Posts categorized "Facebook"

Updated "Directory Dilemma" Article Now On CircleID...

Back in December, 2014, I published a post here called "The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App". After receiving a good bit of feedback, I've now published a new version over on CircleID:
The Directory Dilemma - Why Facebook, Google and Skype May Win the Mobile App War

I incorporated a good bit of the feedback I received and also brought in some newer numbers and statistics. Of note, I now have a section on WebRTC where I didn't before. You'll also notice a new emphasis in the title... I'm now talking about the potential winners versus the challengers. I also chose "Directory Dilemma" not only for the alliteration but also because the situation really isn't as much a "problem" as it is an overall "dilemma". It may or may not be a "problem".

I'm not done yet.

I'm still seeking feedback. I intend to do yet another revision of this piece, but in doing so intend to:

  • Change it from the informal tone at the beginning to more of a "paper" style;
  • Include a bit more about potential solutions.

Comments and feedback are definitely welcome... either as comments here on this site, on social media or as email to "[email protected]".

I'm not sure when I'll do that next iteration, but probably later this year.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. An audio commentary on this topic is available... see the embedded audio plater at the bottom of this post... (below the graphic)


Directory dilemma




WebRTCHacks Publishes Analysis of Facebook and WhatsApp Usage of WebRTC

WebrtchacksThe team over at webrtcH4cKS (aka "WebRTCHacks") have been publishing some great articles about WebRTC for a while now, and I thought I'd point to two in particular worth a read. Philipp Hancke has started a series of posts examining how different VoIP services are using WebRTC and he's started out exploring two of the biggest, Facebook and WhatsApp, in these posts:

Those articles are summaries explaining the findings, with much-longer detailed reports also available for download:

Both of these walk through the packet captures and provide a narrative around what is being seen in the discovery process.

A common finding between both reports is that the services are not using the more secure mechanism of DTLS for key exchange to set up encrypted voice channels. Instead they are using the older SDES mechanism that has a number of challenges, but, as noted by the report, is typically faster in enabling a call setup.

All in all the reports make for interesting reading. It's great to see both Facebook and WhatsApp using WebRTC and I think this will only continue to help with the overall growth of WebRTC as a platform. As an audio guy, I was pleased to see that Facebook Messenger is using the Opus codec, which is of course the preferred codec for WebRTC... but that doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be implemented by companies using WebRTC within their own closed products. Kudos to the Facebook team for supporting Opus!

Thanks to Philipp Hancke for writing these reports and I look forward to reading more in the series!


WhatsApp Calling Arrives on iOS - More Telecom Disruption Ahead!

Whatsapp callingAs I checked my AppStore updates on my iPhone this week I was surprised but pleased to see that WhatsApp now includes "WhatsApp Calling". As it says:
"Call your friends and family using WhatsApp for free, even if they're in another country. WhatsApp calls use your phone's Internet connection rather than your cellular plan's voice minutes. Data charges may apply.

How many ways can you spell "disruption"?
(Hint: w - h - a - t - s - a - p - p)

Sure, there have been a zillion mobile apps providing Over-The-Top (OTT) voice services, many of which I've written about here on this site.

But this is WhatsApp!

This is the application that just passed 800 million monthly active users! (Techmeme link) With projections to hit 1 billion monthly active users by the end of the year.

Oh, and it's owned by Facebook! :-)

Now, I personally don't use WhatsApp that much right now. The people who I want to message are primarily using iMessage, Facebook Messenger or Wire. (And every once in a great while I'll fire up Skype on my iPhone.)

But obviously there are 800 million people who do use WhatsApp each month... and they now have free calling! (If they are on Android, iOS or BlackBerry 10... and subject to a staggered rollout, i.e. people will get the actual ability to call over the next while.)

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

WhatsApp provides a messaging app with a very simple user experience (UX) that works seamlessly inside the iPhone. Now that same app can be used for calling. And most importantly, WhatsApp has the massive directory of users.

