Posts categorized "Collaboration"

Join Live Today at 9:00 CDT - Internet Video Codec BOF at IETF92

Ietf square 1Can we create a royalty-free (RF) video codec that can be deployed ubiquitously and become the new open standard for video communication across the Internet?

THAT is the fundamental question of the Internet Video Codec (NETVC) Birds-of-a-Feather (BoF) happening at IETF 92 in Dallas today, March 24, 2015, from 9:00-11:30 CDT (UTC-5). You can listen and participate live using the following links:

You also may want to view the presentation that will be used during the session.

The goal of the overall effort is defined as this:

  • Development of a video codec that is:

    • Optimized for real-time communications over the public Internet
    • Competitive with or superior to existing modern codecs 

    • Viewed as having IPR licensing terms that allow for wide implementation and deployment 

    • Developed under the IPR rules in BCP 78 (RFC 5378) and BCP 79 (RFCs 3979 and 4879)
  • Replicate the success of the CODEC WG in producing the Opus audio codec.

The BOF proposal contains more of a narrative:

The Internet needs a royalty-free (RF) video codec that can become the backbone for universal deployment of video related technologies. Royalty-bearing codecs put constraints on implementors that are unacceptable, but current RF codecs are not yet competitive with royalty-bearing offerings. This dilemma stalls innovation in the space and means large sets of consumers don't have access to the best video technology.

There are efforts underway by several groups to produce a next-generation, royalty-free (RF) video codec, including VP10 by Google and Daala by Mozilla/Xiph.Org. While far from complete, these efforts aim to surpass the royalty-bearing competition. Efforts within other standards organizations like MPEG to create RF video standards have been unsuccessful so far, but have showed that many consumer device manufacturers would support an RF codec.

The success of Opus from the CODEC WG has also shown that collaboration, based on the IETF's principals of open participation, can produce better results than competition between patented technologies. The IPR rules in BCP 78 and 79 are also critical for success. They impose a duty to disclose, and require exact patent or patent application numbers, in addition to basic licensing terms. This allows participants to evaluate the risk of infringement and, if appropriate, design work arounds, in any technology adopted, and assess the cost of adopting such technology. Because it does not force participants to agree to license their patents under RF terms, it helps to encourage participation even by those opposed to such terms (instead of guaranteeing they stay away). In addition to an environment which encourages third-party disclosures, this provides much better chances of success than SDOs which have a "patent-blind" process or which require blanket RF grants.

And the NETVC BOF agenda outlines the plan for the session today.

I do believe that creating this kind of royalty-free codec for Internet video is a critical step to enabling video to be used everywhere across the Internet... not just where people are able to pay to license royalty-bearing codecs. I'd like to see even more developer creativity and innovation unleashed with this action.

I'll be listening and participating remotely. I hope that many of you will join in as well. 9:00am US CDT today (10:00am for me on the US East Coast).

P.S. If you have no idea what the IETF is all about, you may want to skim The Tao of IETF first...

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Video: VUC 528 Provides An Update On And Wire

Vuc logoLast Friday's VUC conference call / podcast / hangout provided some interesting updates about the ongoing work at to build services for scalable, distributed and federated collaboration systems as well as some discussion of Wire, the app I've written about here. Guests included Matthew Hodgson and Amandine Le Pape from, as well as the usual cast of characters and a couple of live demonstrations, too.

You can view the episode web page and listen to the show here:

I joined the show about mid-way through and naturally wound up talking about IPv6, the Internet of Things (IoT), ICANN, DNS and other topics.

FYI, some good info about can be found in their FAQ. Back in November 2014, there was also another VUC episode focused around

It was an enjoyable show and I'd encourage you to give it a listen.

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Video Interview: What Is The Future of Real-Time Communications?

