Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I caught on Marc Robin's blog today that there's a trial version of the popular online game Second Life where, instead of people chatting to each other using text, they can speak to each other. What vendor is behind it? DiamondWare.
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting him, I want to tell you about a man named Keith Weiner, the owner of DiamondWare. I met Keith back in 1999, when we worked together commercializing the very first SIP software written by Henning's students at Columbia. Keith was an audiophile, and had extensive experience in audio drivers for games. I was rewriting the very first SIP softclient, and Keith was delivering the audio. At the time, I was running a small consulting company, and we became fast friends, and have been ever since. If you ever want to meet a man of tremendous character and ability - get to know Keith.
I remember thinking "Wow. This guy is so smart. Too bad he's so hung up on the whole gaming thing. He could really make some impact if he stuck to the telephony stuff." Keith, if you were at the ETel show, I would SO buy you a beer.
Well, here we are at the ETel show in San Francisco. I must admit, I barely remember when the VON show was like this, back in the day. When I attended my first VON show, ten years ago, it seemed very new and exciting. If you wanted to see really cool technology, and meet the brightest minds in the business, you hung around the VON show. But that seems so long ago now. It sort of reminds me of that commercial for MadTV's first season : "Remember when Saturday Night Live was funny? Neither do we!"
What joy I had today meeting so many incredibly smart and enthusiastic people. I can honestly say it was was the most intellectually challenging and rewarding show I have been to in years. For instance, I had the opportunity to hear Sunil Vemuri from QTech and Drew Lanham from Nexidia speak about searching through recorded speech. The demonstrations literally dropped my jaw, and made me believe that there was a imminent future with this technology. I was very happy to hear them speak, and appreciated how they were bringing our world forward.
I'm going to enjoy this one while it lasts.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Monday, February 26, 2007
Golleee. I'm a finalist in E-Tel's Telephony Mashup contest in San Francisco.
When I met Dave Nielsen at the mashup camp at MIT last month, he told me that they were sponsoring a mashup competition at the O'Reilly Emerging Telephony Show, and that I should submit something. Since I've been doing way too much business stuff lately, I jumped at the chance to strap on my keyboard and submit an application not to win, but to have some fun, prove a point and to see what happens when you take these wonderful Web technologies and smash them into the telephony world. Although I think the judges had some sort of group dementia when they nominated me as a finalist, I'll take it, just the same.
My business is in consulting and custom development. I'm really not interested in going into this space, so I'm going to post the source code and documentation after the show, so you can take it, extend it, whatever. I'm just doing this to learn and to teach. So, what's the application?
Application name : After Hours Doctor's Office
Business Problem : If a patient is sick after normal office hours, the only choices are to call the answering service to schedule an appointment for the morning, or to go to an emergency room. Many patients are unaware of which is the right choice, so they end up going to the emergency room needlessly, which not only drives up costs for the HMO, but also gives a lower quality of care for the patient and every other patient waiting in the same room. An easy-to-use, triage system to determine the proper course of care would result in faster service, lower costs and healthier patients.
Customer Experience : Mr. Kraus feels sick and dizzy, with a little left side weakness on a Tuesday night. He calls his doctor, Dr. McCarthy, to schedule an appointment for tomorrow. An IVR answers, telling the caller that it's after hours, and asking if the call is because of routine business or because of illness. If illness, it asks if the caller is on a cell phone or not. It then asks for a voice message to be relayed to the doctor, then hangs up.
Immediately after the call is over, the patient gets an SMS message on their cell phone telling him that the call was received, and that we are forwarding the message over to the nurses. If the caller is calling from a PSTN phone, we would do an outbound call back. (I couldn't do this one, because I'm not a real Tell Me developer, and outbound dialing is restricted for those who aren't.) The message is sent to a bank of nurses, who listens to the message to determine if it's urgent or not. If they think it is routine, they indicate that on their console, which results in another message being sent to the cell phone telling the patient that the matter is probably routine, and they would get a call in the morning. If urgent, the patient would get a message like "A nurse thinks you need to speak with a doctor. We are looking for one now - stay near the phone." Urgent issues are forwarded to the doctor as an SMS message to their cell phone with a summary of the call done by the nurse. In this example, the doctor's message would be : Mr. Kraus - 40 WM - left side weakness, nasuea -508 364 9972. The doctor would simply press the send button on his phone to call the patient.
