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Posts from December 2008

It's the End of The Year As We Know It - And I Feel...

... Fine, actually[1].

2008 turned out to be a great year on so many different fronts... despite all the larger economic challenges. I had hoped to write up a longer end-of-year retrospective post, but alas, here it is, the end of the last day of the year.... That fact, in and of itself, speaks volumes about what a year 2008 was - A blur!

I think the single biggest thing I want to say right now as 2008 draws to a close is simply this:


Thank you to all of you who have continued to read my various posts... who have provided comments... who have answered the many questions I've thrown out there... who have challenged my viewpoints and forced me to defend - and refine - my positions... who have commiserated and rejoiced... who have sent me email suggestions... who have met up with me at conferences... who have generally just participated in this larger community. I've met some amazing people throughout the last year, learned an incredible amount and had a lot of fun along the way.

Thank you.

The community around this wacky industry in which we work and play continues to awe and inspire me. It's a privilege to be part of it and I look forward to working with many of you even more in 2009.

Happy New Year to you all!

[1] And for those unfamiliar with REM, here's the song I'm referencing in my title.

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Directory forming of Twitter users related to Telephony/VoIP/Asterisk/etc.

telephonytwitterdirectory.jpgDo you use Twitter and are interested in finding people on Twitter to follow related to telephony, VoIP, Asterisk, communications, etc? Well the folks over at the VoIP Users Conference have put together a website that provides a directory of twitter users related to those topics. If you'd like, you can add yourself using this form.

It's nice to see a directory like that, although it's unfortunate that you can't simply click on the person's twitter name to see their page. Perhaps this was done to counteract spammers because if live links were allowed the directory might be rapidly overrun with spammers looking for SEO. I don't know... the good news is that Twitter names are all short.

Naturally I added myself, both with my personal 'danyork' Twitter account as well as the 'voxeo' Twitter account I use for our blog posts and other communication.

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Ken Camp no longer blogging at Realtime Unified Communications Community...

It seems this month is a month for VoIP/Communications-related bloggers to move around... Beyond Jon Arnold, Ken Camp has announced that his regular blogging relationship with Realtime has come to an end and that he will no longer be blogging at the Realtime Unified Communications Community that has been his blogging home for the past three years. Ken's a great guy and a friend and I do wish him all the best in whatever comes next. For now his writing can be found at the Stardust Global Ventures site that he and his wife Sheryl Breuker maintain. He promises to let us know of some of his new ventures in the next little while.

P.S. You don't need to worry about me joining this trend... I own this domain and it's hosted on TypePad, so as long as I keep paying that annual fee.... ;-)

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Can the new VON recapture the energy/enthusiasm of the old VON?

As has been widely reported within the VoIP corner of the blogosphere, the VON brand has now been reborn under the new ownership of Virgo Publishing. After the demise of Pulvermedia and the VON tradeshow in the spring of 2008, many of us wondered if new owners would be found to bring back the show - or was its demise just a sign of the times and the fact that the conference / tradeshow space related to VoIP is already quite crowded. We watched both Jeff Pulver and Carl Ford move on with their lives and new endeavors... and it seemed that maybe VON would just be consigned to the annals of IT trade show history. Or would it?

The answer came earlier this month when Virgo announced the launch of as a portal for VoIP news and also announced a new VON Conference and Expo for September 2009 in Miami.

The rebirth is intriguing on a couple of levels. First, with Pulvermedia, "VON" was the conference/tradeshow and magazine brand, but the web portal was Now, it's all "". The portal, newsletters, tradeshow and everything else. The tag line is also no longer "Voice On the Net" (or later "Voice/Video On the Net") but rather "The Voice of Network Convergence". As Jon Arnold notes, Virgo has ditched Jeff's distinctive purple color theme for a more traditional blue. And the show is also co-located with Virgo's "Channel Partners" show.

It will be interesting to see how the show goes. As several people have written about, there was a certain "magic" around the VON shows, especially in the earlier days. As Carl Ford wrote about the original VON:

Jeff (Pulver) was on the cool apps side, while I brought in the people who wanted to make efficient networks to support them. That to me was VON, but to our audience VON was a lot of things. It was Cool Apps, New Opps, brillant minds and the switch to cheap voice, etc.

I think the challenge the old VON had was that its audience did become extremely fragmented in recent years. Was the show about voice? and cheap voice? was it about carriers? enterprise? was it about video? Or was it about social networking? I think VON tried to be all of those things and in the end that dilution of focus may have helped in its demise. Will the new VON try to focus a bit more? Or will it try to be more?

In this tough economic climate and in a space already filled with shows, I commend anyone who takes up the challenge of mounting a conference / trade show event. The "new" VON is now nine months out... and it will be interesting to see what it evolves into. Right now there's not enough info up on the website to really understand what it will be... but we should see soon...

