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Posts from July 2007

Ooma, ooma, ooma... a collection of links about the buzz

image Late last week  there was quite the buzz in the VoIP part of the blogosphere about "Ooma" a new company with $27 million in funding that claims to "transform telecom services" and let you "make local and long-distance calls anywhere in the US for free" (provided, of course, that you live in the US).  I saw all the coverage and thought about writing something here, but I just couldn't get overly excited to do so.  My first reaction was, well, "how is this different from PhoneGnome or other similar systems?"  (And I enjoyed the fact that PhoneGnome promptly came out with a "Build Your Own Ooma" Challenge!)

My second reaction was that with their peer-to-peer architecture (letting others share your phoneline) there are bound to be security concerns (opinions here and here) and that it looks like it involves changing out your existing firewall/router and that simply isn't something I see people wanting to do. 

Anyway, there's been a whole lot of words written on this issue and so I thought I'd point to some of the pieces out there.  First, some nice summaries:

And here are a range of the other articles out there:

More details direct from ooma through the ooma FAQ.  Kudos for them for calling their beta program the "White Rabbit" program - it's cute for those who understand the reference.

In the end, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of it all.  I have a really hard time believing that a huge number of people will shell out $399 for a box like this.  We'll see.

P.S. I noticed that the FAQ says this about international calling:

If you want to call overseas, you can use ooma by pre-purchasing international minutes at for rates as low as five cents per minute.

In the era of Skype, Yahoo!Voice, Microsoft's Windows!Live, AIM and countless others that are essentially driving the cost of international calling down toward $0, it seems hard to believe that they will get people to pay "rates as low as five cents per minute".

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New version of IM+ out that lets you do Skype from your Blackberry...

image About a month ago, I wrote about the "IM+ for Skype" client that let you use Skype on your Blackberry. Well, a new version 2.5 is out now and Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal has a review.  Jim is quite enthusiastic about a new feature that lets you specify the number at which IM+ will call you back (rather than only calling you back on your mobile).  I also found this interesting:

As an added benefit, IM+ 2.5 will not only make calls to those in my Skype Contacts but also my Blackberry address book. In summary IM+ provides a very versatile way of combining access to both Skype and Blackberry resources.

Interesting to see the merger of Skype and Blackberry directories.  I've not yet played with it and don't see myself having the time to do so in the next bit, but Jim says he'll be writing more in the time ahead about it.

Test posting - please ignore

Hmmm... new posts do not seem to be appearing on this weblog... so I'm just posting this from within the TypePad web interface before I contact TypePad support.

Please move along now... nothing to see here!  ;-)

Remote VoIP teleworker sets serve as an Internet connectivity warning device...

image Here's a great side benefit of having an IP phone in teleworker mode hanging off of a system somewhere out there on the Internet - you have a close-to-instant warning system about Internet connectivity issues. 

Take this morning... I walk into my home office and see that one of my phones has come out of its sleep status and the backlight is on and showing "CONNECTION PENDING..." with these black square boxes next to it.  I glance at another IP phone:  "PLEASE WAIT"

Oh, %#$#?!.  It's going to be that kind of Monday morning!

Yes, indeed, as I woke up the PCs, I did indeed have no connectivity.  Couldn't get to any websites and all the IM clients were cycling waiting to get connected.  After doing the usual power-cycling of the cable modem and verifying that I could get an address but couldn't ping beyond the next hop router, a relatively-quick call to Comcast brought the word that there was a "partial outage" in my area and that connectivity might be going up and down for the next two hours.

Great.  Wonderful way for a home office worker to start a Monday.

But it did remind me of one great benefit of having these IP teleworker phones[1] - they are a great way to know almost instantly whether my connection is up.  If I'm in the middle of doing something on my PC and it seems like connectivity is down, I just turn my head to look at the phones and can see very quickly if they are up.  Likewise, if I'm downstairs using my wife's PC and it seems like Internet access is down, I just go up the stairs and pop my head in the office... first glance is to see if the phones are up. 

It's a great side benefit of having the phones, although admittedly it wasn't anything on my mind when we were rolling out the Mitel Teleworker solution back in January 2003.  (Full disclosure: I was the product manager for the product when it was released.)

Now, this works in my case because the phones are using Mitel's own MiNET protocol and always have an encrypted MiNET connection established back to the Teleworker server sitting on the edge of the corporate network.  If the connection is broken, the phone flags that by displaying the aforementioned warning messages.  It's not *instant*, but typically within 30-60 seconds of the connection being down the messages appear.  If the phones were, say, in SIP mode connected to a SIP server out there, I wouldn't get the same fast notice because in SIP mode they are essentially stand-alone endpoints - think of them as mini-computers with a phone handset.  The first time I'd really notice was when I went to make a connection (or if the phone went to make some regularly scheduled connection and couldn't and put up an error message). 