At no time would the patient be more than a few minutes from feedback, and make the prospect of going to the emergency room so slow and painful, that they would prefer to sit and wait for the text message to get back.
The Mashup Components :
- Tell Me VxML for the inbound calling IVR, the outbound status messages if I was a developer and to record and post the patient voice message.
- Strike Iron Global SMS for the text messaging between patient, nurse and doctor
- Amazon Web Services to setup the bank of nurses making determinations of urgency, and to transcribe the original voice mail by the patient for the permanent medical record.
Compelling Business Ideas and Notes :
- Using IVR on the front end gets the critical information from the patient quickly and without asking for new patient behaviors, all without a real human doing anything.
- Using a bank of amazon turk nurses leverages the tens of thousands of stay at home nurses with small children who wouldn't mind making $3.00 in two minutes by listening to a voice message and determining if it's important or not.
- A typical doctor might have ten calls a night, which is not enough volume to pay an on-site nurse. A thousand doctors have ten thousand calls a night, which supports an amazon turk community easy.
- An HMO would pay $300.00 to keep a non-urgent patient out of an emergency room.
Well, I survived the trip to SoCal with the family. We hit the usual: San Diego Zoo, Disney World, Wild Animal Park, In-N-Out... It was the first time the two oldest kids were out in California, so it was really nice to see them soak in the California lifestyle. We were visiting family out there, which was really fun. My sister-in-law, Machelle, is a personal trainer and gave this old black-belt an excellent set of calisthenics that I'm bringing back to class. So, if any students are reading, blame her.
I really had a good time with my brother-in-law Dan McCarthy, who's a Senior Vice President of Footwear Merchandising and Design for DC Shoes. If you haven't heard of DC Shoes, or the parent company Quiksilver, ask your kids. Anyways, I'm sitting at the table in his kitchen, playing with my lovely E62 Nokia. Dan says, "Let me see that. Ick. That'll never sell big." Now, when Dan says something like that, you listen. If there's somebody who knows about things selling big, it's the main product guy at the coolest shoe company on the planet. Why? "It looks like a f-ing calculator. Who wants to wear that?"
As I hung my head, I recalled the success of the Motorola Razor. The Razor is not a very smart phone. Not a lot of features. Nothing whizzy about it. But, it looks good, and it's cheap. That sold big. Sort of depressing when you think about it, especially as an engineer.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
As I was sitting at my desk this morning, writing an article for an upcoming newsletter, I happened upon the idea of fair use guidelines and mashups. An interesting part of the mashup culture is this idea of permissions... or lack thereof. Just like the DJs of the past, today's young mashup writers aren't really worrying about who owns the content they are using for their application. Indeed, in a very nice turn of events, most of the web services providers don't care that much about how their services are used - they care more that the services simply used.
That sort of mindset is different than other industries, such as entertainment and digital content. As I was researching the intersection between mashups and legal issues, I found this wonderful 11 minute mashup video from JD Lasica exploring the bounds and status of fair use in mashups.
I understand that this is really not about telephony per-se, but certainly about mashups. Let me give you a concrete example of how this might affect our industry. You are a service provider, and you allow your customers to load up a ring back tone for their account. When people call your customer's number, they will not hear ringing, but whatever .WAV file they uploaded. If the customer uploads the latest Ally and AJ song, is that fair use? If they only use 29 seconds of it, is it OK then? If not, who's responsible?
Extra credit time! I will buy the first person lunch at the finest restaurant in Hyannis if they can tell me who is in the picture on this post, and why I picked him.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Apparently, Mr. Pulver has found Twitter. Twitter is a pretty cool application. You can send it text messages, which it aggregates and sends to other people on your buddy list. The main application is active presence, as in, "I'm jumping on a plane" or "Sad because I'm a Celtics fan." Others who are in your group receive these messages on their cell phones when you send your message out. You can update your presence through IM, SMS or on the web page. Personally, I've had some problems updating my presence through IM, but maybe it's me. In his blog, Jeff says he likes the service, but says that it's a bit chatty. And of course it is... if you have ten friends that update their presence a few times a day... that's a lot texting going on.
