Posts categorized "Mashups"

Want to talk about voice mashups? - Today, 9:30am Eastern US - Conf Call with Alec Saunders - Talking about Voice Mashups

If you are interested in "voice mashups", as I am, and are available today from 9:30 - 10:00am Eastern US time, you might be interested in joining a conference call hosted by Alec Saunders and several others. More information can be found over at Alec Saunders blog:

Talking about Voice Mashups: "Thursday morning a few of us will be doing a round table discussion on Voice Mashups using the iotum FREE Conference Call service. Andy Abramson, Tom Howe, Jim Courtney and myself will convene for 30 minutes to have a con-cast (Conference Call + PodCast).  If you're interested in the topic, please join us and contribute. "

I'm going to be traveling today, but if cell service works, I'll be joining in. Should be an interesting conversation.

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It's the (app) platform, stupid!

"Phone systems" are dead. PBXs are dead. IP-PBXs are dead.

Well, okay, not really... people will still be buying "PBXs" for quite some time. Just as there are certain communities out there who still buy horse-drawn wagons. But the reality is this:

"Phone systems", PBXs and IP-PBXs without easy application programming interfaces (APIs) are a dead branch on the evolutionary tree.

The future of communication belongs to mashups. To quick and easy ways to interconnect disparate systems. To integration of communication systems with business processes and other applications. In a world where voice is no longer always the primary mode of communication, we have to stop thinking about "phone systems" and take a larger look at how "communication" in general fits into our infrastructure. More than just how we use the system, we have to look at how we can get data in and out of the communication system. To borrow from the 1992 Clinton campaign:

It's the platform, stupid!

As you look at communication choices, the question is really about who has the "best" APIs... whose system is easiest to integrate with.... who lets you get data out of their system easily - and also lets the data back in... who lets you control the communication experience through an external application (and does so securely, naturally).

There's a good number of players out there who "get it", and either have or are in the process of developing a strong ecosystem of application partners, but let's take a quick spin down the list of some of them:

  • Microsoft - Duh! Everything about Office Communication Server and all the other components is all a platform play. The goal is integration of communication into the rest of your IT infrastructure (which they would of course like to have you run entirely on Microsoft products).
  • IBM - They don't usually get as much mention as Microsoft, but IBM's been back there making Sametime a communication platform play similar to OCS (only it has been out there for several years). With their latest move to OEM components from Siemens to make their Universal Telephony Server to allow interconnection with many different IP-PBXs, they very clearly see the value in integration.
  • Digium/Asterisk - The name Asterisk also refers to the "*" wildcard character which in UNIX-land basically means it will match on everything. Asterisk has always been about being a platform for telephony/communication from its very beginnings.
  • Skype - With its "Extras" gallery and the developer program they have been working to promote, Skype is trying to be an applications platform and currently does have many applications now available (use the "Do More" link to get to the Extras Gallery).
  • Oracle - They don't get as much coverage, but I would watch what the folks at Oracle are doing, because they are building communication solutions that move around Oracle's database solutions.
  • Social networking sites - Facebook and MySpace don't immediately come to mind as "communication" choices, but the reality is that they are becoming that - and they both understand the need and value in an API ecosystem. How well they will execute remains to the be seen.
  • The IP-PBX vendors... to a degree - I hesitate on this one a bit. Some of the vendors get this. Avaya has been running around with their SOA toolkit. Siemens has been doing a good bit of work in this space (so much so that IBM OEM'd product from them). Cisco has been running around buying up companies. But at least to me it seems to be somewhat half-hearted. For the others I've listed, communication is a platform, while for the vendors it seems to be something else they need to do. It's a different mindset which, I think, reflects the IT focus of the ones I've listed previously.

There are certainly others out there ... and more will undoubtedly enter the space in the time ahead. The key question I think we all in general need to be asking:

How well does your communication system provide a platform for applications? (or for integration with applications?)

P.S. And yes, my new employer is one of those who understands this... although ironically I wrote the draft of this entry about 3 weeks ago before I'd even heard of them... but more on that later today. :-)

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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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.

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.

Mashable offers "Skype Toolbox: 50+ Enhancements for Skype" often comes out with various lists, and today they offered "Skype Toolbox: 50+ Enhancements for Skype" which offers a nice list of the various add-ons that have been developed for Skype. Some good ones in here that I know of... a number that I'd not yet heard about.  The Skype ecosystem continues to grow...

(Hat tip to Julian Bond for pointing out the list today.)

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Telephony - It's the API's, stupid!

After already publishing my last post about mashups, I came across Jim Courtney's Skype Journal post about the Skype mashup competition, which in turn led me to Thomas Howe's excellent "API of the week" post (got all that?) which had these wonderfully-written words (so much so that I feel compelled to excerpt them here, something I seldom do to this extent):

If you were to ask me, I would say the twenty year old software engineer has a distinct advantage over the older telephone guys (such as me) in the realm of innovation.  Since the barriers to entry to deploying a service provider have fallen through the floor, the larger challenge is not in complex engineering, but is instead in innovation.   The younger engineers are free of the legacy of the PSTN, and many things would occur to an experienced engineer won't to them, and it's not a bad thing. 


