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Posts from June 2007

Skype announces "Mashup Contest" to encourage developers to play with Skype's API

image One of the things that continues to fascinate me is the "mashup culture" we are in today where the whole "Web 2.0" (ugh! how I dislike the term!) motif is that you can mix and mash output and input from various services to come up with new and interesting integrations.  Anybody who has at this point NOT seen some mashup with Google Maps should probably stop reading this post now.  (In fact, turn off your computer and just go outside... you obviously haven't been paying attention, anyway!)  The programmableweb site lists now over 2000 mashups.  There's a wiki of Twitter mashups. reports daily on more and more services that are very often new remixes and combinations of existing services.  It's a crazy but intriguing world we're in right now.

Today Skype joined the fray with their "Mashup Contest" calling on developers to join in building mashups that use the Skype API.  The contest will run until September 12th when they are having a "Skype Developer Days" conference in Prague.  From their announcement:

Judges will be from across Skype, eBay and Paypal, plus external judges. The winner will be chosen and announced on Sep 12th in Prague based on the following criteria: innovation, usefulness, cool factor, usability and a dash of weirdness.

It will be very interesting to see what evolves.  Having been in the Skype public chat that started initially to talk about mashups with Twitter, I'm fairly sure that we'll see some integration with at the very least Twitter and Facebook.  (Will Skype be the first with a Facebook VoIP app?)

Should be fun, at least... I'm curious to see what people do that involves "a dash of weirdness"!  :-)

Who will build the first VoIP app for Facebook that links outside the Facebook walls?

image With the recent release of Facebook's "Platform" for applications (see here for more info and links), my first thought, naturally, was... so what VoIP apps are in there?  Given that Facebook is being used as a email/IM/messaging platform by so many, the linkage into voice seems logical.  Oddly, when I went to Facebook's "Application Directory" and searched (using the "Search Apps" box) on either "voip" or "voice" I wound up with no applications!  However, there clearly are some voice applications in there.  Through some browsing, I discovered these (note that the first links on each line will only work if you are logged into Facebook):

  • WalkieTalkie - private voice chat for a Facebook group.  If everyone in the group installs it, they can all participate in a group "conference call".
  • Tag - from the same developer as WalkieTalkie, this is for one-to-one voice chat and leaving messages.
  • Chatterbox - lets other users leave a voice message on your Facebook profile.
  • VoicePlayer from Snapvine - let's users leave voice comments on your Facebook profile
  • Msg-Time - same idea... you can leave voice messages
  • Free World Phone from Jaxtr - call-back service that calls users on their existing phones... also includes voice messaging and ability to keep your phone number

There is also an app listed for Jangl that doesn't seem to be available if you click on the link.  But again, this is another call-back service that lets you keep your number private and use your existing phone.

All of these are interesting in various different ways, especially to me the WalkieTalkie and Tag apps as they would appear to be actual VoIP, but there does seem to be something missing here:

Where are the VoIP apps that go outside the Facebook walls?

Now, maybe I missed them (and feel free to leave me a comment telling me so), but it seems to me that it would be a logical thing to allow people to initiate voice conversations from within Facebook to various VoIP services, similar to what Xing is already doing with both Skype and also with regular phone numbers (through a conferencing service).   Skype is one obvious choice, but an app that did straight SIP (hmm... "Gizmo for Facebook") would be very interesting as well.  Or connected to one of the other IM services that include voice (Microsoft WLM, GoogleTalk, AIM, Yahoo!Voice)... or that played well with open source VoIP like Asterisk... or that connected to one of the enterprise VoIP or consumer VoIP services.

The question really is... who will be the first one to offer an app that lets you use your existing VoIP services from within the Facebook walls?  And through those services gives you PSTN connectivity?   We'll see...

(Hint: Given my next post, Skype's probably a good contender.)

Making Skype calls from a Blackberry... (yes, it is true!) And where was the PC making the conf call??

Today I called Alec Saunders via Skype.  Not terribly unusual, really... except that I initiated the Skype call from my Blackberry!  Back on Monday, Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal had posted a teaser about an application for the Blackberry that allowed you to use Skype IM.  Today my curiosity got the better of me and I had to IM Jim to get the info. I downloaded the app and promptly had to try it out... I guess by virtue of Alec being at the top of my contact list, he was my victim (I also know from past experience that he's open to this kind of thing).

image Tonight Jim has spilled the goods for all of us in the post rather dramatically titled "Skype on the Blackberry - A New Era in the AlwaysOn World". It turns out to be an application called "IM+ for Skype" from a company called ShapeServices, which makes a variety of software products for PDAs (and specifically Blackberries).  It turns out there was a news release about this back on May 7th, but I didn't see any coverage of this at all.  The app itself costs $25, but you can also download it and use it for a free 7-day trial.

