at PictureTel, firmly establishing that nearly all of the ideas it contained were known in the community for at least two years prior, including naming conventions, gateways, etc.
  • Of course, H.323 was not born in a vacuum. It's father, H.320 was developed in the late 1980's, introducing packetized media and call control over WAN networks. It's where most of the G.7xx codecs come from. H.320 has gateways, and admission controls, conversions between synchronous networks.... sound familiar at all?
  • And of course, H.320 wasn't the first one either. How could it be? Px64 predated H.320 and was used as a major part of the spec, along with tight integration with Q.931. Yes, that SS7 spec. Anyone in Peabody at that time knew all about voice, video, packets, synchronous streams. I'm pretty sure that Regan was president.
  • I remember listening to "geek of the week" in College around 1985-1986. Audio? Yup. Internet? Yup. Real time? Well, maybe not. I'll give you that one.
  • Who could forget the ATT PicturePhone in 1970?
  • World's Fair anyone?
I could go on all day, but I have this funny eating habit, and I need to go make some money to keep it going. Engineering and technology is much more like a Wiki than a Word document. No one person invented voice over IP, and it's been here forever. If anyone tells me that the new thing with Voice Over IP is video, I'm going to barf. Literally. I've been at this since the early 90's at PictureTel, and I know people who I think are the old timers - and they view me rightly as a newbie. Expect a patent lawyer to understand that one? Yeah, me neither.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

StumbleUpon Snapped Up

Do you remember when VoIP companies actually had some sort of liquidity event? Well, if you DON'T work for Acme Packet, maybe you don't! The Web 2.0 finance world continues to bubble with today's news that StumbleUpon was snapped up by eBay for north of 40 million.

Favorite Link of the Web 2.0 Show

Area code. I heard these guys ran around Manhattan dressed up as PacMan.

Web 2.0 Show Wrap Up

Well, the show is over, but the show head-spin hasn't ended yet. Here's some of my highlights I wanted to share with you.

Finally got to meet John Musser of Programmable Web fame. John runs (in our opinion) the premier site for finding state of the art mashups and APIs. Nice guy. Pat wanted to go to Seattle for another meeting, and we will, but I think Pat just wants to get a cup of coffee.

I think I scared the FatDoor people when I claimed to know my neighbors and be involved in my community. After a blank stare, the nice lady said, "Well, you can use FatDoor too!" And I will, right after I get back from the YMCA.

Finally met Andrew Turner and Mikel Maron, fellow Web 2.0 speakers and geo-location geeks. Brady Forrest put us together for my mashup, and it was good to meet them in person. If you're looking for geo-location web applications, start with them. They rock.

I took a quick field trip to meet up with Jack Dorsey from Twitter and Narendra Rocherolle from 30 Boxes. I really appreciated the time they spent with me, and I plan to do podcasts and a profile of both companies. If you haven't heard of Twitter, please press up with your hands to move the rock you're living under. 30 Boxes is a personal favorite of mine, where I first came to admire the service, but now starting to admire the crew, too. If there are any social anthropologists out there, please go visit these guys, take a camera and start shooting. This is exactly what the 2.0 culture looks and feels like, right down to the floor. In 200 years, the geeks will thank you.

So much more to say, but it's dinner time in old San Francisco, and there's a trolley awaiting.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Om Malik has a New Site

Personal hero Om Malik has a new addition to the GigaOM family... found read. It's a site for startup founders and stakeholders, to share ideas and advice. Check it out.

Here's the the best advice I ever got on startups, from my boss Chuck Holland, the manager from the book "Soul of a New Machine" :

The only reward you should expect from doing a startup is that you'll get to do it again. If that's not good enough for you, don't do them in the first place.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who attended my session today at the Web 2.0 expo. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did - I am always amazed at how amazing the things you do are.

A few people asked me for the slides, and I have uploaded them on SlideShare here. Jack Ivers was also so nice as to record the podcast, and I'll put a link to that on the site as well when I get it.

Again, thank you!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Vonage is stuck?

A long time ago, I worked with a completely brilliant man named Bernard. I wish I had taken more careful notes while we worked together, because I find that I continually hear his voice in the back of my head giving advice. When I caught that Andy Abramson blogged about Vonage not having a work-around for the Verizon patent, Bernie's voice appeared yet again. Unlike all the other times disembodied voices appear, I welcome his voice.

"There are two kinds of engineers - those that know how to get unstuck, and those that don't. All engineers get stuck on problems, and some stay that way." We used to hire and team up engineers on this principal, making sure that the junior engineers were paired with a senior engineer to forestall this very phenomenon.

Is Vonage stuck? I can't believe it. How is it possible that, given all of the heads up, given the time in court, given the nearly infinite possibilities of implementation choices, that there is no workaround. I wish that I was not so full-out on all of my current designs, because I would take a crack at this one for free. (Oooohh.... Bernie's voice again. Not for free - right. Thanks, Bernie.) I simply cannot believe that there isn't a senior engineer in Vonage with the WD-40 to get this problem unstuck.