This "side benefit" is, of course, not at all unique to Mitel implementations.  Basically any other IP phones that have "always-on" connections back to a central server will have the potential to do the same thing.

It works the other way, too, in letting you know when the connection is back online... while I was on the phone talking to the pleasant customer service rep at Comcast, how did I know that my Internet service was restored  (at least for the moment) without looking at my PC?  Simple...

... all my IP phones were back in operation.

[1] And yes, I have several teleworker phones- three to be exact, but hey, I'm working on emerging technology stuff so I have to be able to experiment and work with these phones.  They are also on different switches and trial systems.

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iSkoot - cool idea for a Skype client for Blackberry, but I don't see me using it much because...

Last week I wrote some first impressions of iSkoot, a new Skype client for Blackberry, and while I still think it's a very cool idea, I don't see myself using it all that much.  Why not?  Very simply...

Battery life!

Or the lack thereof.  Yes, indeed, it all does seem to come down to batteries, and iSkoot seems to certainly consume its share of power.  Now granted, my Blackberry 7290 is an older model and for all I know could probably use a new battery, but in "normal" operation, I can charge it up and then have it run for a good 3 or 4 days before it needs a recharge.  However, start up iSkoot and I found I suddenly needed a recharge by the end of the day!

In fairness, iSkoot is not alone in this... the other Blackberry IM clients I've used, both the Windows Messenger client and also most recently the IM+ client for Skype also have this same problem.  I'm assuming it has something to do with the need to regularly use the data connection for updates to status and to update chat messages.

I can see this actually being most useful to me when I'm traveling and need to quickly reach someone from within an airport or something like that. Of course, that's also when I want the longest battery life, too!  I think I'll keep it installed on my BB, but I don't think I'll have it running except for those times when I'm somewhere and I want a quick way to do IM via Skype.

Too bad, really, because one of the fun aspects of it was that I had a very easy way to read Twitter updates and Facebook updates on my BB (since I have both Twitter and Facebook status streams piped into a Skype chat).

Ah, the joy of batteries...

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iSkoot provides another Skype client for Blackberry devices... review - and my first reaction is that it has a challenge with the "instant" part of "instant messaging"

NOTE: Please see the updates at the bottom of this post.

imageBack on Monday, Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal IM'd me (on Skype naturally) asking if he could do a test call to me on "another Skype client for the Blackberry". Naturally, I said yes and in a moment or so we were speaking.  It turned out that he was using a new beta application from iSkoot.  From the news release:

The new iSkoot v1.1 delivers a comprehensive mobile Skype experience on BlackBerry: With the click of a button, users can instantly chat with their Skype contacts, make and receive Skype calls, and use SkypeOut™ to inexpensively call regular phone numbers nearly anywhere in the world. iSkoot v1.1 also displays complete Skype contact status information, so BlackBerry users can see which friends, family members and business colleagues are available, as well as manage their own online presence. This latest release features a next generation, easy-to-use interface especially designed for BlackBerry users and will offer additional features soon. iSkoot works without any need for PCs, special hardware, custom phones or Wi-Fi hot spots, and utilizes the existing mobile network infrastructure to route Skype calls through the voice channel.

It sounded interesting and so, of course, I had to try it out as well and finally had a spare moment to do so today.  Now, both Jim and I had commented a month ago about the IM+ Skype client from ShapeServices (my posts first here and then here with a link to Jim's coverage) so that previous experience somewhat colors my own view of the iSkoot application.

The installation was fairly straightforward. I filled out a form on iSkoot's site and was then SMS'd instructions for the download.  I simply opened the link in my Blackberry's browser and proceeded with the install in the normal "over the air" process.  One minor detail was that my Blackberry 7290 was not in the list of supported handsets, but I took a guess that the 7100 binary might work and so I used that (and it seems to work).

Here are some initial positive impressions:

  • Nice user interface - Very nice interface.  Tabs that you can use Alt+wheel to move between for your contacts, online contacts, SkypeOut contacts and chats.
  • Presence worked - I could see the presence of the other Skype users on my contact list.  I didn't try to see what happens when a user changes to see what kind of time delay there may or may not be.
  • Outbound calls worked, although with an annoying step in the process - Move to a Skype contact and push your thumbwheel twice to call.  (Or push it once to see your options.) The call then starts by initiating a regular mobile call from your Blackberry to a phone number in Massachusetts (for me).  It then seems to call the other person on Skype and connect you through the gateway at iSkoot.  The annoying step was that when I first initiate a call, my Blackberry throws up a menu saying that an application is requesting to make a call and do I want to allow it, with the default being No. I therefore have to scroll up and press my thumbwheel again.  It's a pain and I couldn't find a way to remove that request.  I don't remember having to do that step in the IM+ client (and my trial has expired).  In any event, once the calls were connected, the audio quality sounded fine on both ends.
  • Chats worked, and alerted you to new chats - Easy to initiate chats. Nice list of current chats.  If a new chat is opened up with you, you get a notification and can open it up.  If there are new messages in existing chats, you get notified of those as well.
  • No conference call appearance - Unlike the IM+ client, your call just appears as a regular Skype call.  In fact, there was really no way for me to know Jim was not calling me from his regular Skype client.  With the IM+ client, you wound up getting put into a conf call with the other recipient which just seemed a bit strange.