As I posted over on the Voxeo Talks blog recently, über-geek Chris Pirillo recently interviewed VoIP industry veteran Jeff Pulver and Voxeo CEO Jonathan Taylor on the topic of the future of real-time communications. It was a wide ranging interview talking about the history of communication apps, how VoIP has evolved, the role of standards, issues around bandwidth caps, the role of individuals and so much more. Chris explained a bit more on his site.. The video is now available on YouTube:

As a producer of video interviews, I was personally intrigued by Chris' use of a Google+ "Hangout" to conduct the interview. I'm going to have to try it at some point.

Enjoy the video!

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Do Cisco's Cius and HP's WebOS tablets stand a chance against the iPad?

ciscocius.jpgIn light of the phenomenal success of the iPad, do "enterprise tablets" from Cisco and HP even remotely stand a chance? Particularly when: 1) Apple is targeting enterprises now; and 2) all signs are that Apple will soon be releasing a version 2 of the iPad with even more capabilities. Yesterday Greg Ferro took this question on in a post comparing the Cisco Cius versus HP WebOS tablets versus the iPad.

His post is definitely worth a read for his comparisons... I'll zoom in on what was for me the key point (my emphasis added at the end):

The problem with this lovely story is the Apple iPad. No doubt Cisco and HP have been working on their tablet stories for the last two or three years. I also have no doubt that the unexpected success of the iPad selling twenty or thirty million units in the first year has seriously upset their plans. But the thing really bothering them would be rise of the articles in the press about the iPad moving into the enterprise. Cisco and HP think that they own the enterprise, and it’s their right to make money out it. The idea that Apple can crossover a device from the consumer marketplace is going to kink them up. Users do NOT WANT to get a Cisco CIUS or HP Palm tablet, they want an Apple iPad.

And, I think, users will simply bring in their own iPads and want them to run on the corporate network. Particularly when the cost of some of the "enterprise tablets" is higher than that of the iPad.

It's just an ongoing part of the "consumerization of enterprise IT". I've long said "consumer experiences drive enterprise expectations" and that is true in the tablet space, too, I believe.

There is a part of me that worries about a monoculture and hopes that for competition/innovation the tablets from Cisco and HP can thrive. But I wouldn't count on it... I really like my iPad! ;-)

What do you think? Will the "enterprise tablets" succeed? Or perhaps succeed only in some niches? Or will corporate users want to use their iPad or some of the impending Android tablets?

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Skype and the Incredible Power of Persistent Group Chats

What is one reason why many people continue using Skype for chat / instant messaging when so many other solutions are out there? Particularly when Skype chat is a closed, proprietary "walled garden" that doesn't interact with IM networks?

After I wrote recently about being a huge user of Skype, Michael Graves asked in the comments why an organization like Voxeo that is so insanely devoted to open standards (and even uses a tagline of "Unlocked Communications") would use something as closed as Skype?

It's a great question, and while I answered his comment, it bears a bit more exploration.

In 3 words, the largest reason for using Skype is this:

persistent group chats

Being a globally distributed company, Voxeo is an IM-centric organization and we set up "group chats" within Skype for pretty much every activity we're doing. Some of those are long-living group chats for communication within various teams or groups of people. Those chats may continue to exist for literally years and have people added and removed to them over time. Some group chats are created for short-term projects or deliverables. And some may be created ad hoc for resolving quick issues - and then disbanded as soon as the issue is dealt with. If a customer has a problem, an alert may be posted in one of our "main chats" and then a "side chat" is formed with the specific group of people who can help right then to resolve whatever the problem will be.

It's a very effective way to work once you get used to it (and learn how to use Skype's ability to notify you of certain types of activity in chats). I have probably 50+ chats open in my Skype client right now, most of which are having little or no traffic at the moment, but a few of which are having active discussions.

The Power of Persistent Group Chats

But what I described as an IM-centric workflow could be accomplished by any chat system... why Skype? This comes down to the difference between typical "group chat" systems and "persistent group chat" systems.

