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Posts from September 2007

MySpace is NOT giving away free cell phones but instead launching a free ad-supported phone VERSION (of the site)....

200709240538In what looks like a classic case of someone leaving a critical word out of a headline, the Associated Press this morning came out with this report that MySpace is apparently launching an advertising supported free cell-phone. As indicated in the news release:

The company already offers premium, subscription-based versions of MySpace through AT&T Inc. and Helio wireless services. Those versions include special features integrated into specific handsets, such as uploading cell phone photos directly to a user's profile page.

The new version set to launch Monday will work on all U.S. carriers and will allow users to send and receive messages and friend requests, comment on pictures, post bulletins, update blogs, and find and search for friends.

At first I went along with the headline but the more I read it the more it made no sense whatsoever. There was no mention of phones... rate plans... or anything else. Gradually it dawned on me that while the AP headline was this:

Myspace to launch ad-supported cell phone

what they really meant was this:

Myspace to launch ad-supported cell phone version


And here I was getting all excited that News Corp. was doing something truly stunning and had figured out a way to use advertising to drive the costs of all calls to $0 and give away all the phones and minutes for free! Given the huge community of MySpace users out there, they would probably have immediate pickup and would truly disrupt the industry.

Ah, well... the truth appears to be that they are just making it easier to use MySpace on web-enabled cell-phones without paying for the subscription version. Commendable... but not even remotely as exciting.

Let's see how far people run with the "MySpace to give away free cell phones" theme today!

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Facebook group created for ETel conference... please join if you think you might go to ETel!

200709211648For those of you using Facebook, we have created a Facebook group for O'Reilly's Emerging Telephony Conference (ETel) coming up in March 2008. Please feel free to join the group if you are planning to go to ETel - or at least thinking about it. We're hoping to use it to connect people to each other in advance of ETel. We're not entirely sure exactly how we'll use it... it's all part of the grand experiment in social networking. Please join us in that experiment!

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Heading out to Astricon 2007 next week to talk on VoIP security...

200709210957Well, I just confirmed my travel schedule - I'm going to go have a bit of fun out at AstriCon 2007. AstriCon, for those who aren't aware, is pretty much the premiere event for Asterisk developers. I'm scheduled to speak on Thursday about (surprise!) VoIP security. My talk is an "industry perspective" in my capacity as a board member of the VOIP Security Alliance and won't be specifically Asterisk-focused, although I will include a few pieces about what you need to think about with Asterisk and the holes that Asterisk still needs to fill (like, oh, SRTP, which I know is coming). I know Mark Spencer and a good bit of the Digium crowd, so it will be fun to hang out with them (especially given my new independent status).

If any of you reading will be out there, please do feel free to drop me a line so that we can connect.

P.S. After AstriCon, I'll be heading over to the Podcast and New Media Expo in Ontario, CA. If any of you will be there, please do drop a note as well.

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Heading up to Ottawa tomorrow...

I'm Ottawa-bound early tomorrow morning for two days of closing off my activities with Mitel. Heading back to Vermont on Thursday.  If anyone reading this wants to connect with me in Ottawa, please do drop an email, contact me on Skype ("danyork") or leave a comment here.  Will be staying out in the Kanata area.

Skype Mashup Contest: And the European winner is......

image The first result of the Skype Mashup contest was announced yesterday at the Skype developer event in Prague, and the winner is....


Yes... a fax application!  As Jim Courtney writes over on Skype Journal (he was also one of the judges):

The PamConsult team created PamFax to solve the problem of providing a very simple process (especially relative to the somewhat cumbersome WinFax) of using the Internet to easily fax an MS Office document anywhere worldwide. The primary Skype feature here has nothing to do with voice; they used the Skype Extras publishing platform not only to install the application but also as a transaction processor for collecting revenues for the service using Skype credits. Skype Chat is used to send notifications re a fax's delivery. In addition they developed a web-based portal to manage and archive your use of the service. The application can be launched from the Skype Extras menu or from within MS Excel or MS Word. A link to Google Maps will also show roughly where the fax is being sent (to within an Area Code).