Somebody, please read that patent for me and tell me what the big deal is.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Off to the Web 2.0 Expo

Well, off I go to the Web 2.0 show. Considering how much I learned at the ETel show, I'm sure that this is going to be another mind blowing experience. I really can't pick which of the sessions I would like to attend - they all seem so necessary. I'll tell you how it works out.

The current plan is to meet up with a few companies I really admire, including the team behind 30 boxes (apparently they share office space with Twitter, so I'll have to address my current anxieties with them - perhaps they will be assuaged) and the guys behind programmable web. Since I've been deep in the IPCentrex space for a while, it looks like Sylantro is the only company of the big four (Sylantro, Broadsoft, Comverse/Netcentrex and Tekelec) that really understands the Web 2.0 mindset and approach, so I am willing to bet you that they will be around, and the others won't.

To get me (and you) in the mood, here's a post giving the top ten Web 2.0 startups - betcha you know at least half of the list.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Who Has the Advantage? Handset Vendors

I truly believe that presence is an important enabler for applications, and the example I was thinking about in the last presence post was Iotum's Talk Now. (In full disclosure here, I am on their advisory board, which means that I really believe in what they are doing. I expect no material benefit from the Iotum relationship other than the satisfaction of seeing good people and good technology succeed.) For those of you not in-the-know, Talk Now is an application that you use to tell people when you want to speak with them, and when you can take their inbound calls. Essentially, it helps to make sure you connect with the people you want to. This helps you reduce anxiety around your communications, because you can have some confidence that the calls you want to take, you won't miss, and that you have some power to control when that happens.

Due to disintermediation, I expect that the handset vendors will have an outsized portion of the value chain in next generation communications. FMC efforts will ensure that the transport layer is quite generic and reliable, giving large wireless carriers little room to charge hefty connection fees. The handset, and applications that run on them or are enabled with them, will be where the game is at. Any application that leverages that is gold.

This is a powerful thing, really, and just like Ken Camp said, I would expect the likes of Nokia or Motorola to jump on this bandwagon by snapping up places like Iotum. This is a double win for each presence enabled application they can snap up. It gives them real value that can be leveraged without the permission of the carrier, and it keeps it out of the hands of their competitors.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Twitter vs. Jaiku? I'm worried...

Call me a big party pooper, but my gut reaction to this "Jaiku" vs. "Twitter" argument is worry. I'm worried because I have become to be a real flat-earther, and have a hard time seeing how either service can become super-unique or super-sticky over the long haul. I'm worried about the founder's and the investor's wallets. Here's why:
  1. The infrastructure costs to put together a similar service provider are miniscule, or at least, so small as to be a rounding error on the size of any sizable company. Give me a good team, a million or so bucks and a few months - I have a knock off ready.
  2. Given the flexibility of our fast-becoming-literate web, it's hard to see that any provider would have a hammer lock on your presence. Who has a hammer lock on your presence? You, and only you. I can't imagine all of us running backwards to give it to somebody else, either. It's simply too easy to put up an RSS feed, or to aggregate other's RSS feed. If the service goes down, or becomes painful, I can switch really easily. And so can my friends. Damn, I might just run a couple of them at the same time... why not?
  3. They both have (basically) horizontal services, so the level to which they can add insane application value is limited. Seems like a bad combination - an easily replicated service targeted towards horizontal, high churn markets. They will have to play the market share game, and race the other participants to the bottom. (Sorry, been there and done that.)
  4. Twitter is simply annoying from my handset. It's nice that you just caught a cab, but after the fifth week of it, I'm heading for the Motrin. My team uses twitter to speak between ourselves, and that's about it. If Twitter goes away, we'll use Jaiku, or RSS, or e-mail lists, or.... you get the point. Sure, it's cool, but it's so damn chatty. Feels a bit like pet rocks and mood rings. At some point, somebody will say "Do you remember when everyone was so f*cking bloggy, chat web 2.0 happy that they posted to Twitter two dozen times a day?" If you really want to know how boring it might be to be the Almighty, go to for an hour.
I use both services, and like them. It is good stuff. But my gut tells me that the era of first mover advantage, especially with Web 2.0 sorts of social networking applications, is over. It's simply too easy to move to another provider, and too easy to put those providers together in the first place. I imagine a good life for both companies, but have a hard time wishing that I put my money into them when they started. Maybe they have some great geo-targeted location based advertising angle up their sleeves, but it seems like stretch and off their natural course. For their sakes, I hope they prove me wrong.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The New Voice of Presence