The legacy telcos are going to be saying good bye to even more of their diminishing calling revenue...

Interesting times ahead!

More on this topic:


The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App

Skype directoryAs much as I am enjoying the new Wire app, there is a fundamental problem that Wire faces... as well as Talko, Firefox Hello and every other Over-The-Top (OTT) or WebRTC application that is seeking to become THE way that we communicate via voice, chat and/or video from our mobile phones and desktops. That is:
How do they gather the "directory" of people that others want to talk to?

The fundamental challenge all of these applications face is this:

People will only USE a communication application if the people they want to talk to are using the application.

And where I say "talk" it could also be "chat" or "message" or... pick your communication verb.

It's all about the "directory" of users.

There's a war out there right now... and it's a war for the future of our communications between each other. It's a war for messaging... and it's also a war for voice and video.

And it all comes back to... which communications application or service can provide the most comprehensive directory of users?

Which communications tool will be the one that people use the most? Will any of them replace the default communications of the mobile phone?

NOTE: A number of updates have been added to the bottom of this post.

Today's Fragmented User Experience

The reality is that today we use several different tools for real-time communications ... and that creates a bit of a frustrating user experience. If I want to send a message to Joe, do I send him a message on Skype? Facebook? WhatsApp? Google+? Twitter? SMS? iMessage? BBM? Wire? email?

If I want to call him and speak via voice or video, do I use Skype? Facebook Messenger? Google+ Hangouts? Facetime? Wire? Talko? Viber? Firefox Hello? <insert WebRTC or OTT app du jour here>? Or just call him on his regular old phone line?

By trial and error we start to figure out which of the people with whom we regularly communicate are available over which channels. Certain family members may be through Facebook... others through WhatsApp or Skype. Work colleagues through Jabber or Yammer... except for some of them who primarily use Skype. These friends detest Facebook and so they are in Google+ ... and then there's that guy who thinks all of these new apps are junk and only wants to talk to you via SMS and phone.

It's a mess.

And every new app and service wants to fix it... and wants to be THE communications application/service that you use.

Skype/Microsoft Has A Directory

Over the years, I think it would be impossible to count the number of times we've seen new communications applications trumpted as "Skype-killers". "This new app/service WILL be the one to replace Skype. It's new. It's better. It supports (something). Everyone will switch and the world will be so much better!"

Except they don't switch.

Even when Skype's audio quality is no longer what it once was.

And why not?

Because Skype has a massive user directory.

When I speak at a conference I can ask the attendees "who has a Skype ID?" and usually almost every hand goes up. They may not use Skype as their primary communication tool, but they have an ID. They can be found on Skype.

Now a large part of this is because Skype has now been around for over 11 years and truly led the disruption that "consumer VoIP" has caused in the larger telecom industry. Part of it is that Skype prioritized the user experience and made it drop-dead simple to install and use. Part of it is that Skype made it easy to find other Skype users.

But the point is that Skype amassed this huge directory - and now is the default way that many of us communicate via voice or video over the Internet. Certainly many of us, myself included, would like a better mechanism at this point... but we still use Skype because that's where the people are! The directory of users is there.

Facebook Has A Directory (Two, Actually)

Facebook messenger callWhen it comes to a user directory, certainly one of the biggest in the world right now is Facebook. With over a billion users Facebook has an enormous ability to connect people together.

With Facebook Messenger, they are definitely aiming to replace SMS and become THE messaging application you use on your mobile phone.

And now in many regions of the world, Facebook lets you initiate voice conversations through simply clicking on a telephone icon in the Messenger interface.

They make it simple and easy... and it works because "everyone" has a Facebook account (or at least 1 billion people do).

Facebook has a massive user directory.

(Of course, every chat and voice conversation can then be mined for data for Facebook advertisers... but that's a topic for another post...)

Facebook actually as two massive user directories if you consider that they also own WhatsApp and most stats right now say that WhatsApp has over 600 million users. (Which is actually more than Facebook Messenger, which recently crossed the 500 million user mark.)

