Posts categorized "Presence"

Out at VoiceCon next week in SF - Presence, Web 2.0, Voice Mashups

voiceconsf2009.jpgIf any of you will be out at VoiceCon or Enterprise 2.0 next week in San Francisco, I'll be out there speaking at both conferences. I have the full schedule in a post on the Voxeo Talks blog, but for VoiceCon it looks like:
Monday, Nov 2 3:15 – 4:15 pm – Presence – Current Progress and Future Trends Wednesday, Nov 4 3:15 – 4:15 pm – Developing Voice Apps Using Mashups and SOA Thursday, Nov 5 8:00 – 9:45 am – Web 2.0 and Enterprise Communications – Fad or the Future?

The full descriptions can be found on a page on our Voxeo Events page. I'm very much looking forward to all three sessions out there. The first is a "reactor panel" where we have a discussion around the issue of getting richer presence info between systems - and moderator Don Van Doren specifically asked me to be there to react to what the larger vendors will be saying. The second panel is just two of us (myself and a gent from IBM) talking about creating mashups and then the last is a "Deep Dive" that Irwin Lazar and I will be doing into what is the state of "Web 2.0 in Enterprise Communications".

Should all be fun.... if you are out there at either conference, let me know. See some of you out there...

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Digium buys SwitchVox and gets presence, Web 2.0 interface, mashups to Google Maps,, SugarCRM...

200709262246Imagine you are a customer service rep (CSR) at a small/medium company and a phone call comes in from a customer. As your phone rings, up on your screen pops all the information about that customer, pulled from your CRM database in or SugarCRM, plus other information from other databases and finally a nice Google Map showing you where that customer is located and potentially other information like the locations of your nearest offices. During the call, the CSR needs to bring in a subject matter expert so the CSR consults their web panel and looks at the presence information displayed for each of the other people in the business. The CSR can then contact someone showing as available and potentially bring them into the call.

Now imagine that all that is running on top of open source telephony... specifically Asterisk.

You can now stop imagining, because Digium just bought the company that does precisely that. There will undoubtedly be much attention today (at the very least in the VoIP blogosphere) about Digium's announcement here at AstriCon today that they have acquired SwitchVox. I am going to bet that much of the reporting today will focus on angles like these:

  • Digium now has very competitive offerings (SwitchVox SOHO and SwitchVox SMB) for going after the small / medium business market.
  • Digium bought themselves a very sophisticated/simple/easy GUI/management interface that moves them forward dramatically in making Asterisk easy to use, deploy and manage.
  • Digium just got 1400 paying customers with over 65,000 endpoints.
  • Digium bought themselves parity (or more) in their ongoing competitive feud with the folks at Fonality/Trixbox.

All of that is true. The SwitchVox products offer a very seriously competitive list of features (you have to go through and expand the subsections to see all the features). The GUI is very well done and simple. The price is quite compelling for the servers and also the support. I mean, for $1200 ($995 server plus $199 support) an SMB gets an IP-PBX with a very broad range of features and an unlimited number of users! Yes, the business still has to pay for IP phones, but they can buy any of a wide range of phones at varying price points to suit their needs. Considering that almost all the mainstream IP-PBX vendors charge on a per-user basis for licenses, the unlimited user model is certainly disruptive in its own right. (Digium has also been doing this with their Asterisk Business Edition.) And yes, Digium now has an answer to the growing competitive threat of Trixbox and it's management interfaces, support, hybrid model, etc.

All that is true - but it's not the really interesting story.

200709270943To me, what is far more compelling is that Digium just bought themselves a whole group of people who "get" the world of "unified communications", business process integration, Web 2.0 mashups, etc.

Digium has had no story at all around "presence" within its core offerings. Now it does. While Asterisk has always been a platform play where you have the ability to integrate Asterisk with other apps, doing so has not exactly been for the faint-of-heart. Hire yourself some programmers and you can do pretty much anything with Asterisk... but that's not something that many businesses want to get into. SwitchVox now gives Digium a way to do easy integration with databases and web sites. The integrations to and SugarCRM are slick. The Google Maps popup is a seriously cool mashup! (And where is that on the roadmap of the mainstream vendors?)