Skypechats.jpgHere's the basic scenario of why this is so powerful:

1. I GO OFFLINE - Perhaps I'm going offline for a meeting. Maybe I'm about to board a plane. Maybe I'm shutting off my system at the end of the day.

2. PEOPLE DISCUSS ITEMS IN MY ABSENCE - The messages in the chat continue to be exchanged, discussions happen, decisions get made, etc., etc.

3. I COME BACK ONLINE - My meeting is over. I landed at my destination. My work day starts. Whatever...

4. I RECEIVE *ALL* THE MESSAGES THAT OCCURRED IN THE CHAT WHILE I WAS OFFLINE - Bingo... I can just scan through everything that happened while I was offline and get caught up on what happened while I was away. Now this sometimes may take a few minutes (for a reason I'll discuss below) and isn't always perfect, but most of the time it works incredibly well.

There is immense collaboration power in this capability. Given that I travel a good bit speaking at conferences I spend a great deal of time on planes. I'll often be working at the airport prior to departure and will be interacting with others via Skype. I'll close my laptop, fly to wherever I'm going, and then open the laptop back up either at the destination airport or at the hotel or office or wherever. Over the course of a minute or two, my Skype client automagically catches up and gives me the full history (subject to a caveat below) of all the discussions that occurred while I was in transit.

Similarly, with globally distributed teams where we may have engineers in Germany, the US and China all collaborating on a project, persistent group chats allow them to rapidly catch up on what occurred when each group was offline.

Of course, if you are offline for a longer period of time, you might come back to literally thousands of messages and want to just "catch up" and mark all old messages as viewed. This was why I was displeased that Skype removed the "Mark All Viewed" button from the Skype 5.0 Beta for Mac client (and I do hope they'll bring it backUPDATE: Skype did bring the feature back in the production release of the Skype 5.0 Mac client).

UPDATE: - Another aspect of working offline bears mentioning. Recently, I shut down my computer and got on a flight. While in the air, I went through a Skype chat, read all the messages and wrote a whole bunch of responses into the chat. When I landed, I connected to the free WiFi at the airport and Skype went through its sync process, pulling down all the chat messages that occurred while I was in the air and posting to the chat all the messages I had written while in the air. I then shut down and traveled from the airport to my hotel, where I once again opened up my laptop, reconnected with Skype and received all the messages that people had written while I was in transit from the airport.

This ability to read and write while offline is a powerful capability. In the past I've had flights with a long layover and performed a similar process. Reading and writing on the first leg, syncing at the layover to get new messages, and then reading those and responding to them on the second leg of my trip.

But why Skype?

But, you say, there are other "persistent group chat" implementations out there... why Skype? Simply because it is the best implementation of persistent group chats we've found so far. Add to that the simplicity of usage, the fact that it has a solid Mac client (and we're a Mac shop), the fact that it can connect from pretty much any location we're in... and the fact that it uses encrypted communication channels.

Having said all this, we're not wed to Skype.... we certainly keep an eye out on other communication tools and have a number of ideas ourselves... if we found something that worked as well and had an open architecture, we'd certainly look at it... but today we use what works - and works well.

The Technology Behind Skype's Persistent Group Chats

If you are not familiar with the underlying technology behind Skype, you may want to pause here and ready my post, "A Brief Primer on the Tech Behind Skype, P2PSIP and P2P Networks".

If you think about Skype's P2P architecture a bit, the technology behind their implementation of persistent group chats is intriguing. In a typical client/server IM network (like AIM, Yahoo, Jabber, IRC, etc.), the clients are communicating with a server and all the chat messages are stored on the server. Other server-based systems can implement persistent group chats by storing all the messages on the server and then sending them out to clients that re-connect to the server.

But with Skype, there are no servers. Instead, the chat messages get stored in the fabric of the P2P overlay network that interconnects the Skype clients to each other - and more specifically within each of the various Skype clients participating in the group chat.