Put these two together and while there is certainly duplication between the two directories, they do represent a huge directory of users.

P.S. And Facebook actually has a third user directory in the form of Instagram (which now has 300 million users)... but we've not yet seen them do anything with real-time communications there.

Google Has A Directory

And then of course Google has its own massive directory. Everyone who has a "Google Account". Every Gmail user. Every Google+ user. Every Google docs user.

Hundreds of millions of Google users.

Google's focus today seems to be on Hangouts, which is available from the desktop and also from the iOS and Android mobile platforms. While Hangouts started out inside of Google+, Google has separated the application out. I'll note that just today they are rolling out a new version of Hangouts on Android that lets you add your phone number so that you are easier to find. They may at some point also integrate their Google Voice offering better into Hangouts.

Apple Has A Directory

Apple idIt goes without saying that Apple has its own massive directory from the hundreds of millions of iPhone and Mac users, almost all of whom get integrated into Apple's iMessage and Facetime services through their Apple ID. With iMessage and Facetime, Apple's directory includes my own phone number, as well as my email addresses.

Apple also makes the user experience insanely simple. When I go to call a contact, I am offered the choice of calling them via Facetime (audio or video) or the regular phone. When I send a message, Apple automagically sends the message over iMessage if the recipient is registered in Apple's directory. As a user I have no clue about this unless I realize that "blue bubbles" are iMessage and "green bubbles" are regular SMS.

The point is that Apple can do all this and make it so simple because they have this massive user directory.

LINE And WeChat Have Directories

While we in North America don't tend to know their names, there are apps building huge user directories in Asia. WeChat, based in China, now has over 468 million monthly active users worldwide. LINE, out of Japan and used in much of Asia, has over 170 million monthly active users. There are others such as KakaoTalk in Korea that have large directories.

The Telcos Have Directories

Of course, the original user directories for mobile phone users reside with all of the mobile service providers / telephone companies. They have the customer names and phone numbers. Their challenge is one of sharing that information between each other - and also their general challenges with embracing the world of OTT communications apps that threaten their basic revenue streams.

Some telcos have tried - and continue to try. Telefonica had "Tu ME" and now has "Tu Go". Orange has Libon. T-Mobile did have "Bobsled" but that seems to have disappeared. And then of course there was (and still is, although on life support) Joyn, the traditional telcos attempt to provide rich communication services and fight back against OTT apps. As Dean Bubley wrote at the time, RCS/Joyn was in trouble from the start and now seems to have faded from consideration.

I should note that Telefonica is doing some great work in the WebRTC space and is involved with Mozilla's latest Firefox Hello effort. There are other traditional carriers who are also doing some good work with WebRTC and other OTT works ... but I've still not really seen any of them figure out how to tie their apps and services back to the large user directories they collectively have.

Everyone Wants To OWN The Directory

Notice a common thread across all of these directories?

They are all owned / controlled by corporations - some of whom are among the largest in the world.

They have NO interest in sharing their directories.

They are all about the "lock-in".

Well... I should say... they are glad to "share" in the sense that they are glad for you to use their directory as a source of identity in your application or service. "Login with Facebook" or "Login with Google" or "Login with Twitter" ...

A better way to say it would be:

They have no interest in federation / interoperability between directories.

They want to own the directory. They want to be THE source of "identity" ... but that's a topic for yet another post.

And each of the ones I've listed is a commercial entity with their own investors or shareholders and their own ideas of what they will do with your data and your communication...

(NOTE: This is not a new problem - I wrote about "walled gardens" back in 2007 with regard to email and messaging - some names have changed but the problem remains.)

One Directory To Rule Them All?

Amidst all this we've seen various attempts to provide a global directory for IP communications. ENUM was one in the open standard space, but the original vision of "public ENUM" ran into a barrage of security and privacy issues and faded from view. (ENUM is still heavily used within SIP-based networks either within telcos or within peering relationships between telcos.)