Blackberry users can even download it directly for Over-The-Air installation from

The app itself seemed like other IM programs I've tried for the Blackberry.  Very easy to create chats.  See the chats in progress.  Get a notification vibration/beep when new chats arrive.  You first naturally give it your Skype username and password and it (slowly) loads in your contact list and shows the presence of all of your contacts.  After that, it's rather like a Skype client.  You can scroll through your contact list, open up chats, initiate calls, etc.

The calls are interesting.  I was initially expecting it to be a true VoIP client and initiate the call via Skype over the data connection from the Blackberry.  I wondered how well this would work given the generally limited quality/speed of the data connection.  It turns out that it doesn't work that way.  The data connection is used by the IM+ app to initiate the call, but the actual voice connection occurs over your phone's regular mobile connection. 

So when I called Alec, my phone actually rang and I answered it.  From Alec's perspective using Skype on his PC, he was placed into a conference call with "Dan York" and then a SkypeOut call to my cell phone.  What's curious to me is that I don't quite understand where the other party was that was making the conf call happen.  It wasn't on Skype on my PC.  I can't imagine the Blackberry could actually be doing the conf call... so where was it?  A PC (virtual or otherwise) back at Shape Services?  I don't know... but I will say that it worked.

From a cost perspective, I have the Skype Unlimited calling plan, so the call to my cell phone was free from a Skype point-of-view.  I have an unlimited data plan for my BB so there was no cost there.  Obviously there was an airtime cost for the connection to my BB... but that was it.   Now obviously I could also use it to make SkypeOut calls to other numbers, at which point it is becoming much like one of the call-back services like Jajah.

Interesting app... we'll see if I actually use it much.  My past experience with IM clients on the Blackberry is that if they are left running in the background they tend to eat the battery up very quickly.  Still, I could see me using it when traveling and wanting to IM someone or find out their Skype presence.  Will I make actual Skype calls with it?  I'm not sure.

What do you think?  Would you use it?  For Skype IM?  Calls?  Or both?  Is it a "New Era in the AlwaysOn World"?  (Would you pay the $25?)

Fun stuff...

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Ken Camp starts a new series of posts on Jaiku and the new client for Nokia S60 phones

imageI have not really written about Jaiku here at all... I have been meaning to explore it a bit more, but just haven't had the time.  What limited time I have had lately has been more focused on Twitter, Facebook, Skype and the evolving mashups of all of those.

But Ken Camp has been writing and advocating Jaiku, and is starting a series of posts with his one today: "Unveiling the new Jaiku Client for Nokia - Part 1"  Ken is going to talk more about the new client for Nokia S60 phones.  But this part of his first post is perhaps more revealing:

First, if you aren’t a Jaiku user today, you need to understand that Jaiku is what I call a lifestream aggregator. When you build your profile, you have complete control over what you wish to share of your lifestream of information. For many, that’s simply their Jaikus. Using this approach, a used can share brief snippets of information - current status, pose a question, leave a thought - for others to see.

Digging more deeply into Jaiku, we find you can also import RSS feeds of all flavors into your lifestream. For me, this means if you read my lifestream, you see blog posts from three different blogs, Flickr photos, video posts, even Twitter posts. I’ll explain more about why I think this approach is revolutionary and exciting in a post tomorrow or Friday. It’s taken me a while as a Jaiku user to develop an appreciation for just why this is apprach to aggregation is really important. I think it’s positively revolutionary from a social networking perspective.

I agree with Ken that this type of "lifestream aggregation" represents a direction in which social networking is evolving.  The challenge, I think, really comes back to where you do that aggregation.  Jaiku would like to be your aggregator.  So would Twitter (which can bring in RSS feeds through sites like  And so indeed would Facebook which now includes an RSS application as part of its platform.

So which do you choose?

All are, to varying degrees, walled gardens of some sort.  Ken can't follow my status updates because I primarily use Twitter.  Alec Saunders does most all his updates within Facebook.   We do need to have some kind of common aggregator.   We need to tear down the walls so that we don't wind up in isolated islands of communication.

But in the meantime, if you want to read about how pretty and nice it is inside of the walled garden of Jaiku, head on over to Ken's post to read more.  This is Part 1, with the others to follow soon thereafter, I would expect.

Skype 3.5 beta out with Call Transfer and more... (and is Skype Pro now in the US?)

image Today Skype released their initial version of Skype 3.5 Beta for Windows.  You can download it here if you are the adventuresome type. In addition to fixing a bug (that caused Skype to crash) with public chats that has been plaguing those of us who use them, the major feature rolled out in this release is the long-awaited "Call Transfer".  Don Kennedy goes into this at far greater length in "Skype Pro Does Call Transfer" where he provides some examples and also provides a sample application.   