When your Skype client comes back online, it initiates connections out to other clients that are members of the same chat and requests updates for what messages were sent in the chat while your client was offline. I don't know the exact number of clients your client will reach out to, but conversations with folks from Skype in the past seemed to indicate your client would reach out to a maximum of 15 other clients to find out what was in the chat. (Assuming there are more than 15 people in the chat. If not, obviously it only reaches out to those clients in the chat.)

For EACH group chat that you have.

So if you have a lot of Skype group chats, like I do, you can understand why Skype might trigger security systems at hotels when it goes off to do its initial sync with other Skype clients, purely by the sheer volume of network connections it opens up.

This does bring up one caveat with Skype that I referenced above. Depending upon the size of the chat and the availability of all participants, the full history may not be immediately available. If you are in a chat with 4 people, and the other 3 are offline when you come back online, you won't see the history until others come online. If one other person is online, you will get the history from that other client... which may be the full history, depending upon whether that client was online all the time. You see where I'm going with this... it may take a bit for you to get the full history.

In larger chats, I've seen less of an issue with this because odds are that more people will be online at any time and so your client can receive updates (although there is an edge case that I'll write about sometime). In smaller chats, though, I've seen update issues like this.

All in all it is an intriguing implementation from a technology point-of-view... as someone working with networks for years, I admit to being fascinated by it all. :-)

P.S. It's amusing to also look at what I wrote about Skype's persistent group chats back in January 2007... little did I know how much I would come to use them!

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A *CRAZY* Week In Collaboration / Communications News - A Summary from Dave Michels

No Jitter

This has been an absolutely insane week of announcements relating to the Unified Communications / collaboration / VoIP / etc, etc. space... it's been a while since I can think of a week that had so much news packed into it.

I think it's called... "everyone wants to get all their news out before it is US Thanksgiving and people start ignoring news because of the holidays!"

Regardless of why, the fact is that each day I've watched the Twitter stream just scrolling by with tons of items I'd love to write about. Unfortunately, I, too, have been slammed - and unable to write all that I've wanted to.

Thankfully, Dave Michels pulled together a nice summary over on No Jitter:

Watta Week!

Check there for pointers to stories about Microsoft Lync... Mitel Freedom... Cisco's zillion video announcements... and news from Polycom, Avaya and HP, too.

Some week, I'm hoping to write about each of these myself... but that week is very definitely NOT this week!

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Hands-On with Apple's new FaceTime for Mac (Screenshots)

At Apple's "big event" today, one of the announcements I found most interesting was that Apple's proprietary FaceTime video protocol would now be available for Mac computers.  To date it has only been available for the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch. Naturally, I had to give it a try! ;-) I'll show the usage here and then mention some problems I found with this "beta".


Installing FaceTime for Mac was a straightforward download, doubleclick and go through the installer. Once you launch the app, you have to verify the email address you want to use to receive calls. After that, your screen loads to show your video and the contacts in your Mac OS X Address book:


Jim Courtney and I usually try out new toystools like this and sure, enough, he was online and called me.facetimemactoiphone.jpg The first time, though, he used an email address that I did not have associated with my Mac. It nicely automagically called me on my mobile (which was also in Jim's Address Book record for me) and we had a MacBook-to-iPhone call.

It worked fine and we had a great call. It was actually quite handy in that I could position the iPhone wherever I wanted it to give a decent view.

Next up I gave Jim a call from my iMac using his email address. The call went through to Jim and we were soon talking Mac-to-Mac. Audio and video quality were both quite excellent.

Given Apple's intense focus on design, it was no surprise that with FaceTime for the Mac after you accepted the call and stopped moving the mouse, the call controls just slid out of sight leaving the focus on the communication you had with the other party. Two views:


Naturally if you move your mouse back over the video window the controls come back in view. One of the controls let you go full-screen, which was quite the experience on a 27-inch iMac :-) You also have a control on your window that lets you rotate the view from portrait to landscape. The result looked like this:


And no, Jim's video was not as crisp when blown up to the full-screen size on my iMac. It was fine for viewing and for our call, though.