The interesting aspect to me is how it uses Skype's micro-payment infrastructure.  No need for credit cards or anything... it just debits your Skype Credit.  Your Skype Credit, in turn, can be linked to your PayPal account... which can then pull money from credit cards or bank accounts.  So you wind up with a very effective and simple way to bill people for services rendered.

Jim goes on to explain a bit more about what PamConsult did:

PamConsult married the Google Maps API's, Microsoft Office COM objects and a backend fax API with their long term experience using the Skype API's. They started a year ago this summer with development of specifications; coding commenced in January with an initial version available in May. After a beta testing program in July, PamFax was released as a Skype Extra in the second week of August.

As noted in the Skype Developer blog post, winners in the US and Japan will be announced at those specific events over the next couple of weeks.  

The list of submitted mashups can be found in the Skype Extras gallery.  Some look quite intriguing and I'll perhaps write more about them in the future.

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?

Thoughts on some of the roles that I could fill... (and slowly eroding my resistance to going the consulting route)

One of the most common reactions to my note last week about my impending employment change (outside of the truly amazing things people have said) has been some variation on the question - "so what is it you want to do?"  or "what kind of roles are you looking for?"

Fair questions.  And a bit challenging given that I have a diverse range of interests and abilities.  But since I'm trying out this experiment in being very public about my employment search, I'll list some examples of the type of roles I'm ideally seeking - along with the caveat that all of them are interesting and so a role that involved several of them might be even more interesting. So here are some thoughts:

  • Emerging Technology Analyst - A good amount of the work I did for Mitel was what I talked about in my note last week.  Standing up in the "crow's nest", staring out at the horizons to identify opportunities and threats - and then translating that into internal communication within the company about what it might mean to the business.  What's the opportunity with social networks? Facebook? What's the opportunity or threat with Skype?  Asterisk?  competitors?  partners?  Where do mashups fit in? I often created lengthy and detailed analysis which I circulated by email to senior management, heads of R&D and product management.  I also posted those to an internal blog, did numerous presentations, gave web seminars/webinars and had started created internal podcasts as well.  Similarly, if you look at the writing I do here and on Disruptive Conversations as well as the audio at Blue Box, so much of what I do is try to make sense of the changes that are happening as the ways in which we communicate are disrupted.  What do those changes mean to individuals? to companies/organizations?  Where is the business opportunity?  threat?    A role would be quite intriguing that involved continuing that ongoing exploration and translating that into reports (for internal or external customers), white papers, blog entries, podcasts (audio or video), conference presentations, etc., etc.  (Naturally you can imagine I've made some inquiries at a few analyst firms.)  I've seen some companies call this role a "strategist" as well. (A term which I fear is getting over-used.)

  • Social Media Strategist - The reality is that the social media of blogs, podcasts, wikis, and perhaps even moreso social networks like Facebook are changing the ways in which we communicate and bringing in different challenges in terms of transparency, openness, immediacy, etc.  There are tremendous opportunities for companies to engage in conversations with customers and partners with very little cost or technical infrastructure.  Amazingly simple ways to stimulate loyal and engaged customers, energize customers as advocates, build better products, build a community around your products/services, build your brand and potentially save on costs (such as in creating a self-help community that might reduce support costs).  But it's also a dangerous place if companies don't understand how to engage in that space.  There's any number of social media campaigns that have gone wrong.  Companies/organizations need a strategy... need to understand what their goals are, how to use the tools, etc. Jeremiah Owyang really outlines this best with his recent post "Applying a Social Computing Strategy to the entire Product Lifecycle".  I've been blogging since 2000, podcasting since 2005, working with communication/marketing/PR as a component of almost every job I've had and this type of role is one I would absolutely welcome (both of assisting with strategy and also with execution of the actual media, i.e. producing podcasts, blogs, etc.).

