Posts categorized "Google"

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




Google Finally Kills Off GoogleTalk and XMPP (Jabber) Integration

GoogleTalk is dead, Jim!

By way of a comment to a post I wrote back in May 2013 about Google seeming to kill off XMPP/Jabber support in Google+ Hangouts (spoiler: They did!), I learned from a friend that the GoogleTalk API was officially deprecated as of February 23, 2015. I confirmed this by finding a Google+ post from Google's Mayur Kamat.

Now, this is not a surprise. Google has been clear that Hangouts was the replacement and also that Hangouts does not support XMPP:

Googletalk end

Still, I'm sad to see the XMPP integration die off. It is just a continuation of the descent of messaging services into walled gardens ... a topic I've been writing about for many years.

UPDATE: Please see the post "No, it’s not the end of XMPP for Google Talk" on the XMPP Standards Foundation site. The XSF notes that XMPP is still used inside of Google and that XMPP federation can still occur with a third-part XMPP client. However, because Google does not support the secure use of XMPP via TLS, many public XMPP servers will not connect to its server. I join the XSF in wishing that Google would embrace secure messaging and better federation. However, given that their product direction is for Hangouts, which does NOT support XMPP, I'm skeptical that we'll ever see any better federation at this point.

On that note, it was really no surprise to see the media reports about Microsoft killing off Google and Facebook chat support in its Outlook.com service. Microsoft made this Google integration available back in May 2013, but today Microsoft really has no choice:

  • Google has killed off XMPP integration with Hangouts.
  • Facebook has killed off XMPP integration with their new v2.0 API.

And so Microsoft can only offer Outlook.com its own proprietary walled garden... Skype!

Goodbye GoogleTalk and... sadly... goodbye XMPP integration!


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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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Lesson Learned The Hard Way - Google+ Hangouts On Air ...

I learned a hard lesson today that Google+ Hangouts On Air (HOA) are limited to 4 hours in length.... and to read the rest of the story, visit Disruptive Conversations...

(Good lesson that I shouldn't be posting articles at 1:00am! But leaving this post up here for a bit because there are now social media links out there pointing to this URL...)


Further Thoughts on the Google Voice / Google+ Hangouts Integration

Google hangoutsMy post this week about Google Voice ringing into Google+ Hangouts generated a good bit of commentary, not only on the original post but also out on Hacker News, Reddit, Google+ and other areas. Given the range of responses, I thought I'd reply to a couple of points and also expand on some further related topics. So here goes...

"DUH! This is nothing new/disruptive. You could do it forever with GTalk/Gmail!"

A common response was to point out to me that Google Voice had been integrated with GoogleTalk / GMail for quite some time and so this integration was really nothing new.

Okay, fair enough. Point taken.

I'll admit that I never keep GMail open in a web window and so while I do recall that this integration was there in the past, I never personally used it.

Similarly, in Google+, I've taken to logging out of the GoogleTalk/chat sidebar because I found it was sucking up CPU cycles on my Mac. For whatever reason, the new Hangouts sidebar doesn't seem to consume as much CPU cycles and so I've left it running there.

So yes, the integration may have been there in the past and now it is there in Hangouts - and people like me are actually now noticing it. :-)

Ringing G+ Hangouts BEFORE Ringing Other Devices

There were a couple of comments that it seemed like calls to a Google Voice number rang the Google+ Hangouts first and then rang the other devices connected to the GV number. In my own testing there does seem to be about a 3-second delay between when the call starts ringing in Google+ Hangouts and when it starts ringing on my cell phone and Skype. Now, this may be a fact of Google giving priority to their own application - or it may just be an architectural fact that when they fork the call out to the different numbers it is faster to connect to their own service while the calls to my cell and my Skype numbers have to go through various PSTN gateways. Either way, there does seem to be a degree of delay before all devices ring.

Delay In Answering

A couple of people noted that there was a delay from the time you hit "Answer" to when the call was actually established. I've noticed this, too, although not consistently. I think part of it may be with starting up the Hangouts component inside of your browser - particularly with getting the video going, since that seems to be required for the Hangouts component. It may also be just the paths through whatever systems Google is using. It's certainly something to monitor.

Google Voice Call Does Not Ring The Hangouts App on iOS

In my own testing, I found a curious omission. When I call in on my Google Voice number, it does not ring on my Hangouts app running on my iPad. It rings Hangouts on my web browser... but nothing happens in the mobile app. Now, my iPhone rings - but that is because it is also connected to the Google Voice account. I didn't try removing that number from Google Voice and then seeing if the Hangouts app on the iPhone would ring. At least for the iPad, nothing happens. It would be great if this did work so that I could receive the calls on that mobile device.

XMPP...