Realizing it is still in beta (like, it seems, most everything on the net these days), here are some negative impressions:

  • No support for groupchats - Using the Skype 3.2/3.5beta clients, I'm accustomed to having several public groupchat windows open.  Unfortunately, groupchats are not supported per the FAQ, and my public groupchats did not appear.  This does work in the IM+ client, so score 1 for IM+.
  • Very slow updates to chats - In our experiment today, Jim Courtney and I both had Skype running on our PCs and so we could see our chat messages in a chat window there as well.  There were times when it took 5-10 minutes for messages typed in the PC chat window to appear in the iSkoot window!  Given that this is supposedly instant messaging, such a delay was hard to fathom.  Now there is a "Refresh Now" choice in the menu which could force a refresh, but the normal process seemed to have some kind of refresh interval.  Not all the time.  Sometimes messages appeared right away... but other times there was as much as a 10-minute delay before seeing the other message.  Hopefully this is just a scaling issue as iSkoot deals with their release!
  • Slow call initiation process - Forgetting about my annoying Blackberry question I had to answer, the whole process of initiating the call seemed to take longer than the IM+ client did.  I'd have to purchase IM+ to actually test the timing, but the iSkoot process just seemed slower.
  • Status did not have DND/Busy - Curiously, you can change your status in the iSkoot client, but you only have the choices of: Online, Away, Not Available and Invisible.  One of the ones I use often is "Do Not Disturb", so that I'm not disturbed.  That choice isn't here.  Perhaps the assumption is that you'll just exit the application.
  • You can't receive Skype calls if you have Skype Voicemail enabled - Per the FAQ.  Not entirely sure why but this seems to be a bit of a headache if you this is not your only Skype client.  I also have Skype on my PC and if I am not there, I'd prefer to have the call go to voicemail.  Since I'm mostly looking to use this for Skype chats and Skype outbound calls, I don't expect it to be a big deal for me (I'll leave voicemail on) but I could see it being a pain if I did want to receive calls.
  • You still have to give over your Skype password - As with IM+, you have to provide iSkoot with your Skype username and password and then they log in as you from their server/gateway.  As a commenter pointed out, there is a basic problem here that with your Skype account being connected to your PayPal account which in turn is connected to your bank account, you are potentially letting someone you don't know have access ultimately to your bank account.  Do you trust iSkoot (or anyone else) enough?  On the other hand, I'm not sure how any of these services can really work if you do not provide that information.  (See update below.)

All in all, it's an interesting entry into the idea of taking Skype onto a mobile phone.  As I have time I'll keep experimenting with it over the next few weeks... I could see it be especially useful if you were travelling (which, for better or worse, I'm not doing).

As I'll write up in another post, the one interesting use for me was that I could see Twitter and Facebook updates appearing in a Skype chat window and could post Twitter updates (without using the SMS interface)... which was an interesting experience.

In the meantime, if you are a Blackberry and Skype user and want to experiment, you can head over to and try it out.


UPDATE #1 - 11 Jul 07: Jim Courtney IM'd me with the following comment on the Skype<->PayPal linkage:

btw, I investigated re the PayPal access issue. To do anything meaningful you need to log into PayPal as well. Also PayPal would not allow a process that was open to abuse. All you can buy automatically are voice mail, SkypeIn, SkypeOut and even there you can put on a daily limit as low as $50. And my PayPal password is definitely not my Skype pwd.

UPDATE #2 - 3 Aug 07: Jacqueline Van Meter with iSkoot Product Management has responded in a comment to my later post about iSkoot, addressing a number of the concerns I raised here. 

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iPhone meet kitchen mixer - Will It Blend?

Okay, I'm sorry, but I just find this way too funny.  Do I refer to this as "DisruptED Telephony"?

Tip of the hat to Chris Brogan for tweeting it and Doug Haslam for posting it.

Kudos also to Blendtec, maker of mixers, for coming up with this "Will It Blend?" series of videos.  I admit that I did watch some of the others in the "Don't Try This At Home" category. Fans of a certain recent movie release might enjoy what happens to a Transformer... suffice it to say that it... um.. transforms, rather permanently.