200709270953Throw in a "click to call" add-in for Firefox to let you dial any number you see on any web page, plus a plug-in for Outlook, and you've got a very compelling offering. For a very nice price. My only knock (other than the fact that I can't find a picture of their Google Maps mashup anywhere on their website) is that it doesn't seem like their presence capability is yet integrated with existing instant messaging services. Given Asterisk's XMPP (Jabber) capabilities, this seems an obvious path that could get them connected to Jabber and GoogleTalk presence information. If they don't have that yet, I hope they add it soon, as we really do NOT need yet another place to change/update our presence info.

Regardless, this integration capability is, to me, the real story. Phones are being commoditized. I have to believe call servers/IP-PBXs are on their way to being commoditized. (Folks like Microsoft are going to help in pushing those prices down.) The money will ultimately go away from those areas.

The future of "unified communications" is about platforms. About mashups. About web services. About exposing APIs. About making it easy to combine different sources of data into interfaces that make people more productive. Microsoft gets that. Some of the traditional IP-PBX vendors get that. Digium has always known that, but this acquisition gives them a far better ability to make it happen.

Congrats to the folks at both Digium and SwitchVox for making this happen... I very much look forward to seeing where it evolves! (And in the meantime, I'm going to have to go down to the AstriCon exhibit hall and get some video of the Google Maps mashup to show how very cool it is...)

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iSkoot - cool idea for a Skype client for Blackberry, but I don't see me using it much because...

Last week I wrote some first impressions of iSkoot, a new Skype client for Blackberry, and while I still think it's a very cool idea, I don't see myself using it all that much.  Why not?  Very simply...

Battery life!

Or the lack thereof.  Yes, indeed, it all does seem to come down to batteries, and iSkoot seems to certainly consume its share of power.  Now granted, my Blackberry 7290 is an older model and for all I know could probably use a new battery, but in "normal" operation, I can charge it up and then have it run for a good 3 or 4 days before it needs a recharge.  However, start up iSkoot and I found I suddenly needed a recharge by the end of the day!

In fairness, iSkoot is not alone in this... the other Blackberry IM clients I've used, both the Windows Messenger client and also most recently the IM+ client for Skype also have this same problem.  I'm assuming it has something to do with the need to regularly use the data connection for updates to status and to update chat messages.

I can see this actually being most useful to me when I'm traveling and need to quickly reach someone from within an airport or something like that. Of course, that's also when I want the longest battery life, too!  I think I'll keep it installed on my BB, but I don't think I'll have it running except for those times when I'm somewhere and I want a quick way to do IM via Skype.

Too bad, really, because one of the fun aspects of it was that I had a very easy way to read Twitter updates and Facebook updates on my BB (since I have both Twitter and Facebook status streams piped into a Skype chat).

Ah, the joy of batteries...

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iSkoot provides another Skype client for Blackberry devices... review - and my first reaction is that it has a challenge with the "instant" part of "instant messaging"

NOTE: Please see the updates at the bottom of this post.

imageBack on Monday, Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal IM'd me (on Skype naturally) asking if he could do a test call to me on "another Skype client for the Blackberry". Naturally, I said yes and in a moment or so we were speaking.  It turned out that he was using a new beta application from iSkoot.  From the news release:

The new iSkoot v1.1 delivers a comprehensive mobile Skype experience on BlackBerry: With the click of a button, users can instantly chat with their Skype contacts, make and receive Skype calls, and use SkypeOut™ to inexpensively call regular phone numbers nearly anywhere in the world. iSkoot v1.1 also displays complete Skype contact status information, so BlackBerry users can see which friends, family members and business colleagues are available, as well as manage their own online presence. This latest release features a next generation, easy-to-use interface especially designed for BlackBerry users and will offer additional features soon. iSkoot works without any need for PCs, special hardware, custom phones or Wi-Fi hot spots, and utilizes the existing mobile network infrastructure to route Skype calls through the voice channel.