The New Voice of Presence
Deep in the DNA of every living being grows an irrepressible desire to control and modify the world that surrounds it. Every fall, whales migrate from the coast of Maine south to warmer waters, while chickens huddle on cold winter nights in the corner of the coop. Tonight, a teenager in Denver is dying her hair, while a parent screams and a friend smiles. Perhaps there is nothing more embedded in our subconcious mind than this need to control our physical world. All animals feel stress when their environment becomes out of their control, and these needs come in all sizes. Do we purchase the candy bar, or do we purchase the right to control our emotional health for the following five minutes? I know someone who keeps her candy bars in the freezer, as an insurance policy against feeling too bad. Simply put, the more we can control, the happier we think we’re going to be. Just like the mythical “Please, just do what I wanted you to do” application, no piece of technology will be able to read our minds around our anxieties, and it’s up to us to manage this. The matter is as personal as it gets.

If you look carefully at the evolution of the phone experience, you can see a steady stream of innovation around this very subject. As evidence, I give you the receptionist, who’s major function is to control inbound phone conversations. Caller ID, find-me services and profiles on cell phones all testify to our attempts at avoiding phone calls, and as we all know, we still fail in our attempts. The problem is not restricted to inbound calls, as we have as many problems trying to reach our intended audience as they do trying to reach us, providing a unique stress of its own. The essential problem is familiar to any child in a sea of adults: the telephone tells us when it wants to talk, but we have no opportunity to say when we want to talk. In traditional telephony, there is no real opportunity to express our needs and desires; our control is limited.

Next generation communications, provided today in the form of instant messaging services like Yahoo! or AOL, solve this fundamental problem with Presence. Presence provides a subscriber with the ability to talk back to the network, to describe wants and desires. This may not be apparent from the outset, as our current experience with presence is setting a status on a buddy list. But, in practice, it’s how we express our communications desires to the people to our buddies. This is derived from your status - “On the phone” means don’t call me and “Away” means that I’m hiding. Next generation communications means we are no longer babies, and we can talk back, but with a limited vocabulary.

New Presence is more mature, and stops playing these adolescent games. Instead of playing diplomat, New Presence allows the direct expression of these needs - “I want to speak with you, but not now... I would like to speak tomorrow at 5pm.” and “I’m in a place where I can’t talk, but text messages are OK.” What a new power this is for us, since it is the first time in human history that we have a socially acceptable, ubiquitous and easy to use method to throttle our interpersonal communications. New Presence does this in a complex and sophisticated way. Unlike first generation presence systems, which only work on crude measures such as how long it’s been since you’ve moved your mouse, New Presence uses items like your schedule, your contact list, your past behavior and even your physical location to communicate your presence to the network. Once you know your GPS location, it is a simple matter to correlate it with a web service to shut the ringer off whenever you are within 100 feet of a church, a library or a movie theatre. This sort of rich control of communications is what New Presence is about, and provides the sort of environmental control which subscribers value and crave.

This drive towards personalization, aided by democratizing technologies such as New Presence, will make subscribers claim their voice, taking this power closer and closer to themselves. Although there will still be network based services and applications, the ones that will be successful will be network based only for reasons of efficiency and economics. They will still have to provide ample control for users. Gone will be the days of Orwellian carriers owning and controlling a user’s communication experience. Instead, carriers and other service providers will be forced into openness and flexibility, in order to support the sorts of control that customers demand.

The challenge to the carriers is a boon to handset vendors. Since presence is so powerful, and so personal, it will likely live in a piece of network equipment nearest the user; either the desktop or the mobile handset. Until we can truly mobilize our desktop, perhaps by way of some implant behind the ear, it appears as though our mobile handset will be the platform that we use to control our presence, and therefore our communications. Other factors support this movement, as evidenced by the healthy ring tone market, and the fact that handset sales are more driven by style then by functionality. The handset vendor that maximizes New Presence, and makes it an integral part of the experience, will provide the sort of control that reduces stress, and firmly establishes customer loyalty deep in the subconscious.

The new voice in the network is an old one. The new voice in the network is yours, now fully able to speak not only to your friends, but to speak to the phone itself.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Aikido, Retreat or War

I understand that most everyone else in the country is celebrating Maunday Thursday or Passover... I'm celebrating Alec Saunders Day. I suppose the vacation did him some good, as his blog is roaring away these days.

You should check out his analysis of the newly announced Office Communications Server, where he concludes that we now have a world where communications and productivity applications are inextricably entwined. I could not agree more, which really hurts, because I although I deeply respect and fear the Microsoft machine... take your hands off of my Mac or die. Microsoft really has it right this time, and shows that they really do have a trick or two left up their sleeve. In fact, I will amplify Alec's point : we now have a world where the business process and communications are inextricably entwined. At this point, only Microsoft and the Internet world have credible platforms for transforming the business process through communications technologies.