On the corporate side, he original Google Voice was an attempt to put users in control, at least as far as a telephone number. Give out one number and have it ring many devices or apps. The .TEL people tried this with their original vision for that top-level domain. iNum tried to offer this with their numbers. Many other attempts have been made...

The question with all of these is how to make the directory accessible to other entities in a secure fashion - and how to deal with privacy issues, telemarketers, spammers, attackers, etc.

Back to the "Directory Problem"

How, then, does a new startup like Wire or Talko or Firefox Hello or whoever-releases-their-WebRTC-app-today build up a significant enough directory of users so that the application is usable by large numbers of people?

How do they compete with these massive user directories being built by Facebook, Google, Apple and others?

I don't know.

(If I did I'd probably start up a company... ;-) )

What I do know is that, as I said in my initial thoughts on Wire, "my iPhone is littered with the dead carcasses of so many other apps that have launched trying to be THE communication platform we all want to use."

Some may opt to use the identity systems of one of the major vendors mentioned before - but now you are putting your user directory in the hands of some other entity and relying on them to be there. And... you are excluding people who may not use that system.

Some apps/services may make it easy for you to "find your friends" through using your "social graph"... the connections you have on Facebook, Google, etc.

Some apps use your phone number as an identifier, but they still have to build up their own directory of users.

I don't know the answer... but I see this as a fundamental challenge for any new entrant in the space. How do they gain the directory of users so that people will be able to communicate with others using this new service?

THAT is what the team at Wire needs to answer... and Talko... and every other app.

Unless, of course, they just want to be happy as a smaller, more niche player.

But most of these apps and services want to be THE communication platform you use more than any other. Their success - and funding - is tied to that goal.


A Final Thought - The Bigger Picture

Let me end with one thought... this "directory problem" is in fact tied to the larger challenge of "identity" on the Internet. Back in the pre-Internet days our "identity" for real-time communications was simple - our telephone number. We might have had several phone numbers, but they were ours and they were/are globally unique and globally routable.

With the Internet, we gradually moved to where email addresses were (and still are in many ways) our "identity" online and became the identifiers that we used for many forms of communication.

BUT... when we've moved to IP-based real-time communications, first with instant-messaging / chat and then with voice and video, we've also moved into a realm of fractured identities and identifiers with, as noted above, many different companies vying to have us use their system so that their directory is the most complete and comprehensive.

I do definitely worry about a future in which our identities and the user directories are controlled by large corporations. This, to me, seems like it could be a severe barrier to the "permissionless innovation" that has brought about the "Internet of opportunity" that we have today.

I'd like to hope that we'll arrive at some form of distributed and decentralized identities and directories that can be federated together so that people can find each other. (Which is why I'm intrigued by what the Matrix.org folks and others are doing.) I do worry, though, that the financial incentives are there for the larger corporate players to fight each other for dominance... and leave us regular users of the Internet without a choice.

Thoughts?


An audio commentary on this topic is available on SoundCloud:


UPDATE #1 - On Twitter, Aswath Rao asserted that Firefox Hello doesn't have the directory problem because it provides a way to pass a URL out to anyone so that they can simply call you at that URL. I documented this myself in a post back on December 2nd. I can see his point, but I would argue that for Firefox Hello to be truly useful to me in my regular ongoing communications, I need some form of a "directory", either as a directory in the cloud maintained by Mozilla, or as a local address book in my Firefox browser that keeps track of those URLs. To the degree that Mozilla wants to let Firefox Hello users build up their contact list, I think they still have this issue of building the directory.

UPDATE #2 - In the comments to this post, Tim Panton points out that in many cases people do not want to be contacted. I agree, and in fact I think that the prevalence of email spam is in part what has driven so much of us to separate (walled gardens) messaging apps such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. Within those walls I have MUCH stronger control over who may contact me at what point. I do agree that any communications app/service needs those kind of controls - whether that is part of the directory or part of the client application or in the service infrastructure seems to be a bit of an implementation consideration.