Multiple people pointed out that my final remark about maybe some day getting SIP support was probably unrealistic given Google "dropping" XMPP support. I was admittedly away on vacation and at a conference last week and so I missed this point in all the announcement about Hangouts coming out of Google I/O. I wrote about this yesterday, though: Did Google REALLY Kill Off All XMPP/Jabber Support In Google+ Hangouts? It Still Seems To Partially Work

Although, as pointed out in a comment on Google+, this "partial" XMPP support may just be a factor of the continued GoogleTalk support - and may fade away when Google finally pulls the plug on that.

This is definitely an area where it would be helpful if Google could provide a few clarifications.

That's all I have right now for a quite update and response to points. Thanks for all the great comments and I do look forward to seeing where Google is going with all of this.


You can also listen to an audio version of this post:



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Did Google REALLY Kill Off All XMPP/Jabber Support In Google+ Hangouts? It Still Seems To Partially Work

Google hangoutsDid Google really kill off all of their support for XMPP (Jabber) in Google+ Hangouts? Or is it still there in a reduced form? Will they be bringing back more support? What is really going on here?

In my excitement yesterday about Google Voice now being integrated with Google+ Hangouts, I missed a huge negative side of the new Hangouts change that is being widely reported: the removal of support for the XMPP (Jabber) protocol and interoperability with third-party clients.

But yet a few moments ago I did have a chat from an external XMPP client (Apple's "Messages" app) with Randy Resnick who received the message in a Google+ Hangout. I opened up a Google+ window in my browser and I could see the exchange happening there as well. Here's a side-by-side shot of the exchange in both clients:

Googleplusxmppinterop 450

So what is going on here?

Reports Of Google Removing XMPP

This issue has been widely reported in many of the tech blogs and sites. Matt Landis covered this issue very well in his post: Hangouts Won’t Hangout With Other Messaging Vendors: Google’s New Unified Messaging Drops Open XMPP/Jabber Interop which then generated long threads on Reddit and Slashdot.

The Verge in their lengthy story about Google+ Hangoutscontains this statement from Google's Nikhyl Singhal:

Talk, for example, was built to help enterprise users communicate better, Singhal says. "The notion of creating something that’s social and that’s always available wasn’t the same charter as we set out with when we created Talk." With Hangouts, Singhal says Google had to make the difficult decision to drop the very "open" XMPP standard that it helped pioneer.

The "Google Talk for Developers" pagealso very clearly states this:

Note: We announced a new communications product, Hangouts, in May 2013. Hangouts will replace Google Talk and does not support XMPP.

A Google+ post by Nikhyl Singhal has generated a large amount of comments (not solely about XMPP) and a post from Google's Ben Eidelson about how Google Messenger will be changed by Hangouts has also received many comments.

There was also a Hacker News thread about the news out of Google AppEngine that apps hosted there would not be able to communicate users of the new Hangouts app via XMPP - and providing a couple of workarounds.

A couple of Google+ threads from Matt Mastracci and Jan Wildeboer are also worth reading as is this note from Daniel Pentecost about how he has lost interop with his clients / customers.

But Is XMPP Support Still There?

I was a bit puzzled, though, by a couple of comments from Google's Ben Eidelson down in one of the G+ threads:


Ben Eidelson
+Thomas Heinen Thanks for your report of the issue. Hangouts supports basic interop with XMPP, so you can-for the time being-continue to use 3rd party clients. It does not work the same way as Talk, and so I believe the issue you're having with the XMPP bridge will not resolve in Hangouts.
Jason Summerfield
+Ben Eidelson So there is still some basic XMPP functionality under the hood? Does this mean that Hangouts will still be able to communicate with federated Jabber servers/clients, at least for now?

Ben Eidelson
+Jason Summerfield Not federated support, but supports interop with XMPP clients. Meaning you can continue to use XMPP clients to log in to Google Talk and those messages will interop with folks on Hangouts.


It was this that prompted me to call up Messages on my Mac, where I am logged in via XMPP to my GMail account, and to initiate a chat with Randy as shown above. We found we could chat perfectly fine. We couldn't initiate a callinto a Google+ Hangout from an external XMPP client - although I'll be honest and say I don't know how well that worked in the past. My own usage of external clients has entirely been for chat.

So What Is The Story?

I don't know. The statement quoted in The Verge's story seems pretty definitive that XMPP has been dropped, as does the message sent to AppEngine developers. It does seem so far that:

  • "Server-to-server" XMPP, used for federation with other servers / services, has been dropped.
  • "Presence" and status messages have been dropped (because the idea seems to be with Hangouts that you just send a message and people will get it either right then or whenever they are next online).
  • Within the Hangouts app, you can only connect to people with Google+ accounts, i.e. contacts on external XMPP servers no longer appear.
  • Google hasn't made any clear statements on what exactly is going on.

