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Ch-changes - Taking A New Job At The Internet Society To Join The Fight For The Open Internet

In the end, my impending job change is perhaps best explained by two quotes: this prescient quote from the 1992 film Sneakers:

“There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!”

and this quote from poet Mary Oliver:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

For a longer explanation, read on... but perhaps not on a mobile phone... this one's a bit on the lengthy side...

Bleeding "Voxeo Blue"

voxeologohoriz.pngJust shy of four years ago, I wrote here about joining this incredibly remarkable company, Voxeo, that probably none of you had ever heard of.

I hope I changed that a wee bit. :-)

Around a thousand blog posts later, a hundred videos, too many speaking engagements and webinars to count, many articles, a ton of analyst briefings and media interviews ... and countless tweets, Facebook posts and other updates later... it has been truly an amazing journey.

Along the way I have come to truly love the company - and I don't use that term lightly - and the incredible people who are gathered together focused on making Voxeo THE platform for developing and deploying communications applications. As I mentioned in a recent post, Voxeo is a rocketship, firing into the skies and leaving its competitors behind.

Over these four years, I have been living, breathing, eating, sleeping all things Voxeo... I have been proud to be a "Voxeon"... slice open my skin and it bleeds "Voxeo blue"...

The Larger Battle

And yet... I have never been able to escape the siren call of the larger battle going on all around us. It did not surprise me to find that the Voxeo blog in which I published the most posts is "Speaking of Standards". Listeners to my weekly reports into the FIR podcast have perhaps grown weary of my rants about "single points of failure" and the need for services that are "distributed and decentralized" that allow you to retain control over your information and content. Readers of my blogs have seen my many posts on the theme of "the open Internet".

We have before us a choice of futures.

One choice leads to a future where innovative companies like Voxeo can emerge, thrive, disrupt and succeed.

Another choice leads to a future where what little "innovation" there is exists only at the will of the gatekeepers to the network after appropriate requirements and/or payments are met. Other choices lead to outcomes somewhere in between those polarities.

How will we choose?

Walled Gardens, Redux

The Walled Garden (1)
I began my time online some 30 years ago in the 1980's era of the big "information services". CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, Delphi, The Source, GENIE... and many other names that have long since faded into history.

People accustomed to the ubiquity of the Web today might find it hard to believe that once upon a time you could only get certain news, technical, financial, movie or sports info on the service to which you subscribed... that you could only communicate with people who had accounts on the same system as you.

It was the era of the proverbial "walled gardens"... where each service tried to keep the walls high enough and the content pretty enough that you would never leave.

The forces of "openness" were around, too. Academic networks like BITNET and JANET on the one end and home-grown networks of BBS's like FidoNet on the other, with other networks and things like UUCP and Usenet floating around as well.

And then came this "Internet", the one network to interconnect them all.

And out of that interconnection and interoperability came the world we live in today... out of that chaotic world of engineers and open standards came this network that is now no longer simply a research network but instead has become critical communication infrastructure... and a critical component of commerce.

And with that rise to prominence come all those who would seek to change the nature of the network... for perceived safety... for convenience... for profit... for control... for "security"...

So now we see services like Facebook, Google+, Twitter and more that seek to provide a nice pretty space in which you can exchange messages, photos and more... without ever leaving the confines of the service... they are a walled garden with just many ways to access the garden and to look over the walls.

Everyone wants to own your eyeballs... to host your content... to provide your identity...

And we see companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft seeking to control a large degree of how we connect to and use the mobile Internet...

And we see a change from "permissionless innovation" where anyone can set up a new service... to a model where you have ask permission or agree to certain "terms of service" in order to connect your new service to other services or to have your app available on some platforms...

And we see countries that want to throw up a wall around their citizens... sometimes to keep information from coming in... and sometimes to keep information from going out... and sometimes to be able to shut down all access...

And we see players who did control our communications systems always looking for opportunities where they could maybe, just maybe, stuff the proverbial genie back in the bottle and regain that control they lost...

It's a crazy time...