It sounded interesting and so, of course, I had to try it out as well and finally had a spare moment to do so today.  Now, both Jim and I had commented a month ago about the IM+ Skype client from ShapeServices (my posts first here and then here with a link to Jim's coverage) so that previous experience somewhat colors my own view of the iSkoot application.

The installation was fairly straightforward. I filled out a form on iSkoot's site and was then SMS'd instructions for the download.  I simply opened the link in my Blackberry's browser and proceeded with the install in the normal "over the air" process.  One minor detail was that my Blackberry 7290 was not in the list of supported handsets, but I took a guess that the 7100 binary might work and so I used that (and it seems to work).

Here are some initial positive impressions:

  • Nice user interface - Very nice interface.  Tabs that you can use Alt+wheel to move between for your contacts, online contacts, SkypeOut contacts and chats.
  • Presence worked - I could see the presence of the other Skype users on my contact list.  I didn't try to see what happens when a user changes to see what kind of time delay there may or may not be.
  • Outbound calls worked, although with an annoying step in the process - Move to a Skype contact and push your thumbwheel twice to call.  (Or push it once to see your options.) The call then starts by initiating a regular mobile call from your Blackberry to a phone number in Massachusetts (for me).  It then seems to call the other person on Skype and connect you through the gateway at iSkoot.  The annoying step was that when I first initiate a call, my Blackberry throws up a menu saying that an application is requesting to make a call and do I want to allow it, with the default being No. I therefore have to scroll up and press my thumbwheel again.  It's a pain and I couldn't find a way to remove that request.  I don't remember having to do that step in the IM+ client (and my trial has expired).  In any event, once the calls were connected, the audio quality sounded fine on both ends.
  • Chats worked, and alerted you to new chats - Easy to initiate chats. Nice list of current chats.  If a new chat is opened up with you, you get a notification and can open it up.  If there are new messages in existing chats, you get notified of those as well.
  • No conference call appearance - Unlike the IM+ client, your call just appears as a regular Skype call.  In fact, there was really no way for me to know Jim was not calling me from his regular Skype client.  With the IM+ client, you wound up getting put into a conf call with the other recipient which just seemed a bit strange.

Realizing it is still in beta (like, it seems, most everything on the net these days), here are some negative impressions:

  • No support for groupchats - Using the Skype 3.2/3.5beta clients, I'm accustomed to having several public groupchat windows open.  Unfortunately, groupchats are not supported per the FAQ, and my public groupchats did not appear.  This does work in the IM+ client, so score 1 for IM+.
  • Very slow updates to chats - In our experiment today, Jim Courtney and I both had Skype running on our PCs and so we could see our chat messages in a chat window there as well.  There were times when it took 5-10 minutes for messages typed in the PC chat window to appear in the iSkoot window!  Given that this is supposedly instant messaging, such a delay was hard to fathom.  Now there is a "Refresh Now" choice in the menu which could force a refresh, but the normal process seemed to have some kind of refresh interval.  Not all the time.  Sometimes messages appeared right away... but other times there was as much as a 10-minute delay before seeing the other message.  Hopefully this is just a scaling issue as iSkoot deals with their release!
  • Slow call initiation process - Forgetting about my annoying Blackberry question I had to answer, the whole process of initiating the call seemed to take longer than the IM+ client did.  I'd have to purchase IM+ to actually test the timing, but the iSkoot process just seemed slower.
  • Status did not have DND/Busy - Curiously, you can change your status in the iSkoot client, but you only have the choices of: Online, Away, Not Available and Invisible.  One of the ones I use often is "Do Not Disturb", so that I'm not disturbed.  That choice isn't here.  Perhaps the assumption is that you'll just exit the application.
  • You can't receive Skype calls if you have Skype Voicemail enabled - Per the FAQ.  Not entirely sure why but this seems to be a bit of a headache if you this is not your only Skype client.  I also have Skype on my PC and if I am not there, I'd prefer to have the call go to voicemail.  Since I'm mostly looking to use this for Skype chats and Skype outbound calls, I don't expect it to be a big deal for me (I'll leave voicemail on) but I could see it being a pain if I did want to receive calls.
  • You still have to give over your Skype password - As with IM+, you have to provide iSkoot with your Skype username and password and then they log in as you from their server/gateway.  As a commenter pointed out, there is a basic problem here that with your Skype account being connected to your PayPal account which in turn is connected to your bank account, you are potentially letting someone you don't know have access ultimately to your bank account.  Do you trust iSkoot (or anyone else) enough?  On the other hand, I'm not sure how any of these services can really work if you do not provide that information.  (See update below.)