One of his examples is the interesting one of having all calls be transferred to a "group" which could include Skype names as well as SkypeOut numbers.  In Don's example, you could have someone call you on a SkypeIn number which would then be transferred to the "group" which could include your own Skype ID and also a SkypeOut connection to your cell phone.  Now all of this capability isn't yet in the Skype GUI.  Today you need Don's Call Transfer Example application, also available through the Skype Extras manager, but it is a glimpse of what is coming.

There is one gotcha... to do the transfer from a SkypeIn number or to a SkypeOut number, you need to have the "SkypePro" monthly subscription plan.  However, the USA is not one of the "available countries"... but apparently you can, in fact, purchase Skype Pro.  But, of course, if you are in the USA or Canada and have already purchased "Skype Unlimited" for $30 for the year for unlimited calling in NA, you have to wonder why people would pay $3/month more for Skype Pro... unless perhaps to get Call Transfer?   Certainly a bit confusing.

Call Transfer isn't the only thing in the 3.5 beta - per the Windows Release Notes, the release also contains:

  • feature: Auto redial
  • feature: Call Transfer
  • feature: Device Indicators
  • feature: Edit chat messages
  • feature: Message history loading granulated
  • feature: Private Telephone Numbers
  • feature: Send contacts inside chat
  • feature: Visual indicators for Audio In / Audio Out in options
  • feature: Show examples of notifications / alerts in options
  • feature: Added Latvian localization - Intars Students
  • feature: In-Client Hardware store button
  • change: Extras Manager updated to version
  • change: Options categories smoothly slide open and close when changed
  • Updated language files for a variety of languages

Some of those are more obvious that others.  What are "Private Telephone Numbers"?  or "Device Indicators"?  We shall see.  In any event, Skype has now made this release available for those who want to play with it...

imageUPDATE #1: Raul Liive at Skype indicated that "Private Telephone Numbers" means that your phone numbers in your profile are only shown to those people in your contact list.   

 UPDATE #2: Phil Wolff demonstrated the "Send contacts inside chat" feature that you can see on the right.  You can send a contact to all members of a chat by using the Send button on the top of the screen (or apparently by dragging/dropping into the chat).

UPDATE #3: Raul and others explained that "Device Indicators" will clue you (a Skype 3.5 user) into the fact that the person you are communicating with may be using an embedded version of Skype with less capabilities (for instance, some of the new WiFi phones that have Skype and don't require a PC).

Technorati tags: , , , to supply SIP trunking to Mitel solution centers

image Yesterday, announced that their SIP trunking service would be powering Mitel solution centers across the US.  From the news release:, a leading nationwide provider of complete business communications solutions, today announced that it will be powering all Mitel(R) Solution Centers across the country enabling customers and VARS to preview innovative solutions, including SIP Trunking technology in a live environment. Mitel operates solution centers in five locations; Chicago, Costa Mesa, Atlanta, New York and Herndon (Virginia), all of which will be equipped with's SIP Trunking VoIP solution by the end of June.

There's been a relationship between and Mitel since last September. This announcement yesterday is a logical evolution of that relationship.

There's a lot to write about the incredibly disruptive power of SIP trunking... I don't think we yet fully understand how the power to obtain SIP trunks from anywhere in the world is going to so severely disrupt the global telecommunications infrastructure.  With IP, geography no longer matters... and there are all sorts of local carriers - and tax authorities! - who I don't think fully understand how much this messes up their business models.  I really need to write that up........

Two notes for

1. On the positive side, they have to get credit for one of the coolest graphics I've yet seen for SIP trunking!  I'm talking about the image above that is also on their page.  I'm going to have to see about getting permission to use that graphic in some presentations... I just really like it from the design side!

2. On the less positive side, it continues to astound me the number of companies that do not immediately post their news releases on their web site "news" area!  This news release went out yesterday (June 11) but yet it's still not on's news page!  It's too bad, because they are missing out on a good potential for inbound links to their site.  Instead, we're left to link to either TMCNet or PR Newswire, both of whom I'm sure don't mind the traffic.  Our (Mitel) PR team have moved to getting the news releases posted on the site right away... I don't know the stats on what kind of traffic we get, but I do know that it lets bloggers like me link directly to the site if we want to.

(See also Ken Camp's commentary about the rising importance of SIP trunking in SMB.)