As one who has lived through our online evolution, and who in fact has been able to do what I do and to live where I live because of the "open Internet", I don't want to see us return into a fractured world of walled gardens.

We can make a different choice.

And So, A Choice

IsoclogoIn the midst of all this craziness exists a global nonprofit organization that many of you may not have heard of. It has a very simple mission:

to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world.

The Internet Society, or "ISOC" for short, exists to promote the idea that "the Internet is for everyone", where "everyone" includes people all around the world... and yes, it includes the corporations, service providers, governments and other organizations, too. To support that mission, ISOC undertakes a wide variety of education and policy initiatives around the world, all with the aim of fostering the growth of the open Internet. Local "chapters" of ISOC have sprouted up around the globe pursuing these initiatives at a local/regional level. Perhaps more relevant to many readers, ISOC is the organizational home of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the group that creates the RFCs and the open standards that describe how the Internet operates today. A significant amount of ISOC's focus is on facilitating the creation and promotion of these open standards. (For those curious to learn more, ISOC's 2010 Annual Report is available online.)

I was actually a dues-paying member of ISOC back in the early '90s, when each month I would read through their print magazine (very ironically, but this was pre-Web) "On The Internet" to learn more about how the Internet was evolving throughout the world. I rejoined again a year or two ago to help in some small way support this very important work. (You can join, too.)

And on this coming Monday, September 19th, I will join the Internet Society as a staff member.

The Missing Link

Missing Link
The particular project I will join within ISOC is a brand new initiative targeted at helping bridge the gap between the standards created within the IETF and the network operators and enterprises who are actually deploying networks and technologies based on those standards. To help translate those standards into operational guidance... to help people understand how to deploy those standards and why they should, what benefit they will see, etc

The initiative is currently called the "Deployment and Operationalization Hub", or "DO Hub", and while that may or may not be its final name, the idea is to find/curate content that is already out there created by others, create content where there are gaps, make it easy to distribute information about these resources... and promote the heck out of it so that people get connected to the resources that they need. The initial focus will be, somewhat predictably, on IPv6, but also DNSSEC and possibly another technology. It is a new project and the focus is being very deliberately kept tight to see how effective this can be,

My title will be Senior Content Strategist and my role will very much be about the creation, curation and distribution of information. Writing articles, reviewing resources, blogging, creating videos, screencasts, etc, Once we have the initial repository built out, there will be a phase next year where we will be out on the conference circuit talking about these technologies and helping people understand how they can get started... and continually adding even more content.

For a guy who loves teaching, writing and "demystifying emerging technology", it's kind of tailor-made. In fact, when ISOC approached me a few months ago with the job description, my wife and I both looked at each other and said "wow, that's me!"

In the end, the goal is to help make it as easy as possible to deploy and use open standards... so that we might wind up collectively making the choices that can lead to an open Internet where innovation can thrive.

I'll still be living in Keene, NH. (Many ISOC employees are remote.) I'll still be blogging in my various blogs. I'll still be speaking at conferences from time to time. I'll be back at IETF meetings again (which I'm VERY much looking forward to). None of that really changes with this move.

Every New Beginning Comes From...

..some other beginning's end. ("Closing Time", by Semisonic)

Leaving Voxeo was decidedly NOT an easy choice. I agonized over the decision for an insanely long time. I work with awesome people who I know I will miss, have been thoroughly enjoying what we are doing and have been looking forward to where the company is going... it has some amazing plans that will even further disrupt the industry!

Some will tell me that I am crazy... that Voxeo is the closest they've seen to a "sure thing"... that leaving is a dumb move.

They may be right.

And yet... recent events in my personal life have highlighted the fragility of our lives and the limited time we have - and the need to pursue one's passion.

And so it is that I end one beginning and start a new one... with the hope that in some small way the new work I do will help companies like Voxeo thrive - and indeed to help continue and expand the conditions that create companies like Voxeo.

We have a choice of futures before us...

Image credits: Gerry Balding, Thomas Gehrke on Flickr.