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FWD rolls out a "Voicemail" Facebook app... with the promise of calls to the *external* FWD client going to FB voicemail soon (i.e. FB becomes voicemail for SIP connections)

image Another new "voice" application for Facebook come out today, this one from the 12-year-old FWD (the service formerly known as "Free World Dialup" and backed by Jeff Pulver, who recently teamed with Daniel Berninger to relaunch FWD - read Daniel's perspective here and also Jeff's post about FWD's beta of a tunneling service )

image This first Facebook app, called simply "Voicemail", was announced to members of the FWD group inside of Facebook with a message from Daniel Berninger providing the URL and stating this:

We are particularly interested in novel uses enabled by the several differences with traditional telephone voicemail.
1) CD quality audio
2) Messages public or private
3) Ability to re-record message without sending
4) Sent messages remain accessible
A direct integration with FWD will be available shortly allow you to pickup and leave Facebook voicemail via FWD.

My initial response was admittedly a bit of a yawn.  Back in June, I had written about the existence of several Facebook apps that allowed FB users to leave each other voicemail messages.  The last sentence, though, was enough to intrigue me:

A direct integration with FWD will be available shortly allow you to pickup and leave Facebook voicemail via FWD.

I don't think I've really ever written much about FWD in any of my blogs, but it was one of the earliest VoIP systems (some history here). It uses SIP and interconnects with a range of other IM systems. (See the feature list for more info.)  I have had a FWD number, but haven't really used it that much in a long time.  It will be interesting to see where this relaunch takes it.

Trying It Out

In any event, I was intrigued enough by the tease that SIP-connected endpoints might be able to leave a voicemail inside of Facebook to try the Voicemail application out.  The installation was as painless as any other Facebook app.  Once installed, you get a screen like this:


I logged in and next had an inbox-type of screen (click on image for larger version):


I naturally had to click on the "Friends with VoiceMail" link to see what it did and, sure enough, it showed me all my Facebook friends who had the VoiceMail app installed and gave me the chance to leave them a message. Of course I had to try it with Jeff, so I clicked on his name and my system went off and started spinning for a few seconds.  I noticed the Java icon appeared in the Windows systray and soon I wound up with this confirmation box:


Once I clicked on Run, the resulting box gave me a very simple interface to use:


At this point I just thought I should click the big button in the center, not realizing that it had the arrow for "Play" in the middle. Clicking the button gave me a status message that clued me in to that fact and so I clicked the first button which did record and let me see my audio levels as well as the amount of time of the recording:


When I was done, I clicked the third button and stopped the recording.  I could then go and play the recording.  Since it wasn't that great, I decided to re-record.  I clicked the button and was told to confirm:


It's interesting that it is effectively telling me where FWD's server is via the IP address.  I confirmed, re-recorded and then hit the Send button to fire the message off.  There was a brief status message as the voicemail was uploaded, and then I was back to my "Friends with VoiceMail" screen with the typical Facebook-style "success" message at the top of the screen.

Clicking on "My Messages", I returned to my "inbox" and clicked on "Sent Messages", where I saw the message listed:


with the options to delete it or listen to it. 


All in all a pretty straightforward app to use.  I'd note that the image button visible on the pages simply takes you to the "Friends with VoiceMail" page where you can then send a message to one of your friends.  There's also an "Invite Friends" page which lets you very simply invite some of your friends to check out the app.  (Feedback for Daniel/Jeff: You are told on that page that you can only invite a max of 10 friends per day but all of your friends are selected and there doesn't seem to be a way to "Select None".  I would therefore conceivably have to go through and de-select all of my friends in order to only select 10. Needs to be a better way to do this.)

The one aspect I was curious to try was this:  "2) Messages public or private"  However, I didn't have any messages waiting for me to try it on and there seemed to be no settings for the Sent message.  So if someone reading this can try out the app and send me a message, that would be great.  Of course, you need to be a friend of mine, eh?

The External Connection

But what about the external connection to FWD clients?  How could we have a call wind up in Facebook voicemail?  Well, inside the Facebook forums, Daniel Berninger left us this tease about the system they are beta testing:

FWD-FB Integration
A) FWD User Leaves FB Voice Message
* FWD user A picks up the handset and dials an FB enabled FWD user (FWD user B)
* User B doesn't answer the call, and the call is diverted to the FB voicemail bridge via SIP or IAX. The call is forwarded using a special number format, indicating the FB voicemail server and the receiver of the voicemail.
* The voicemail application on the FV-VM bridge is activated, and the user records the users.
* Once the user hangs up, the bridge records the voicemail into the database, activating a conversion script to convert the WAV format to an MP3 format - and updates the database accordingly.
B) FWD User Picks UP FB Voice Message - via the phone
* FWD user calls his voicemail service, via a special FB-VM access code.
* FWD identifies itself on the VM system.
* FWD performs normal user interaction with the voicemail system (requires some Asterisk core modifications).
* FWD user hangs up when complete.
C) FWD User Picks UP FB Voice Message - via FB
* FB user listen to messages via the web interface, in an identical fashion to what's available now.

So if I parse through this, it sounds like the FWD team wrote a custom script for Asterisk to do this conversion and is perhaps using Asterisk for the rest of the functionality as well.  Now I'd be curious to wonder if the "FB voicemail bridge" will accept any SIP connections or just those from authenticated users. 

Regardless, I find it an interesting app for two reasons.  First, with the external connection, Facebook turns into a voicemail server.  Now, it may only be for calls between FWD users, but still, it's an interesting place to store the voicemail messages.  If you buy into Facebook as a "portal" for communication, this provides a nice integration of your voicemail along with your Facebook email messages, wall posts, News Feed, etc. 

It gets even more interesting if you can attach a PSTN number to your FWD account.  I don't see a way to do that right now.  I know for a while in the past there was going to be a "FWDin" service, but I don't recall seeing that launch and can't see any sign of it on the FWD web site right now.  Given, though, that you can connect a FWD client to multiple SIP accounts, there's probably some way to go and do it...  but in any event, think about how that then would work.  You could give someone a phone number and if you weren't there, the voicemail message would ultimately wind up inside of Facebook.  Reinforcing the value of Facebook as a communications portal.

[Side note - since your voicemail is now inside of Facebook, does it fall under the terms of Facebook's TOS (which I wrote about here and here) where basically Facebook now owns all your content?  And you grant them a non-exclusive right forever to do whatever they want with your content?  What it if is someone calling with confidential information?  FB now has that.... Or do they NOT have the voicemail messages because they are actually residing on an FWD server?  Hmmm.]

The second reason I find it interesting is because the "FB voicemail bridge" is a SIP device (and IAX, so I am led to assume it's an Asterisk box).  If it's a SIP device it can have connections from other SIP devices... and so now we have a SIP connection going into Facebook in a manner of speaking.

Facebook and SIP.  Interesting.  Walled garden meets open standard.  (although only to leave messages)

Anyway, this is all really mere speculation because the connection from the FWD service is in private beta testing right now. Still, it's intriguing to me to see as an app.  What do you think?