  • Community Developer/Organizer - I started working with BITNET and then the Internet back in the mid-1980's and pretty much immediately looked at them as tools to connect people of common interests and build online communities. Back in those days I was very involved in environmental matters and spent a lot of time running around the Boston area evangelizing a service called EcoNet and looking to connect activists so that they could be able to combine efforts. I've been helping build online communities ever since.  The Linux Professional Institute grew out of a mailing list of a dozen of us into the world's leading provider of vendor-neutral certification exams really entirely through the online community we built, a whole lot of PR, speaking engagements at conferences, etc. (Yes, the $600K in corporate sponsorships we raised certainly helped, too.)  I moved to Ottawa to join e-smith (which was then acquired by Mitel) in part because they were building a strong community around their brand/product and I wanted to be part of that and to see what could happen if a company really embraced Cluetrain.  This is some of what I'm doing now to a limited degree with VOIPSA. Over the years the tools have changed (social media and social networking sites being today's version), but the ideas and benefits (if done right) are the same. Chris Brogan has written far more eloquently than I about this kind of role (largely because it's his role with VON): "Why Do Community Development",  "Understanding Community Development Strategies", "The Long Tail of Community" That's the kind of role I've done and would love to do again.  (UPDATE - See also Jeremiah Owyang's "Understanding the Community/Evangelist Role")

  • Product/company Evangelist - It's perhaps just a variation on "community developer", but a good part of what I did for Mitel was to travel around to conferences presenting on behalf of the company, meeting with customers/users, listening to their input, trying to pass that back into the company.  Being a voice for the company in some communities.  In many ways, not terribly different from a community developer... but today some companies call this position an "evangelist".

  • VoIP Security Lead/Prime/Head/etc. - Naturally roles that involve VoIP security are kind of an obvious one for me.  But from the roles already listed above, you can imagine that I'm really more interested in a role that involves communication about VoIP security issues than I am in, say, doing penetration testing against VoIP systems.  (Although there are certainly days when I'd love to just sit and try to break VoIP systems!)

  • Standards Monitoring/Participating/etc. - I don't know the precise title that would be used, and I think there are very few people who have this as their full-time position (usually more of a component of another job), but there's a huge amount of work that goes on within open standards bodies such as the IETF. Companies have a choice: they can either be involved in the standards process; or they can choose to not be and wind up implementing the standards that are defined by the companies that are involved.  If you are doing something in an area like SIP, it's really in your best interest to be engaged in the IETF process, to be monitoring the status of standards, attending the IETF meetings, engaging in the mailing lists, commenting on Internet-Drafts, submitting Internet-Drafts, chairing committees, etc.  It can be an all-consuming role but the benefit is that a company can help drive  "industry standards" in a direction that may be beneficial to the company. At the very least the company can ensure their viewpoint has been heard in the discussion.  It's not a bad thing from a PR/marketing point-of-view either.  But to do it right, you need someone who understands who the process works and can work well with counterparts from all the other vendors.

There's a handful of other roles of interest, but those are really the big ones.   Hopefully that is helpful to all of those who have asked me "what kind of role are you looking for?"  I should also note that in my ideal world, I'd like to find a role that let's me stay working virtually from Burlington, Vermont (and would presumably have some degree of regular travel to a headquarters, conferences, etc.).  We moved here two years ago, have older family in the northeast US and have a young daughter absolutely loving the second year of a two-year kindergarten program.  Our preference would definitely not be to move, although if the right opportunity were out there we wouldn't rule it out.