So, as a help to Jeff, let me suggest a mashup for him. Instead of continuously getting feedback, why don't you setup a system where you can ask to see what Jonathan is doing by texting his feed.
It's pretty straightforward : Twitter has an API that allows you to take the data from your friends as an XML or JSON feed. Give that XML feed into a custom keyword at 411 sync. Let's call it "twitter_pull" Then, if you want to know what your friends are doing, just text "twitter_pull jonathan", and you'll get back the Twitter data of your friend. You could probably get really complicated and use Yahoo! Pipes to do the consolidation, but that's for another day, I suppose.
5 cents, please.
Friday, February 09, 2007
I remember at a VON show a couple of years ago, during the bubble, somebody put out this company name generator thing. You spin three concentric wheels, and wherever it lines up, that's your name. The outer wheel had colors, the center wheel had a nice selection of landmarks, and the inner wheel had geek names like systems and networks. Spin the wheel, come up with Blue Creek Networks.. spin it again.... Red Lake Systems.
So, I'm full scale into Web 2.0, and I see the patterns already. Here's Tom's instructions on generating a Web 2.0 look and feel for your company:
- Rewrite your company name by placing a "y" at the end, or removing the e before the R. For instance, Google becomes Googley, Hertz becomes Hrtz and General Motors becomes Genral Motors-y. Go ahead - leave letters out. They just get in the way. You can give them to other companies, so that Yahoo could become Yaaahoo.
- Change your color palette of all your web sites to include only blue, orange and gry. I mean gray. Use only primary colors on a white background; round every curve.
- Talk about connections and community until it makes your own community want to go postal.
- For all intents and purposes, you can start a service provider for nothing. All you need is a giant ego, a ton of hubris, colocation space and offshore development... and you're good to go. Oh yes, you also need a devoted following (see point 3) that someone else can monetize after you cash out. You're too whatever-it-is and busy to actually monetize it yourself. Let the establishment do that.
And after you've done all that, in a few years, you'll have to sit down and actually figure out how to make money. And that will be good for you. I'm pretty sure that Telecom 2000 is Web 2007.
The good news? Just like Telecom 2000 gave us wonderful things like SIP and VxML, you guys are giving us mashups, and web services and structured data. Thank you!
Thursday, February 08, 2007
In a complete coincidence, I had the pleasure of doing a podcast with Ryan Sarver from Skyhook Wireless on the same day Gig Om breaks the story of the partnership between Skyhook and SiRF. The big deal is that with the partnership, SiRF can jump start the process of GPS positioning, especially in challenging environments. We talk about this, and strange people driving around your neighborhood, in this podcast.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
I'm pleased to announce that the first of the Voice Over IP Expert Series of podcasts is now available on the main website. This series goes deep in a few, cutting edge areas in next generation telephony. I thought that the Internet Telephony show was a good place to kick it off. I hope you enjoy it.
Our first episode is about Spam Over IP telephony, and I focused in on the content of an draft called "The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Spam" written by Jonathan Rosenberg and Cullen Jennings last October. This draft details the possible approaches to eliminating SPIT, not necessarily how would do it. Of all the drafts I've read, this is one of the better ones. This podcast is a live recording of a session I did with Jon Arnold at the Internet Telephony Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Ok, even if it IS a cover Mountain Dew commercial, Sue is right on, and explained mashups better than I can. Get your freak on, Granny. If you had red hair, I'd marry you.
From the Strategic Public Relations :
Sue Teller is an 80-something-year-old woman who shares her arts and crafts ideas on YouTube in a show called “Do Your Own Adventure,” and it’s hysterical. In the preview of the show, Mrs. Teller is shown pimping her ride by adding crystal studs to her car door with a glue gun, spray-painting her own creation on a T-shirt, and creating a jack-a-lope by attaching deer antlers to a stuffed bunny rabbit. In the 1st show, she tells viewers how to DIY your own “kicks” with a hot wood tool; and in the 2nd show, she shows how to create a mash-up using a crochet-covered set of turntables and favorite oldie records mixed with crunk beats. In both shows, she sips on a Mountain Dew using a straw and uses pop culture expressions, i.e. “word,” while demonstrating her latest crafty adventures.