P.S. Note that the VON Call for Speakers is open until January 30th

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VoIP blogger/analyst Jon Arnold has a new blog address...

My friend and fellow VoIP blogger Jon Arnold (who interviewed me not too long ago) has a new home for his blog:

As Jon explains in a post, he had been blogging at the same location off of since 2005 but recently found that the server was no longer online.  He is neither able to post to the server nor are all of his older articles online.  This was perhaps inevitable with the continuing changes within "the assets formerly owned by VON / Pulvermedia", but Jon had hung on at that site for as long as he could.

So now he's got a new home and is trying to get the word out to people who used to subscribe to him over there.  If you linked to Jon from a "blog roll" or other list of blog sites, he would definitely appreciate you changing your link.

And if you haven't followed Jon in the past, I'd encourage you to check out his writing... Jon has been in the telecom industry a good while and writes a lot about the service provider space. Being in Toronto, he also frequently provides a Canadian perspective on larger telecom issues - and also clues us outside of Canada into telecom-related happenings within Canada.

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Does the Skype/Mangosoft patent settlement about "dynamic directory service" bode ill for the emerging P2P landscape?

skype_logo.pngNow that we see some incredibly powerful peer-to-peer (P2P) technology models emerging in the telephony/communication space, will we see that innovation being challenged or delayed by patent lawsuits?

The New Hampshire Business Review reported this week that Skype has settled a patent lawsuit with Mangosoft for $2.3 million over a patent apparently related to "dynamic directory service". Now per the NHBR article, it would appear that Mangosoft is fading away as a company and indeed while the website appears on initial view to be there, the management team is simply the one CEO and the newest "news" on the web site dates from early 2007. Their news release about the settlement with eBay is very brief and refers now to "MangoSoft Intellectual Property, Inc." Phil Wolff over at Skype Journal notes that MangoSoft's SEC filing is also brief (but discloses the amount). Looking back at MangoSoft's 2007 annual report, they are themselves very clear on what they are doing:


We no longer develop new software products or services. We continue to market, sell and support our software services. Our strategy also includes seeking strategic business partnerships and distribution channels to leverage our patented technology. All of our business operations are overseen by our sole officer and director, who utilizes third party contractors, as required, to implement the Company’s business strategy.

Though I had not heard of Mangosoft until this article (even though I was living in southern NH during their height), I will say that their technology sounds interesting and indeed in reading Mangosoft's patent 6,647,393 on "Dynamic Directory Service" (either at the US Patents and Trademark Office or over on Google Patents) their invention filed back in 1997 does appear to be essentially what we would call today a peer-to-peer distributed directory service, where "directory" is used in the truly generic form as referencing a list of objects of any form (ex. file descriptors, user info, any pieces of information). [Obvious HUGE caveat - I am NOT a patent lawyer, nor do I play one on TV or the Internet or anywhere else.] From what I know of Skype's architecture, it would seem that they do use a distributed directory service and so it is perhaps no surprise that they eventually settled.

The question is really - is this just the beginning of more lawsuits in the P2P space? MangoSoft's annual report for 2007 shows a debt of $89 million as of December 2006 and the NHBR articles notes that the trend in operating losses has continued with a $680,000 loss in 2008 year-to-date. There is obviously an incentive for them to continue on to try to recoup the ~$90 million that investors have sunk into the company. Beyond this patent, Mangosoft holds several other patents that are related to distributed architectures. It could very well be that this $2.3 million from Skype will be invested now in future lawsuits against other players in the space. Or perhaps not... perhaps it will simply be distributed to some of the existing investors as the operation fades away. I guess that will largely depend upon how much of a solid case to proceed MangoSoft's investors and sole employee believe they have.

While I am definitely sympathetic to inventors who pursued a new technology but were perhaps too far ahead of their time, I must say that I'm not personally excited to see more lawsuits hitting the industry as we see more and more companies (startups, typically) exploring new ways to build communications technologies based on P2P networks. We're in a fascinating time from a network technology point-of-view, as massively distributed networks are now possible and through systems like Skype and BitTorrent we've seen that they are very possible to create. I'd like to hope that this innovation will continue unimpeded by legal battles... although I realize that that's probably an idealistic dream. Even if MangoSoft does not pursue others, over time other larger players will challenge the startups in court should they become more of a competitive threat.

Ah, well, we shall have to see. In the meantime, I guess the good news for Skype is that with their one-time licensing of MangoSoft's patents, they will at least be protected from any further issues in court on these particular patents.

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Skype launches 4.0 Beta 3 ... still only on Windows... and still a fragmented product strategy..