I had a bit of an epiphany, too, while out at Internet Telephony Expo this week in L.A.  I went down to IT Expo to give my presentation but also to make connections about full-time employment.  I had several positive discussions in that regard, but in the course of the days there, I kept having people who as soon as they found out I was available were very interested in engaging me on a consultant basis in one of the various areas I outlined above (as well as open source license compliance, another side interest of mine).  To date, I have steadfastly avoided the consultant route, primarily because the cost of healthcare in the US for a self-employed individual and family are fairly insane (but that's a subject for another rant)... but over the course of my three days there my resistance began to erode.  (Of course, the trick is to see how many of those expressions of interest turn into something real, eh?)  We'll see.  Right now I have another week of transition of my Mitel responsibilities and then we'll see what makes sense.

Thanks again for all of the support of so many of you who have left comments, emailed me, IM'd me, etc.  It's been a true testament to the power of joining in the social media conversation and the larger network of people.  Thanks.

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Skype Journal: "The Dawn of the Mashup World"

For a couple of months now, a post has been swirling around in my brain that I was tentatively titling "The Dawn of the Mashup Culture" in which I wanted to talk about "mashups" and why they are so incredibly important.  Unfortunately I just haven't had the time to put all those thoughts into the written word.

Well, in the meantime, Jim Courtney went off and wrote something very close to what I was intending to do:  "The Dawn of the Mashup World - Part 1: Challenges, Why and Expectations"  followed by "Part 1a: What is a Mashup?"

Read them.  (And the follow-on posts that Jim indicates he's writing.)

Mashups are fundamentally changing the way we can use and control services.  It's the remix culture. 

You need to understand it... because if you don't, your products and services will be left behind.

Open APIs win.  Mashups win.

O'Reilly's Emerging Telephony (ETel) 2008 Conference - I'm on the Program Committee and we're looking for submissions (due by September 17th)

imagePrior to getting distracted last week by employment issues I was intending to post here about the upcoming ETel 2008 conference on March 3-4, 2008, down in San Diego, CA.  For two years in a row, ETel has been my favorite conference to attend, primarily because it's all about the wacky stuff people are doing on the edge of telephony.  Unlike VoiceCon, VON and ITEXPO, it's not a trade show.  There's no real exhibit hall (or hasn't been)... it's all about the content.  And there have been been some great sessions showcasing projects and products people are doing that really push the edge of what we are calling "telephony" today.

Two reasons to post about it.  First, I'm on the ETel 2008 Program Committee along with a number of others who may be familiar to people in this space. (Note to self: I'll need to update that bio in two weeks.)

Second, and the main reason I wanted to post - the ETel 2008 Call for Participation is open and we're looking for submissions!


As the page says... are you a:

  • Technologist, strategist, CTO, CIO changing the world with your ideas?
  • Technology evangelist, scout, entrepreneur looking to reach similar minds?
  • Researcher, academic, programmer with new findings from research?
  • Artists, hacker, modder, phreaker, activist with something cool?
  • Someone with something intriguing to share about telephony?
  • VC's with killer new startups?
  • Companies involved in this industry who "think different?"

If so, we'd like to hear from you and have you potentially share your idea at ETel 2008.  More information about the type of talks we're looking for can be found as you scroll down the Call for Participation page.  If you're reading this blog, you probably have some ideas we'd love to hear!

Great overview of SIP security now posted on Blue Box site...

Over on Blue Box, I uploaded on Friday what I consider one of the best overviews about SIP security that we've done: Blue Box Special Edition #20.  I recorded the interview out at VoiceCon San Francisco in August and it's with Cullen Jennings who is a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco Systems, but more relevant to SIP is one of the Area Directors for the Real-time Applications and Infrastructure (RAI) area within the IETF.  Basically all of the proposals for RFCs relating to SIP roll up under the RAI area.  Cullen's also quite interested in and knowledgeable about security and in fact several of the security-related RFCs related to SIP include Cullen as one of the authors (as do a number of the current proposed Internet-Drafts). 

So he knows his stuff... and being a frequent presenter, he's also good at distilling complex things down into more simple descriptions, so it was an enjoyable interview that I think you will also find quite educational.  If you're working with SIP, or considering it, I'd highly recommend you listen to the show.