Word has it that this nugget of mash-up genius that’s quickly attracted scores of fans and the envy of the advertising world since is came out last week is indeed, Mountain Dew, but they’re not talking. Meanwhile, this crunk-lovin’ grandma continues to draw attention and a new type of hype that’s been pounced on by bloggers worldwide regarding the mystery of just who is the creative genius behind this new YouTube show/commercial. –Kathleen Gasperini
By the way, I think the word mashup really captures what this all about. If we can take two things and re-purpose them easily, then we have blown our flexibility as application designers through the roof. The twin advantage of inexpensive development and exponentially increased freedom not only results in innovation, but cost savings.
Friday, February 02, 2007
A few days ago, David Beckemeyer asked where all the Web 2.0 developers were. David's the founder of Phone Gnome, which provides a web API for making next generation telephony applications. Since the API was released, only a few companies have taken advantage of it. In a response to comments, David clarifies his position:
My point was more to the whining by the pundits, experts, analysts, bloggers, and other net know-it-alls about the telcos not opening their platforms, about net neutrality issues holding them back, and such, when the platform for offering these apps exists here and now and requires no more capital than putting up your average Wordpress or MT blog. So now what’s their excuse?
Well, seeing as I'm a member of at least two of the whining groups that David mentions, I'd like to offer an excuse, since David's asking for one. Let me be clear that I actually INTEND to use Phone Gnome soon, and the only reason I haven't yet is that I'm busy working with a bunch of other Web 2.0 APIs right now, and there's only so much time. I like what they have. I like what they've done. It's good. Save me some, please.
We have made a big mistake in our industry by thinking that adding these additional features will revolutionize our phone experience, and if we could just find the right mix, the world would beat a path to our door. Sell on features, they say, not on price. Frankly, we better, as the price is going to zero. To the point - if you could make the best phone application in the world, I firmly believe it would not be enough to guarantee wide-scale adoption and success for the company that developed it. Why? Forrester Research answered it for the mobile market in a recent report: education. People don't use services they don't know about. If you don't know a service exists, then you won't use it. But it's worse, even if people DO know about a service, it must become habituated. Habituation is hard to do with anything that doesn't involve caffeine, heroin or redheads. It better be good. Habituated services can become viral, but you've got to get hooked first.
Look at Iotum for God's sake - you might be able to come up with a better set of Voice 2.0 applications, but I doubt it. If you listen to their pitch, or use their service, you get it. You have the problem they are solving. You really do. And they solve it. They really do. Why aren't the carriers getting it, and deploying it like mad? Well, I think it's been such a long time since there was anything of that caliber available to them that they don't believe they can get over the education and habituation hurdle. For their sake, and Iotum's, I hope they shake it off and get that service widely deployed.
If it's true that you need home runs like Iotum to get voice 2.0 applications written, then will there ever be more than ten applications written for Phone Gnome? I say it's an unqualified yes. That's because I believe that the real game for Voice 2.0 is the integration of voice into the business process. Businesses want to do it because it saves them money with a more efficient process and fewer staffing requirements. Customers want to do it because it means better customer service. There's no education requirements for the customer. No habituation. All the customer sees is that text message on their cell phone saying the plane at 4PM is canceled, and when they press the send button, the operator answers the phone saying "I've booked a seat on the 5 PM flight, Mr. Howe, if that's OK with you." And that would be OK with me. And the people who write the web sites for Jet Blue will use Phone Gnome, and that's where the Web 2.0 developers are.
There and in the Comfort Inn in Sanford, Florida.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
I love meebo. In honor of this weekend's Super Bowl, they took their camera out and did their own commercial. Sandy and Elaine driving around in the VW, da da da. How did I know it was Sandy and Elaine?
I know this because I use Meebo every day to consolidate all my IM accounts in one page on my browser. They put little windows on the back of their page with blog-like entries, telling me what they're up to and what they are working on. Each entry has a picture of who's writing the piece, and I know Sandy and Elaine because I've read what they've written to me. Or at least, it feels like it's written to me, because it's not stale and impersonal marketing crap. It's a real person writing like a real person. The result is that I have an emotional connection with the team, which benefits all concerned. Would I leave them and use a another service? Not without a pretty good reason.