After we hung up, I played a bit more with the app and found that in the preferences you can associate multiple email addresses with your Apple account:


The preferences are, as you can see, rather limited.


Overall, FaceTime for the Mac seemed to work rather well. I did though, note these issues:

  1. HOW DO YOU SHUT THE VIDEO OFF? - You read that right... there doesn't seem to be any way to shut the video OFF. When you launch FaceTime, it takes over your camera and then continues to show you video of yourself in the FaceTime window. There are two issues here:

    • Using the camera does impact CPU performance. Not a huge deal on my iMac where I don't run a huge number of apps, but a MAJOR issue on my already way-over-taxed MacBook Pro that I use for everything.

    • I can't use the camera for anything else. I use Skype all the time for video. I record screencasts and video using the camera. It seems like I have to shut FaceTime off in order to use the camera in another app... but then of course that means that people can't call me using FaceTime.

    Particularly for the second issue, this seems like a major FAIL to me. I asked about this on Twitter and loved this response from David Bryan:

  2. WHAT ABOUT WINDOWS? - Immediately after the announcement I had Windows-only friends asking "hey, what about us?" Yes, what about them? It's the same kind of fractured platform strategy like Skype has had. Unlike Skype, Apple is one of the providers of an operating system, so they obviously want to provide as many incentives for people to come over into the Mac world. Still, it would be nice to have Windows interoperability.

  3. STANDARDS? - Which leads naturally to the last point... where is the open FaceTime specification? We know FaceTime is built on a number of open standards... but where is the specification that would allow other video endpoints to support FaceTime calls? Is it Apple's goal to lock us in entirely to their products? C'mon Apple, lets get the spec out there so that other companies can support FaceTime and we can grow the video ecosystem!

Problems aside, it's great to see FaceTime connections being possible to Macs. So far it's worked quite well (outside of that turning off the video issue :-) )

What do you think? Have you tried out FaceTime for the Mac yet?

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The New Breed of Tablets from Cisco, Avaya and RIM - will they matter?

avayaflare.jpgCisco, Avaya and RIM are all rushing out "tablet" devices now for the enterprise market - but will they actually matter?  Will enterprises really want to use these high-end and high-priced tablets versus all the new consumer tablets like the iPad and all the various Android and Windows tables in the queue?

Don't get me wrong ... it think it is awesome that Cisco, Avaya and RIM are all coming out with new tablets. Ever since getting an iPad back in early May it has become a constant companion on my travels around and I use it for so many different purposes.

The touch interface is also so incredibly "natural"... I watch my daughters using the iPad and just have to think: "Why shouldn't computers just work this way?"

Any user interface improvements that improve the communications user experience are very definitely a GOOD thing!

So I commend Cisco, Avaya and RIM for coming out with tablets.

I just still find myself wondering why I might want to pay to buy one of these tablets. I had this exchange yesterday with analyst Brian Riggs on Twitter: briggstablets.jpg

As I said, I already have a SIP client on my iPad (and there are several options, in fact). I already have Skype. I already have WebEx and GoToMeeting for collaboration (and many other apps). Sure, I don't have video on the iPad - yet - but there are a range of Android consumer tablets coming out that do, and I wouldn't be surprised if Apple announces an iPad with a video camera sometime soon. Apple loves FaceTime right now... I wouldn't be surprised to see the iPad join the game.

I think Brian's point is the key:

avaya, cisco are betting they can do comms on tablets better than apple, etc.

And to a point, they are probably right. Real-time communications IS different than traditional web communications. This is very true.

There is, though, this one wee minor detail:

Apple has an entire ecosystem of developers building apps!

If Apple can deliver a hardware platform that provides the necessary devices (like an embedded camera for video), I would see the developer community rushing to use it. (And the Android community already has multiple devices coming out.)