At the end of the piece, Alec talks about three strategies for coping in a Microsoft world. You can practice Aikido, and use Microsoft's momentum to your advantage, you can go to war and hit them head on, or you can retreat and go vertical. Iotum likes Aikido, which I believe is the only decent strategy for any horizontal-looking service. If you have a horizontal offering, you better start studying O-Sensei yourself, because it's the only way to survive. For the others, I would retreat and go vertical, very vertical, and very quick. Microsoft consistently fails in verticals, for an obvious reason : they ARE omnivorous, and verticals are all about focus. You'll be safe there.

For the bigger boys, let me suggest that you go to war with Microsoft. Why? It will amuse me, and all the other bloggers. You will not be so amused, but just like large carriers who are busy hastening their demise with IMS, you don't have very many other options.

Alec Saunders : VoIP Not a Category Anymore

An excellent post from uber-blogger Alec Saunders today, talking about "VoIP not being a business category anymore." From his post:

Perhaps the real issue is simply this. VoIP isn't the reinvention of the telephone which we all foresaw five years ago. At least, not the VoIP peddled by the likes of Vonage. It's ordinary telephone service… delivered on IP. While popular, it has failed to deliver the revolution industry types envisioned. "Innovations" like web-based dashboards are long in the tooth, and the truly revolutionary applications which could have been delivered have never seen the light of day.

I agree with Alec, and I think I know the reason for the lack of innovation: education and habituation. Even if you have the world's best telephone service, if people don't know about it, they won't use it. And even if they DO know the service exists, habits are hard to change. That's why Iotum is my bell-weather... the canary in the coal mine, as it were. To me, the Iotum applications are super valuable. If these guys don't make it, it's hard to see how anyone in the carrier services market will.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Enterprise Mashup of the Day, Voxeo Style

I had the immense pleasure of meeting the Voxeo team today - truly customer focused, truly cool people. I love to meet companies like this, because their commitment to the customer and to each other is inspirational. I also love to meet companies like Voxeo because they are finding business success by applying technology to solve their customer's problems. They told me a story of a customer that I wanted to pass on to you.

A big problem in the retail and fast food worlds is employee turnover. It's not only a problem because it's difficult to instill quality in employees that only stay for a week, but it takes a lot of time to interview them by the hiring manager. The solution? Tell new hires to dial into a service that will pre-screen them prior to asking them in for an interview. You can gather personal information such as name, telephone number, etc. to do background checks. You can ask a series of questions to establish skills, education, personality types, etc. The results may be saved in a back-end database, where your hiring manager can give the high scoring applicants a quick call.

The benefit to the enterprise? They can do a more consistent job at qualifying applicants. The hiring manager spends less time speaking to felons and more time training the existing employees. Over time, you can tweak the questions to make better hiring decisions based on previous experience. It's faster and costs less.

The benefit to prospective applicant? You can automate the "Dear John" process, and make it faster for everyone.

The future rocks too. Imagine the library of expert quizzes you can have. For instance, you are looking for an IT guy that knows Microsoft Exchange, but as the hiring manager, you don't. Simply give him the number of the quiz to take, and see how he does against the average.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wake N' Bacon

I hope that I don't offend any of my Jewish friends with talking about this one on Passover, but I need one of these: the Wake N' Bacon. Kids, if you're reading... Father's Day is around the corner.

From the site :

WHAT: An alarm clock that wakes you up with the smell and sizzle of cooking bacon.

WHY: No one likes to wake up, especially by an alarm. This clock gently wakes you up with the mouthwatering aroma of bacon, just like waking up on a Sunday morning to the smell of Mom cooking breakfast. Unless you're Jewish.

HOW: A frozen strip of bacon is placed in Wake n' Bacon the night before. Because there is a 10 minute cooking time, the clock is set to go off 10 minutes before the desired waking time. Once the alarm goes off, the clock it sends a signal to a small speaker to generate the alarm sound. We hacked the clock so that the signal is re-routed by a microchip that in responds by sending a signal to a relay that throws the switch to power two halogen lamps that slow-cook the bacon in about 10 minutes.

What Was Once Hard is Now Easy

A week or so ago, I blogged about this coming storm in our industry, and I've been working on an article that details the stuff I've been thinking about. I wanted to at least speak about the prime mover for my bold declaration: what was once hard is now easy. What used to take a serious effort is now nearly trivial. I mean this in a radical sense, in the...

  • "I can now create a telephone application with twenty hours and $50.00 that I couldn't have written in six months and a staff of seven for a million a few years ago " sense.
  • "These guys from know nothing about telephony, but just created a service that's nearly as good as mine" sense.
  • "I can start my own service provider in my basement" sense.
  • "If I only have a thousand people who use my $100 dollar a month service, I can retire" sense.
  • "It's so easy to do, that there is no risk in trying" sense.
  • If it took me $10,000.00 to do, then it's hard to argue there's a lot of barriers to entry" sense.