UPDATE #3 - The folks at FireRTC contend that they don't have to worry about the directory because they are leveraging PSTN telephone numbers. As I replied, they can certainly use the phone number as an identifier to locate other users. This is a great idea and is done by many similar apps, including Facetime, WhatsApp, Viber and more. BUT... all that does is help bootstrap the directory creation process. They still have to build their directory so that users of their app can find and contact other users.

UPDATE #4 - Aswath and I have been engaged in a Twitter discussion where he points out that WebRTC addresses can be much more decentralized like email addresses have been. He argues that they can provide much greater richness and freedom than a static directory of users.

He's right... BUT... we now come back to the "discovery" issue that directories also address. How do I find your WebRTC URL to call you at? Sure, you can email it or IM it to me ... and I can then store it in my address book or contact list. But somehow I have to get it first - and I have to know that it is the current and best address to use for you.

I often use Facebook to send a private message to someone because it's easier than finding their email address and sending them a message. Now, if I synced my contact lists across all my devices perhaps it would be easier... but I don't and so sometimes FB messaging is easiest. I can see the same kind of thing happening with WebRTC URLs.

UPDATE #5 - In response to this post, Phil Wolff wrote a long series of tweets with ideas for further research on this topic.


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Telcos Should Be Worried - Facebook Controls More OTT Messaging With WhatsApp Acquisition

WhatsappTalk about disruption... the telecom part of the media world is buzzing with news of Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp. Techmeme is currently showing MANY posts on the topic and the day is just getting started.

The key point here is that WhatsApp is a prime example of what is often called an "Over-The-Top" or "OTT" application. It uses the data channel on a mobile phone to provide services. Here's another key point from the Facebook news release:

  • Messaging volume approaching the entire global telecom SMS volume.

The traditional telecom companies ("telcos") have already seen their voice revenue seriously eroded by Skype and so many of the other OTT voice applications (such as Viber, which was just acquired) and they've been watching SMS traffic and revenue plateau and decline.

WhatsApp was already one of the major players in the mobile messaging space... indeed I have friends in Europe who tell me they can't remember the last time they sent an actual SMS message because they use WhatsApp for all their messaging. Their usage, too, is not just about the "free" cost of WhatsApp messages - it's also about the richer messaging experience they can get over WhatsApp versus plain SMS. They can send photos, display an online status, engage in group chats and much more that was just either difficult or expensive to do with SMS. And... they can send messages to anyone using the app regardless of where they are in the world. They don't have to worry about fees to send SMS messages internationally.

The user experience is so very simple and easy.

Plus, WhatsApp (and other OTT messaging apps) solves the directory issue by just using your mobile phone number as the identifier within their system. With a quick approval of access to your contact list you can immediately start sending messages to any other WhatsApp users. You don't have to try to get anyone's number... it's all stored in the big giant (and constantly growing) WhatsApp user directory.

And now... instead of WhatsApp being a venture-backed startup out there building its service, it is now backed by Facebook, at this point one of the more powerful corporate entities on the global stage today.

Note, too, that Facebook has also been an OTT messaging player for some time with their "Facebook Messenger" application, which even introduced voice calling at one point in the US. In a post today, Mark Zuckerberg writes about how the two apps will co-exist for different communities of friends/contacts (see also the WhatsApp blog post). Zuckerberg also writes of how WhatsApp is, in his mind, on its way to connecting a billion people.

And that is really what should concern the telcos - one of the largest OTT messaging apps is now owned by the largest global social network.

A Larger Danger

There is, though, a broader concern, not just for the telcos but for all of us. All of these OTT messaging apps... whether they are WhatsApp, Line, Facebook Messenger, Apple's iMessage, Google+ Hangouts, Skype ... or any other... are creating SILOS of users.

They are proprietary "walled gardens" of messaging.

You can ONLY send messages to people who have the app installed on their mobile device.

Say what you will about SMS, but the reality is that you can send a message to pretty much anyone with a mobile phone, anywhere on the planet. No apps to download... it's just a "feature" of having a mobile phone.