On a more personal level, I've found my iPad to be much more like my mobile phone... it's a device I take with me to both personal and business functions/meetings/events. It's a "converged" device in that it reflects the blurring of the lines between my personal and business lives. I don't know that I'd want yet-another-device to carry around.

There is certainly the case that in large enterprises where you go to work on a "campus", the ability to have a work-specific device like this that you carry around could be valuable. But even there I'm not sure that I wouldn't also want my personal information, etc. with me. And isn't part of the value of a tablet that you could bring it home with you or while you are traveling?

Again, I commend the vendors on trying out a new form factor and user interface... I just find myself wondering why people won't simply want to use the consumer devices that are rapidly proliferating.

What do you think? Would you use a tablet from a communications vendor? Or would you want them to instead have apps that run on consumer devices?

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Phono - Your new, free tool for Rewiring the Real-time Web!

phonolivesintheweb.jpgWhat if you could have customers call in to your call center from directly within your web browser?  No "click to call" that calls them back on their cell phone... but literally just press a button on your web site and start talking?  And get connected directly to the team appropriate to the web page rather than a generic inbox?

What if you could do this with more than just voice... but also video?  screen sharing?  with better audio quality than the legacy telephony network (the PSTN)?

What if you could also add in live chat sessions directly from your website? Giving you true multi-channel interaction with your customers?

And what if you could do this without any downloads by the customer?

Even better... what if this could be done with your branding? and connecting to ANY IP communications system?

Announcing Phono

Today at the JQuery Conference in Boston, the Voxeo Labs team is announcing Phono a new software development kit that lets you create apps just like the ones I mentioned. It's free, it's "skinnable" and it works with any systems that use SIP or XMPP (Jabber). More info here:

The Phono SDK is free to download and use. You can also naturally follow Phono on Twitter or Facebook.

You can use it to connect to your IP-PBX... to applications on platforms like Tropo... or really any other IP communications / Unified Communications platform.

FAR More Than Just A Softphone

That last part is really the point... the Phono SDK being shown today is far more than "just" a softphone. Sure... that's what some of the first reference implementations are all about. Things like Twelephone that let you easily call all your Twitter friends... or Facebook Telephone that lets you call your Facebook Friends. You'll see some more apps like that in the coming weeks.

But Phono is more than that...

Phono is a toolkit for Rewiring the Real-time Web

We as an industry need to drop the shackles of the legacy telephone network... we need to move beyond the PSTN in true rich collaboration between people... wherever they may be.

Voice, chat, video, screensharing... whatever mode they want to work in... from basic web browsers to mobile devices...

Phono is our contribution to that... and to taking away friction from developers wanting to build communications apps that make the most of the new tools and media we have available to us.

Try it out!

We're excited to see what you'll do with it!

Extra bonus... here's a video intro:

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Tim Panton's VERY cool demo: Google Wave + Skype + Asterisk + Ibook

Over on Skype Journal, Phil Wolf posted about Tim Panton's VERY cool demo which he gave at Astricon and then apparently just yesterday at eComm Europe. Tim from mashes up Google Wave, Skype, Asterisk (with Skype for Asterisk) and Ibook to make Skype calls from within a Wave, complete with recordings of utterances and, naturally, the ability to have an annotated collaboration session in Wave:

Phil quotes Jason Goecke (a colleague of mine at Voxeo) describing how it works:

"it is a Google Wave Gadget with his IAX2 Java softphone as the client. Then, the IAX2 Java phone connects to Asterisk with Skype for Asterisk installed. Then, there is a server-side element, Ibook, that is breaking apart utterances into individual files. So that as each person speaks, it captures it into its own file. Then, as that happens, a text frame is sent from Asterisk to the softphone with the file details. The gadget then uses some Javascript to embed a link. IAX2 supports text frames."

Read Phil's full post for more info and for Phil's views on what this all means.

VERY cool demo!

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