Obviously this particular video is probably also doing well for Blendtec... so far since it was posted yesterday there have been almost 241,000 views of the video at the time I am writing this.

ZDNet blogger to return his iPhone... because it doesn't have enough *phone* features!

Interesting post yesterday at ZDNet, "Apple seems to have forgotten the phone in the iPhone", where blogger Matthew Miller writes about his disappointment after 10 days of iPhone usage. Since I can't get an iPhone because of where I live, I've only very peripherally been following iPhone news (figuring that when I can eventually get one it will be improved by then).  Of course, you could not have missed the predictably huge initial reactions about the device being "magic", but now we are starting to see real and more honest appraisals as people actually get to work with the devices.  In Matthew Miller's case, here is his list of what the iPhone is missing related to telephony:

  • Low volume speakerphone (basically useless at max volume through mono speaker)
  • Mid volume speaker
  • Tough to speed dial (at least 5 presses/slides to call one of your )
  • No smart dial (filtering of contacts as you enter letters or numbers)
  • Reception issues (full signal to no signal in same area)
  • No instant messaging application
  • Non-removable battery that cost $86 to replace from Apple
  • Weak Bluetooth radio (profiles and reception with headset)
  • No DUN (Bluetooth or cabled)
  • No custom ringtones
  • No MMS functionality
  • EDGE only data even though AT&T has a national 3G network

He goes on to talk about how he does like it for some things (he had previously blogged about the iPhone at length here and here), but ultimately will be returning it to AT&T before his 14-day trial period expires.

It will be interesting to see what others think as they continue to use them - it would also be intriguing to see if you could get any stats on how many get returned by day 14 (not likely).  To me, if Apple did nothing else with the iPhone, it has made people think about how different a user interface could be, and for that I applaud them.   A common refrain I've seen from people reviewing their iPhones is that the iPhone is "fun".

In my book, anything that brings "fun" to the world of telephony is a good thing! :-)

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Facebook event created for ACUTA conference... (and the ongoing challenge Facebook has in moving beyond its college/university roots)

Interestingly, there was no event inside of Facebook for the ACUTA annual conference that I referenced in my last post.  Continuing my ongoing exploration of Facebook, I thought that perhaps because ACUTA is the "Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education" there might be an "event" already created in Facebook.  There wasn't one, so naturally I created an event notice.  If you are going to the ACUTA conference this month and are also a Facebook user please feel free to join that event.


Creating this event caused two discussion threads in my brain.  The first was about ACUTA as an organization and the question of perhaps why there is no mention of ACUTA within a search inside Facebook.  While my co-workers involved with education sales have been involved with the organization for some time, I personally had not heard of it prior to being asked about speaking at this conference.  From the corporate FAQ (and university FAQ), it seems very obvious that ACUTA comes from the telecom side of the house and is looking now at the larger "communications technology" space.  I would think for the folks involved, all of these social networking services will play an increasingly larger role in the future.  One of the talks I'm interested to hear at the conference is "Millenials Go to College", which looks to be about how communication is changing with the younger generation.  Will ACUTA members be inspired to delve more into Facebook after that?  (Will the talk cover Facebook? One would expect so...) We'll see.

Facebook events and corporate choices?

The second discussion thread in my head was about how Facebook still needs to adjust to being more than a college/university place.  For instance, let's look at the choices I have when creating an event:


First choice... a party!  Woohoo!  But wait... there are even many individual types of parties!  (Do Facebook users actually schedule a "Night of Mayhem"?)


Next up is "Causes"... with a sub-type of "Fundraiser, Protest or Rally".  So where do you put a "conference"?  I thought perhaps "Education" might be a choice, but that gives me these choices very clearly targeted at higher education:


The answer would seem to be under the fourth choice of "Meetings":


where, sandwiched between "Club/Group Meeting" and "Dorm/House Meeting" there is... ta da... "Convention".

Now, I realize that Facebook came out of college/university roots and that certainly parties are a major focus with that age range, but as Facebook tries to capture more "business" users... or at least more "professionals", one wonders if over time they will re-write this a bit to adjust more to the type of events that people within the business world usually attend.  Or perhaps at least re-order the priorities a bit (or let you do so).

They may not be able to easily do so, though.  They really have different audiences to which they need to cater.  One group is looking for social events and the other for more business focused events.  It's also not entirely clear to me that "business users" would actually want to use Facebook as the calendar for their events.  But if you buy into the vision of Facebook as your end-all and be-all portal (I'm not there yet, personally, but I can see that as the vision of FB.), it makes sense to think some of those meetings might migrate here as well.

We'll see... the evolution of Facebook continues!

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