ShoreTel joins the VoIP IPO game...

imagePer Russell Shaw, ShoreTel has filed it's paperwork for an IPO.  Reuters also has the story.[1] Ken Camp also provides his opinion.  I'm sure that more will be written in the time ahead.  ShoreTel is one of the many newer entrants into the enterprise VoIP market and have been doing some interesting things (and yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, they do potentially compete in some areas with my employer, Mitel).  Kudos to them for getting things together to go for the IPO.  It will be interesting to see how that moves forward - best wishes to them all. 

[1] Side note: It's interesting to me to see that the Reuters story about ShoreTel IPO filing in the US was actually filed by a reporter in Bangalore, India at 6:54am.  At that time most North American reporters were probably only getting going. 

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One of Skype's most public faces moves on...

image For those of us who pay attention to things related to Skype, one of the people we became most familiar with has moved on to different pastures.  Back in May 2005 when Skype started up their first blogs, Jaanus Kase was the public "face" who helped those of us outside the company understand a bit more about this thing called "Skype" and all that was happening with it.  A prolific writer/blogger, Jaanus told us about new features, industry trends, promotions and also told us about many things happening inside of Skype as the company itself evolved and changed.  He interviewed people, he talked about how Skype was enabling people to communicate, he responded to criticism and generally helped "humanize" the entity that is Skype through his many, many postings.  He did so with a conversational style that was sometimes serious, sometimes humerous... but generally always enjoyable to read.  He also launched a "Skype Blog Public Chat" back in November 2006 that many of us early adopters joined and it provided a great forum for exchange of information about what was going on with Skype.  That public chat still exists, although it doesn't quite have the same volume and interesting topics that it did in the early days... there are now several other public chats where more energy seems to be. Jaanus was also a techie underneath, and let us watch as he played with things like scripts that could get chat stats or do mass-ejection of idle chatroom members.

Jaanus was, of course, a member of Skype's Marketing group, so you understood he came at things with that bias - and he was certainly not Skype's only blogger... they have a whole crew of folks blogging for them.  But over time Jaanus became the voice we listened to in order to understand (or try to) what Skype was doing.  He encouraged a community of people interested in Skype and certainly did, I think, do a great amount in his own way to help Skype spread and grow.

All thing come to an end, though, and Jaanus let us know back in late May that he would be leaving Skype and returning to school.  More precisely, he's heading to Carnegie Mellon University to pursue their Masters of Human Computer Interaction program.  I wish him all the best... any of us can certainly attest to the fact that "human computer interaction" is certainly a key field and will only become more so as we continue to computerize everything we can.

Thank you, Jaanus, for all you did in your time at Skype.  You'll be missed.  Enjoy your summer off.. and best wishes with your new journey... we look forward to hearing about some new wacky UI some time in the future... :-)

As to Skype's blogs, a new face, "Villu", entered the picture.  A self-professed "PR-flack", we'll see how he does!  He's got some big shoes to fill...

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It's the circumstances beyond one's control that are most annoying... I'm now NOT traveling to VON Europe - Stockholm/Podcamp Europe

As readers and listeners know, I've been very much looking forward to heading over to Stockhom, Sweden, for VON Europe 2007 and the co-located Podcamp Europe. Unfortunately, when my flight leaves this afternoon, I will not be on it.  I'm now not going.

Since about the middle of this past week, I've been experiencing some pains that made it extremely uncomfortable to sit or stand for long periods of time.  Oddly, walking is fine, but sitting or standing still starts to really hurt.  After spending literally the entire day Saturday in a medical center and then hospital, they think it might just come down to something like a severely pulled muscle... but they don't know and suggest watching it for the next couple of days.  It's strange because I can't recall doing anything that would cause a muscle tear.

The net of it, though, is that: a) spending 10-ish hours in airplanes getting over there is going to be very painful; and b) if anything gets worse, I don't really want to be going into a hospital in Sweden... (and then fighting with US health insurance about coverage!)

So very unfortunately, it looks like I'm going to have to miss out on this one... which is a severe disappointment!  I know that folks there will have fun... and I'm looking forward to hearing/reading about all the went on (including the Blue Box dinner tomorrow night).

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Digium/AsteriskWorld to be co-resident with VON Fall 2007 in Boston

imageIn my queue of things to write about, I'd be meaning to comment on the fact that this year's Fall VON on October 29 - November 1 in Boston will also be the site of Digium / Asterisk World.   Jeff Pulver's team announced this back in March and it will have Mark Spencer and others from Digium involved.  I wasn't particularly surprised to hear this, given that Jeff Pulver has always had an interest in open source and that Digium has always had a large presence at VON exhibit halls.  (You would have to be blind to miss the giant orange booth with its many pods!)  Kudos to Digium and Pulvermedia for organizing a way to spotlight all the great stuff happening in open source telephony.  I'll look forward to seeing what goes on there.