But is this partial XMPP support only temporary? Will it go away at some point whenever Hangouts fully "replaces" GoogleTalk? Or is this a communication mixup? (As happened recently with Google's announcement of DNSSEC support for their Public DNS Service?)

For me the disappointment in all of this is mostly that Google has been one of the largest advocates for the open XMPP protocol and I enjoyed the fact that I could use multiple different chat clients to interact with my GoogleTalk account. I was also very intrigued by the federation that we were starting to see between GTalk and other systems out there via XMPP.

Whereas before Google+ seemed to be an interesting social/messaging backbone to which I could connect many different apps and systems, now Google+ is looking like simply yet another proprietary walled garden - and we don't need more of those!

Hopefully we'll hear something more out of Google soon.

P.S. Here's another interesting viewpoint: Google Hangouts and XMPP – is cloud harming the Internet?


UPDATE: In a comment over on Google+, Daniel Pentecost states that Randy and I were not actually using Hangouts:

Dan, you weren't actually chatting through Hangouts. You were chatting through Google Talk which itself has a bridge into Hangouts. It only works b/c Randy is a Gmail user and still has access to Google Talk in Gmail.

Perhaps that is the case, which again then begs the question of whether this is only a temporary capability until GoogleTalk is shut down.


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You Can Now Call Into Google+ From Regular Phones - Google Connects Google Voice To Hangouts

Want to hear the sound of Google further disrupting the world of telecom? If you have a Google Voice number and also use Google+ (as I do) with the Hangouts feature enabled, you'll soon be hearing this new sound if you haven't already.

UPDATE: I have written a follow-up post responding to several comments and expanding on several points.

An Unexpected Ringing

Yesterday a random PR person called the phone number in the sidebar of this blog to pitch me on why I should write about her client. This phone number is through Google Voice and I knew by the fact that my cell phone and Skype both started ringing simultaneously that someone was calling that number.

But as I was deciding whether or not to actually answer the call, I realized that there was another "ringing" sound coming from my computer that I had not heard before. Flipping quickly through my browser windows I found my Google+ window where this box appeared at the top of the "Hangouts" sidebar on the right:

Googleplus incoming call

Now, of course, I HAD to answer the call, even though I knew from experience that most calls to that number are PR pitches. I clicked the "Answer" button and in a moment a regular "Hangout" window appeared, complete with my own video, and with an audio connection to the phone call.

Hangouts phonecall

The PR person and I then had a pleasant conversation where I rather predictably determined quickly that she'd probably never actually readthis blog or she would have known that I've never written about her client's type of software. Be that as it may, the audio quality of the call was great and the call went on without any issues.

A subsequent test showed me that I also had access to the dialpad had I needed to send any button presses (for instance, in interacting with an IVR or robocall):

Hangout keypad

The only real "issue" with the phone call was that when I pressed the "Hang up" button I wound up still being in the Hangouts window with this message displayed:

Google+ Hangouts

The irony of course is that that phone number was never in the "video call"... at least via video. Regardless, I was now alone in the video call with my camera still running. I needed to press the "Exit" button in the upper right corner of the Hangouts window. Outside of that, the user experience for the phone call was fine.

The Future Of Google Voice?

Like many people interested in what Google is doing with Google+, I had read the announcement from Google of the new streams and Hangouts features last week and had gone ahead and installed the iOS Hangouts app onto my iPhone to try it out (marking Google's entrance into the OTT VoIP space). But nowhere in there had I seen that this connection was going to happen between Google Voice and Hangouts. I'd seen speculation in various media sites, but nothing direct.

So it was a bit of a surprise when it happened... particularly because I'd done nothing to enable it. Google had simply connected my Google Voice number to my Google+ account.

I admit that it is a pleasant surprise... although I do wish for the sake of my laptop's CPU that I could somehow configure it to NOT launch myvideo when I get an audio-only call. Yes, I can just go stop my video, but that's an annoying extra step.

It seems, though, that another feature removed from Hangouts, at least temporarily, was the ability to make outbound phone calls. Given that all signs of Google Voice were removed from Google's interface and replaced by "Hangouts", this has predictably upset people who used the service, particularly those who paid for credits to make outgoing calls. There does seem to be a way to restore the old Chat interfacefor those who want to make outgoing calls so that is at least a temporary workaround.

Google's Nikhyl Singhal posted to Google+ about the new Hangouts featuresstating these two points:

1) Today's version of Hangouts doesn't yet support outbound calls on the web and in the Chrome extension, but we do support inbound calls to your Google Voice number. We're working hard on supporting both, and outbound/inbound calls will soon be available. In the meantime, you can continue using Google Talk in Gmail.

2) Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making/receiving phone calls is just the beginning. Future versions of Hangouts will integrate Google Voice more seamlessly.

I'm sure that won't satisfy those who are troubled by the change, but it will be interesting to see where they go with Hangouts and voice communication.

(Note: the comment thread on Nikhyl Singhal's Google+ post makes for very interesting reading as people are sounding off there about what they'd like to see in a Hangouts / Google Voice merger.)

Will Hangouts Do SIP?

Of course, my big question will be... will Hangouts let us truly move beyond the traditional telephony of the PSTN and into the world of IP-based communications where can connect directly over the Internet? Google Voice once briefly let us receive VoIP calls using the SIP protocol - can Hangouts finally deliver on this capability? (And let us make outbound SIP calls as well?)

What do you think? Do you like this new linkage of Google Voice PSTN numbers to your Google+ account?


UPDATE #1 - I have written a follow-up post about XMPP support in Hangouts and confusion over what level of XMPP/Jabber support is still in Google+ Hangouts.


Audio commentary related to this post can be found in TDYR episode #009 on SoundCloud:


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Join the Google+ "IP Communications & VoIP" Community

Googleplus ipcomms voipWant to connect with others interested in the bleeding edge of IP communications and VoIP? Want to exchange links or engage in discussions with people interested in these topics? If you are a Google+ user (as I am), there is now the new "Communities" feature and Randy Resnick of VUC fame has set up a new Google+ community on "IP Communications & VoIP" at:
https://plus.google.com/communities/114149566116254233716

Given that Randy is very active on Google+, this community is also very active, both through Randy's posts as well as the comments and posts of others. I've already learned a good bit from a couple of the discussions that have occurred there.

There are other Google+ communities that you might find interesting, too, such as those related to DNSSEC and IPv6, but Randy's is a great one for VoIP / IP communications / UC topics. Check it out and join in the conversations....

Plus, if you haven't checked out the VUC calls that occur each Friday at noon US Eastern, they, too, are definitely worth listening to and participating in.


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The Fascinating Interest in Using Google Voice With SIP Addresses

Why are so many people interested in using Google Voice with SIP? Is this a sign that people really want to use SIP-based services for VoIP? Is this all hobbyists or people looking to play around with Google Voice? Or is it people trying to solve real interconnection issues? What are people trying to do with Google Voice and SIP?

All these questions came to my mind today when I dipped into Google Analytics and noticed that for the month to date in November 2012, my old (March 2011) post about Google Voice and SIP addresses continues to receive a large amount of traffic:

Ga googlevoiceandsip

Slightly over 3,000 pageviews in the first 13 days of November - and if I go back a bit I see over 71,000 pageviews since January 1, 2012. In fact, it's had about 232K pageviews since I wrote it over 1.5 years ago, and has accounted for almost 25% of all traffic to this site in that time.

And this particular article was just one in a series of articles I wound up writing about Google Voice and SIP as we all collectively tried to figure out what was going on.

Digging into the traffic sources to the page, almost all of it this month comes (somewhat predictably) from search. The search terms, at least the ones we can see (since Google now shows "Not Provided" for all searches done over SSL), show a range of interest in SIP:

Ga googlevoiceandsip search

And all of this for a service from Google Voice which seemed to be a temporary service and subsequently stopped working... kinda, sorta... and then did work... and then didn't work. (And I just checked... and it doesn't work for me right now.)

I find all this interest fascinating. I hope it's a good sign that people out there do want to see more usage of SIP addresses.

And I do hope that at some point Google will open up the connection again and let us connect in to Google Voice numbers using SIP URIs. It would be a great move.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to be fascinating by all the traffic still coming to those old articles...


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3 Great Posts to Read About Why Windows Phone 7 Hasn't Taken Off...

Windows Phone 7

Jumping online this morning I noticed this trio of great posts yesterday about Windows Phone 7 and why it hasn't taken off. The discussion was started off by Charlie Kindel, a former Microsoft general manager:

MG Siegler weighed in on his blog with:

And Robert Scoble posted a comment on Charlie's post that led then to his own post:

The comments on both Charlie Kindel's and Robert Scoble's posts are also worth reading. There were other articles on this theme, but these were the three I found most useful.

As to my own opinion, I'm definitely in Scoble's camp (to which Siegler also agrees):

It's ALL about the apps!

The device formerly known as a "mobile phone" is now a device to access all sorts of services, information, games, Internet sites and to send messages to people... and, oh yeah, it can make phone calls sometimes if you really want it to.

It's all about the apps... and until Microsoft is able to truly foster a strong application developer ecosystem it will remain, like RIM, a minor player in the mobile market.

Image credit: microsoftsweden on Flickr


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