WhatsApp requires the app. And specifically the app from Whatsapp and not anyone else's application. WhatsApp does NOT have an open API that anyone can use. In fact, WhatsApp's legal counsel was recently sending DMCA takedown notices to crack down on projects interacting with Whatsapp (presumably in the run-up to this acquisition). WhatsApp - and now Facebook - are in total control of the user experience and interaction for mobile messaging on the service.

Is this REALLY what we want for the future of mobile messaging?

Way back in 2007, I wrote about how "e-mail" was returning into walled gardens and while today's players are different than the diagram I had then, the situation is similar.

This is not the open Internet.

And that should concern us all.


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Facebook Rolls Out Free Voice Calls In The US On iOS - A Quick Walkthrough And A Big, Huge Caveat

Facebook voice 1Facebook today rolled out it's free voice calling in the US via its Messenger app for iOS (iPhone/iPad). The Verge was the first I saw with the news and a great number of sites are now following.

Voice calling through Facebook has the potential to be hugely disruptive... rather than calling on your phone over your regular phone connection - or even rather than using Skype, you can just call from directly within Facebook. This is the kind of "Over-The-Top (OTT)" app that gives telco operators a fit... goodbye, telco voice minutes!

Plus, it's using some HD voice codec so the sound quality is outstanding.

And since the folks at Facebook want you to live your life inside of their very pretty walls, this just provides yet one more reason for you to stay within those walls.

BUT... there's a big huge caveat that I'll get to in a moment.
 

A Quick Walkthrough

First, though, let's look at how it works. When you go into the Messenger app and open a chat with a friend (in this case, Jim Courtney), all you have to do is click the "i" button in the upper right:

Facebook voice 2

After you do that you will get a window that I showed at the beginning of an article where you have a "Free Call" button.

Facebook voice 10

When you press that, you begin a call experience very similar to any other call on your iPhone. First you are connecting to the other person and then you are in the actual call:

Facebook voice 3 Facebook voice4

There is apparently the standard accept and decline buttons. (I neglected to have Jim call me back to get a screenshot.) While you are in the call you have a button to hang up, a speakerphone button and a microphone mute button. The last button is very nice in that it lets you remain in the call while using other features of your iPhone. In these two screenshots you can see that I could access our Messenger chat and also go back to my main iPhone screen to launch other applications. I can always tap the bar at the top to return to Messenger and the controls to our voice conversation:

Facebook voice 5 Facebook voice 6

The voice quality during the conversation was outstanding. It was crystal clear and rich enough that we knew it was some kind of HD voice codec being used.

All in all it was an excellent experience.

The Big, Huge Caveat

So what's the problem? Well... the reality is that right now trying to find someone to call is a struggle!

Going down through my contacts in the Messenger app was an exercise in futility. Person after person after person had the "Free Call" button greyed out:

Facebook voice 9

Here's the fundamental problem:

You must be running the MESSENGER app on your iPhone!

It doesn't matter if you are running the Facebook application on your iPhone... you must be running Messenger.

And bizarrely there is no linkage between the two applications. If I am over in the Facebook application and go into a chat with Jim Courtney, notice that I have only the ability to "View Timeline":

Facebook voice 11

And of course you must have an iPhone or iPad. If you have an Android device or some other device you are out of luck right now.

So the only people you can use this with are other people running Messenger on iOS.

Presumably Facebook is assuming people will just keep Messenger running... but I know that I, for one, try to limit the number of apps I keep running on my iPhone for battery life reasons.

More fundamentally, I never have used the Messenger app for chatting with other friends in Facebook. The Facebook app already provides the ability to chat... so why would I use the Messenger app? (And I know Facebook focuses on the speed that you can get to sending messages... but that's not critical for me.)

Potential For Disruption?

Now if Facebook gets their act together and makes this more intuitive and ubiquitous, the potential is there for more serious disruption. If it can be integrated into the main Facebook app... and can work for Android as well as iOS... and can work for people outside the US and Canada... THEN we might see more people shifting voice calls over into Facebook's voice service.