In Skype's continued fragmented and confused product strategy, they came out with Skype 4.0 Beta 3 for Windows. Coverage:

Parts of it look nice... but I won't experience it myself... I've been on a Mac for the last year (like a lot of the bloggers I know) and so we have Skype 2.7. At least I'm not a Linux user, though, as they are stuck much farther behind.

Every time we ask Skype personnel about why their product strategy is so incredibly fragmented across operating systems we get the same stock answers along the lines of "each product group decides what is best and most appropriate for their operating system... blah, blah, blah" along with the reminder to us whining Mac users that we sometimes get functionality that Windows users don't get. (And in full disclosure, I'm in Skype's beta program and I am aware of tentative plans for the next Mac version.)

But that's the point - why are Skype's versions so incredibly fragmented across operating systems?

Today in 2008, the operating system shouldn't matter. Our web browsers look the same (or very similar) across platforms. Our mail programs can look the same across platforms (like Thunderbird). We're pushing so much functionality out into the web-based cloud. We are using apps like Twhirl that run on whatever operating system.

Why should I have to care?

Now obviously Skype is very definitely not alone in this. And in terms of sheer numbers, the Windows market is definitely numerically bigger. I get it. As a former product manager, I understand. I also understand the difficulty in porting applications across operating systems. Yes, it's hard.

But other vendors can do it. Why can't Skype?

Very soon I'm probably going to be helping some relatives get up and running with Skype - but they are of course on Windows. How much fun will it be for me to try to support them remotely when their menus, options and application behavior will be very different from mine on my Mac? And what about Skype's desire to move into businesses? How many enterprise IT support teams will be excited about having very different user interfaces to worry about from operating system to operating system? (And yes, enterprises do have Macs in them these days.)

And here today, when Skype is releasing a version 4 Beta 3, wouldn't it be nice for Skype if all the various bloggers out there could be writing about it? Instead of just those who have Windows or who have Macs and care enough about it to fire up a virtual machine and load it? Instead they're losing the opportunity for word-of-mouth marketing... and then when the Mac version comes out, the Windows-based bloggers won't care... more lost opportunity....

I understand and appreciate that there are differences in user interface design and behavior between operating systems... but I'm quite frankly tired of hearing that used as an excuse by Skype for continuing their fragmented ways.

I'd like to hope that maybe the new management team will do something about this and unify the product offering across platforms. Maybe we could someday have a Skype 5 (or 6 or... ) that actually brought feature/function parity across the platforms and a similar user interface. Would that be too much to hope for?

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Sheryl Breuker: "10 people you should follow on Twitter" (related to VoIP, telcom, etc.)

I was rather humbled to find myself included among Sheryl Breuker's list of "10 people you should follow on Twitter" related to VoIP/telecom/communications. I appreciate that she and others find value in what I post in my Twitter stream... or at least... they find enough value to outweigh the other random posts I put out in my Twitter stream. :-)

Seriously, Sheryl's list is a good one and if you are interested in the VoIP / telecom / communications space, I'd definitely encourage you to follow the others on Shery's list (it's probably not a surprise that I have been). If I were doing my own list, there's probably a few more I'd add... and maybe I'll have to do that sometime...

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Skype brings in new CxO management team...

skype_logo.pngAs long-time readers know, I have written a good bit about Skype on this blog in part because while I started out perhaps 4 years ago as a bit of a skeptic, I've become quite a fan of Skype's over the years... they also were one of the more interesting and definitely disruptive companies in the communications/telecom space. In the past year or two, though, they haven't quite had the same buzz as they once did, even while they have continued to grow.

This may perhaps be changing... and as per usual the Skype Journal has the best writeup with Jim Courtney's piece on Skype's restructuring and hiring of a CTO and Chief Strategy Officer as well as a head of HR. I look forward to seeing what this new team will do to help Skype's direction. I agree with Jim, too, that one other major appointment would be good:

There's still one more major executive move I am expecting - a Chief Marketing Officer who bring the badly needed messaging and market communications strategies and disciplines required for a business that's expected to attract sufficient usage to generate those multi-billion dollar sales.

Skype's messaging and communication has seemed disjointed over the past while... it would be good to see that addressed as well. Welcome to all the new folks joining Skype and I look forward to seeing what they'll do!

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So many things to write about... so little time...

Whew... it's been a crazy couple of weeks... between the Voxeo announcement of the VoiceObjects acquisition on Tuesday... the launch of my Emerging Tech Talk video podcast... my traveling to Orlando this week... and, well, just the general craziness of the holiday season, I have gotten far behind in posts that I want to put up here... so there may be a flood of posts coming out in the next few days... (or may not, if the pace keeps up! :-)

We certainly do live in fascinating times...