All in all, it's an interesting entry into the idea of taking Skype onto a mobile phone.  As I have time I'll keep experimenting with it over the next few weeks... I could see it be especially useful if you were travelling (which, for better or worse, I'm not doing).

As I'll write up in another post, the one interesting use for me was that I could see Twitter and Facebook updates appearing in a Skype chat window and could post Twitter updates (without using the SMS interface)... which was an interesting experience.

In the meantime, if you are a Blackberry and Skype user and want to experiment, you can head over to and try it out.


UPDATE #1 - 11 Jul 07: Jim Courtney IM'd me with the following comment on the Skype<->PayPal linkage:

btw, I investigated re the PayPal access issue. To do anything meaningful you need to log into PayPal as well. Also PayPal would not allow a process that was open to abuse. All you can buy automatically are voice mail, SkypeIn, SkypeOut and even there you can put on a daily limit as low as $50. And my PayPal password is definitely not my Skype pwd.

UPDATE #2 - 3 Aug 07: Jacqueline Van Meter with iSkoot Product Management has responded in a comment to my later post about iSkoot, addressing a number of the concerns I raised here. 

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Rich Tehrani hops on the Mitel "Presence" tour bus... at least for a day...

Scanning RSS feeds early this morning, I was pleased to see that Rich Tehrani will be speaking at our "Presence 2007" event in Costa Mesa, CA, today. I've known the tour was going on, but wasn't tracking who was speaking at the various stops.  Glad to see Rich there... I'm sure he'll give a great talk for whoever attends.  The good news for Rich, too, is that at least he was flying out of the New York area yesterday instead of the day before when the glorious storm played havoc with air travel all over the northeast.

Friday afternoon video #2 was to be... "Alec Saunders intros iotum's Talk-Now"

Well, I had intended that video #2 was going to be Alec Saunders demonstrating iotum's new Talk-Now application.  However, as he explains, Alec took the video down! Bummer, as it was a fun demo of what that technology iotum has can offer.  Ah, well, you'll just have to read about "Talk-Now" or even sign up to give it a spin (if you have the right Blackberry).  Of course, you can read MobileCrunch, Jon Arnold or ZDNet first.  It's definitely an interesting take on how to extend presence out to mobile devices. 

And Alec, do come back with a video again - I liked the first one!

Alec Saunders: "New Presence and the Voice 2.0 Manifesto" - how do we move to the next level of presence awareness?

Given that I view "presence" as one of the more potentially disruptive elements of IP telephony, I was pleased to see that over on his blog Alec wrote a very lengthy and insightful piece entitled "'New Presence' and the Voice 2.0 Manifesto". I always enjoy Alec's writing and this time it's no different... it's great when someone can make the time to write a thoughtful piece like this. Since the piece came out, I've wanted to write more about it, but I have to suck it up and admit that with everything else I'm trying to close off before the end-of-year tomorrow, a lengthy reply is just not going to happen.

However, some others have offered replies and they, too, are well worth a read:

All are well worth a read. Thanks again, Alec, for starting a worthy conversation.... hopefully I'll find the time to chime in soon.

UPDATE: Andy Abramson has also joined in... The Doctor is In: New Presence 2.0 by Alec

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