The potential is certainly huge, given Facebook's massive size.

Until then... it's an interesting option to have available... but I just don't see many people using it.

What About The Technology Behind It?

My other natural question was to wonder what they are using for the technology behind their voice service. As The Verge pointed out, Facebook and Skype have had a partnership to deliver video calling within Facebook's website. Could this be another component of that partnership? Is it a partnership with another VoIP provider? Is it something homegrown?

For now, I haven't seen any details that help explain that, but I'll certainly be watching to see what we can learn.

UPDATE: A tweet from Aswath Rao pointed me to a TechCrunch article from earlier this month when Facebook rolled out free voice calling in Canada that indicates that the technology is NOT from Skype. Separately I asked a Skype representative if Skype was involved in today's rollout and received the simple answer of "no".


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Facebook Rolls Out VoIP In Canada on iOS!

FacebookToday, Facebook apparently began testing of true voice-over-IP (VoIP) calling from its iOS app for all Facebook users in Canada. If you have an iPhone and are in Canada, you can update to the latest version of the Facebook Messenger app and start making free phone calls to your friends on Facebook. Two articles have more details:

I was alerted to this by (appropriately) a Facebook post from Tris Hussey, author of the iPhone Hacks article.

Since I'm not in Canada, I can't test it myself... an update to the Messenger app for me will only get me the ability to leave "voice notes". But I'm looking forward to learning more from my friends in Canada.

If this rolls out to users outside of Canada, this has the potential to be huge and a major disruption to telecom. Yes, there is Skype on mobile phones, and a dozen other apps like Viber and Voxer, but...

... Facebook has the directory and the eyeballs!

You have your friend connections already in Facebook. Plus, people are already spending a significant amount of time in the Facebook app. This just makes it simple to move into real-time communications with someone.

I'm looking forward to learning more from friends up north... and to hopefully trying it out at some point!

UPDATE: Here's the iOS update message for Facebook Messenger:

Facebook v2 1 iphone

So the way I read that, we should all be getting this capability in the next few weeks.


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Oops - Post Published On Wrong Site

Oops... this post was published on the wrong site - please see the article over on my Disruptive Conversations site at:

When Facebook Starts To Become More Useless - Irrelevant In-Feed Ads

Thank you!


Skype Opens Its Walls A Bit? Lets You IM Facebook Users Just Like Skype Users

skypelogo-shadow.pngDid Skype just add a XMPP gateway into their network and bring their walls down a bit more? Today's release of Skype 5.5 for Windows had one VERY cool piece of news:
Facebook integration
Now when you connect to Facebook you can see when your Facebook friends are online and IM with them directly from Skype.

Now I don't have Windows to test it out (as you would know from my earlier post), but in working with fellow blogger Jim Courtney who uses Skype on both operating systems, this has some interesting aspects to it.

For starters, in Skype 5.5, the chat with the Facebook user appears in your left-side list of chats just like a chat with a Skype user. You have the same user experience chatting with a FB user as with a Skype user. (Subject to the caveat that Jim found he couldn't edit a message sent to a FB user, but that makes sense given that the message would leave Skype's network to go over to Facebook's network.)

When Jim went into his Facebook contacts he found my name (he and I are friends on FB) that I was currently "offline":

Skype55fb1

He noted that he could call me via a regular phone number... but not through Skype, even though we are connected on Skype. (So a bit of future integration work that could be done.)

Once I opened a browser and logged into Facebook, I showed up to Jim as online:

Skype55fb2

Jim initiated a chat... and to me it seemed to be just like a regular Facebook chat:

Facebook skype55

On Jim's side, it looked like just a regular Skype chat.

This is VERY cool!

Why? Because this is really the first direct integration I am aware of between Skype and any other IM service. Sure, there are any number of services that people have connected to Skype to bridge Skype messages out to XMPP/Jabber or other networks... but they aren't directly supported by Skype and in my experience some of them haven't worked too well.