What does this have to do with telephony? Nothing. What does this have to do with next generation applications? Everything.  Applications that use the Internet as the platform use APIs from a large number of sources, and by and large, these APIs are not telephony. However, nearly every time a telephony API is used, an API such as GoogleMaps, Amazon SQS or DBPedia will be used right alongside it.  As a developer in this market, it makes a lot of sense for you to get to know your neighbors for two reasons. First, the more you can make your API play well with others, the faster the adoption of it will be. Secondly, the more you can understand your customers, their problems and how they need your part for their solution, the better you can make your API for them.   I'm supposing this means that you need to get familiar with APIs like this.

Which leads me back to my original statement.  The twenty-something-don't-know-or-care-about-SS7 engineer will sit down and design their version of the hot-or-not site one day, and use a whole bunch of crazy APIs to put together the application.  Then, they will go have a beer, come back, and say "You know, it would be really cool if you could just call the person you want to hook up with.  Is there an API for that?"  They won't even consider for a minute the words "termination", "LATA" or "CALEA".  They're just writing an application.  They need an API for some function, and it will take a few minutes to integrate it into their application.  And, there are many, many more of these guys than all the telecom engineers that have ever, and will ever, exist.


Well, said, Thomas! (Read his original post for the full text.) And to copy a former US President:  "It's the API's, stupid!" launches "telephony mashup" category

It's very cool to see that one of the leading web sites about "mashups",, has announced the launch of a new section focused on "Mobile/Telephony" mashups.  They actually call it a "Market", and there are two others launched today: Mapping and Shopping

The obvious focus for this blog, though, is the "Mobile/Telephony" market. The announcement notes that there are currently over 25 different APIs under "Telephony" or "Messaging" and in the actual lists of mashups, 104 are tagged "mobile" and 113 tagged "messaging".  The announcement also notes that Thomas Howe will be assisting with the content of this new section. (Congrats to Thomas!)

The list of telephony APIs (only 11, the other 14+ must be "messaging) is available and several names are probably quite familiar.  Thomas Howe also wrote a piece to explain the different types of APIs and provide a bit of background:  "Telephony & Mobile APIs and Mashups, the Big Picture".

I did find it a bit puzzling that the list of telephony APIs didn't include Skype, given that Skype has a whole developer website set up to support its APIs.  Likewise no mention of Asterisk even though the entire thing is really one big set of APIs.  But hey, the section is only a day old, so we'll have to give them a bit to see how it develops.

The fun thing about the state of VoIP/IP telephony right now is that it really is becoming all about APIs and mashups...  voice is truly just another form of data on the network... and once it is just a bunch of packets you can do really fun stuff with it!  Kudos to the ProgrammeableWeb team and Thomas Howe for helping point the way to some of the interesting stuff people are doing in this area.

Definitely do check out their telephony mashup site.

VoIP Apps for Facebook - Two new ones: "VoIPUser" SIP Presence and "Skype Me"

image Although I could not earlier find many Facebook apps that I considered true "VoIP apps" that linked out to the PSTN or larger VoIP world, we are seeing more apps emerging.  Two notable new entrants:

1. VoIP User Presence by Dean Elwood

Dean's a friend who runs (and provides the SIP voicemail box for Blue Box comments) and he's been experimenting with the Facebook API.  This is the first of what he says will be a series of Facebook apps.  Dean says this one is "SIP meets Presence meets Google Maps" and provides this on the Facebook apps page for a description:

"This application shows within your profile if you have a SIP device currently logged into the VoIP User server and are available to take calls. The application page also shows a Google Maps mashup page showing your current location."

There is also a thread going on in the forums about the application with more info, screenshots, etc.  It will definitely be interesting to see what else Dean cooks up.

More feedback on this one once I have a chance to actually use it.

2. Skype Me by Nabil Naghdy

This one does the rather obvious and lets you see the Skype presence of your other Facebook friends (provided they have installed the application). With a tagline of "skype meet facebook.  facebook meet skype." the developer says on the FAQ:

"SkypeMe is a Facebook application that links with your Skype account and lets you make calls right from inside Facebook. You can see which friends are online, make calls, and even buy SkypeOut credit from Facebook."

It appears to work primarily by getting the web presence of each of your friends and making that available to you, which means, naturally, that you need to enable Skype web presence inside the options of your Skype client.

image image There's actually two parts to it.  On your public profile page visible to everyone else, there is a box like the image shown on the left that lets another Skype user initiate a call to you.  On the internal page inside of my Facebook account for the applications I have installed, there is a page with a screen like the graphic on the right that shows all the Facebook friends I have who have also installed the SkypeMe Facebook application.

This Facebook app was announced in the Skype Mashup public chat.  Actually, I think it was really the first I saw announced (but then again, I wasn't really watching the chat last week while I was off).

Speaking of the Skype mashup contest, it was officially announced last Friday.  It will be very interesting to see what developers come up with!

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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"!  :-)