Now, I don't know how Skype actually accomplished the Facebook chat integration. I do know that Facebook supports XMPP (Jabber) for connections to external services for chat, so this would be one very obvious way for Skype to make the connection to Facebook. They might have done the integration at a deeper level. I don't know.

But if Skype did add an XMPP gateway to the edge of their network... that's great news... and perhaps may bode well for future integration with other IM services.

Skype 5.5 for Windows has a bunch of other updates, including those emoticons I ranted about, and if you are a Windows user I would suggest you look at upgrading.

Meanwhile, even if it is only on one platform, kudos to the folks at Skype for lowering the walls a bit and connecting out to the other IM networks!


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Is Facebook Planning an Official Voice Calling Feature? With Skype? And Would Facebook Users Care?

News today out of ReadWriteWeb and The Daily What is that a "Call" button was spotted briefly inside someone's Facebook profile:

facebookcall.jpg

RWW goes on to speculate about whether or not this could be part of the "deep integration" between Facebook and Skype announced last September. Mike Melanson at RWW wrote this:

The move would make a lot of sense for Facebook, which has worked recently to become the center of your online communication experience. Its recent "not email" announcement debuted a form of communication that would supposedly work seamlessly between devices, so that there would be little differentiation between messaging, email and Facebook chat. Voice calling between users, whether from browser to browser, phone to browser, or browser to phone, would just make sense in creating a more seamless communication experience.

Now, there is the obvious question -

is the screenshot real?
Or are we being hoaxed? Having personally been in a situation where I received an inadvertant preview of possible new Facebook features (which sadly have yet to materialize), I'm inclined to believe that the screenshoot could be real.

The Skype Connection?

But is it connected to Skype, as RWW wonders? The "deep integration" reported by RWW in September did turn into reality in October with the release of Skype 5.0 for Windows and the integrated Facebook panel. That release allowed you to:

  • see your Facebook News Feed in Skype
  • post status updates that can be synced with your Skype mood message
  • comment and like friends’ updates and wall posts
  • call and SMS your Facebook friends on their mobile phones and landlines
  • make a free Skype-to-Skype call if your Facebook friend is also a Skype contact

This brought Facebook into Skype... so why not a reciprocal exchange of bringing Skype into Facebook?

As Google continues to amass voice resources through acquisitions, there's also a certain sense to it in the battle among the giants.

But Will Facebook Users Actually USE Voice Calling?

The larger question to me is whether or not Facebook users would actually use a voice calling capability. One commenter on The Daily What story voiced an feeling I've often heard expressed:

fbandvoice.jpg

And indeed there are many phone/voice call applications already in existence for Facebook, some of which have been around for years. Back in October I reviewed one such app, the aptly named "Facebook Telephone" (in full disclosure, created by colleagues at Voxeo Labs as a demonstration of what could be done with the Phono SDK) and way back in April 2008 I reviewed an earlier Facebook application (also using Voxeo's platform). While applications like those have certainly seen some success, it hasn't been overwhelming... and begs the question of whether people inside the walls of Facebook truly want to interact via voice.

The Key Difference

The big difference from those applications and the "Call" feature we're all speculating about right now is exactly that...

all of the previous voice services are separate applications!

In order to use the app to communication with someone else inside of Facebook, both parties have to have the application installed.

There's the first barrier... and it's a huge one. It creates friction and no matter how easy the app creator makes it to install the app, it is still one more step that the recipient has to make in order to start communicating.

Now... imagine if Facebook just made voice calling part of the fabric of Facebook? What if everyone just got this "Call" button and were able to start making calls from their computer? Without any further installations of apps?

What if Facebook extended that to their mobile versions so that you could make calls directly from inside the app to anyone else? (You already can in the iPhone app... but only if your friend has entered a mobile phone number in their profile.)

Would this make Facebook more of a communications portal for you?

Stay tuned... the global war for your eyeballs... and your voice... is only going to get more crazy in the time ahead!


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