Web 2 Voice

Voice 2.0, VOIP, Social Media

Why Twitter > Plurk

In the last few weeks, I’ve been spending a decent amount of my social networking time over at Plurk (here is my page).  My first reaction is that it is much better than Twitter for conversations (with much less down time).

They solved many of the problems that Twitter has – threaded replies being the biggest.   You post a plurk and see as direct replies what people have to say.  It ‘s a real conversation instead of the hunting and pecking that is involved with Twitter.  If you go back to a plurk from yesterday, you see the entrie conversation.  With Twitter, you have a serious problem with that.

Then I noticed Karma.  The general idea is that the more you contribute to conversations in a positive way, the more karma you get.  The more karma you get, the more options (avatar, keywords, emoticons) you have available.  And on the face of it, it seems like a good idea.    In theory if you spam the community you’d be penalized.

But what it ends up doing is creating conversation for conversation’s sake.  If you want karma, you have to plurk all the time.  You go to sleep you lose karma.  Which irritates people.  And really, what is karma but a way just to keep people on the site?

Really what they should be focusing on is the utility.  The ability to bring the conversations to other devices, sites, applications, etc.

Twitter has that.  In a post on TechCruch today, Arrington notes that Twitter is branding itself as a communicaiton utility.  The real power of Twitter is that you can use it for so many different purposes and from so many different devices.  The threading will work eventually.  They’ll figure it out.

And soon enough, you’ll see Twitter being used as an integration platform by players trying to tie together different forms of communication.  Meanwhile, Plurk will be a glorified chat room.

Cross-Posting: Tying it all together (Twitter and Telephony)

My original post is on IfByPhone’s blog.

I’m a big fan of Social Media in general. Anything that can bring people together and help create interesting conversations has a great deal of value. I’m on Twitter, Plurk, FriendFeed, Facebook, keep about 3 blogs besides this one, am online on about 5 different IM platforms, and I put my click-to-call in almost every email I send out. I like having conversations with people.

But for many people, Social Media is a little too much. It’s hard to keep up with all of the information. Based on the way these services are setup, it IS hard to keep up with all the different conversations. It’s hard to even explain the differences to people who aren’t already among the early adopter crowd.

So I’m starting to try and explain them as distribution methods. What does that mean exactly? These services simply assist in facilitating, recording and delivering conversations. Take Twitter for example. You can get information into and out of Twitter in several different ways (IM, Twitter clients, the Web, SMS), and you can get the information out in the same ways (plus Email). Twitter is just a service that allows you to find people and talk about things of common interest.

Much in the same way that IfByPhone makes dealing with Phone applications easier, Twitter makes dealing with delivery of messages easier.

So it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to use Twitter as a way to notify me of incoming calls. So I used IfByPhone technology and the Twitter API to post messages my Twitter account. Now when someone hits “connect” on my Click-to-call, I will get a secure, private message from Twitter saying “Inbound call from ……” Since our API (and Twitter’s) are so easy to use, the whole project took about 30 minutes (for a non-developer like me).

And if you’re the enterprising type, seeing how easy it is to integrate IfByPhone with Twitter, it’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from writing a snippet of code that checks inbound phone calls with your CSR database.

Interested? Let’s talk.

Twitter as a way of creating new forms of communication

One of the reasons I’m interested in Social Media is because it’s using the Internet to bring people together. Humans are social animals, and the Social Media is constantly finding new ways to allow people to find each other and have interesting conversations.

I really like Twitter. Not just because it’s a great way to find new people, but because it also is extremely extensible. Sure, you can use it just like it’s intended. Since it has the ability to be a public broadcast system, you can use it to keep groups of people in touch with each other. Fred Wilson had been posting lyrics to Twitter every day. So he asked for someone to create a Twitterbot that would rebroadcast lyrics to everyone who followed the Twitter account LOTD.

Whitney stepped up and did exactly that. And thankfully he posted all the code he used. It’s actually pretty simple, even for someone who doesn’t know programming. So, partially because I’m more of a movie guy than a music guy, and partially because I just wanted to, I copied the code and created the Movie Line of the Day Twitter bot.

So it works exactly like the LOTD Twitter bot. Subscribe to MLOTD on Twitter to receive the notifications. Then post a movie line starting with @mlotd. If you have room at the end, say which movie the line is from.
Hopefully other people will find this interesting as well. But expanding on my original point I don’t really see Twitter so much as a product that can be sold It’s just a specific, easily accessible communications channel. It’s use is only limited by your creativity.
My next step is integrating my company’s technology with Twitter. I’ve already successfully posted to Twitter after receiving a voicemail, but I still need to tweak it a little bit. Should be done soon.

Tiered Broadband discussion without the extended metaphors

Or in other words, go read what Alec Saunders and Om Malik have to say on the subject I talked about yesterday.

From Alec:

We shouldn’t be buying the operator’s arguments at this point. The foundation of the internet is the economics of plenty. For many years network operators have built businesses on rationing supply to a scarce resource. To argue that it’s scarce now is utter hogwash.

And Om:

My biggest fear is that as these companies try and protect their video revenues, they are
doing more harm than good, and putting roadblocks in the way of interesting services
that make broadband worth having. When I asked Dudley if his company was putting innovation at risk by limiting flat-rate broadband — if they might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater — he noted that many of these startups and services are built on their infrastructure.

The bottom line is that broadband providers need to focus on increasing the use of broadband, not artificially limiting the use so they can eek out short term profits.  Another example of big companies moving a little too slowly toward the inevitable future.

The Internet is a series of Railroads

One of the upcoming issues in the forthcoming Obama\McCain presidential race will be Net Neutrality. The big ISPs want to find all different kinds of ways to profit (read restrict use) of the Internet

John McCain said “When you control the pipe you should be able to get profit from your investment.’” Hey, I’m all for getting profits when you lay down an investment and are taking risks. This argument reminds me of a day in one of my History classes at NIU. The subject was Teddy Roosevelt, Elihu Root, and the busting of Trusts (or monopolies).

My memory (keep in mind that this is a long time in the past) is that there was some dissension on exactly what should and should not be regulated. At the time, the Steel, Oil and RailRoad industries were all largely controlled by monopolies of one kind or another. This led to all kinds of bad things for the consumers and competitors.

But are all monopolies bad? No, of course not. ComEd for the most part is a monopoly. Why is that ok, but Oil needed to be busted up? It has to do with the cost of competition. Take the railroads as an example.

Let’s say Khyle Railways is the first to lay a line down between Chicago and St. Louis. I now have a defacto monpoloy on all the traffic that needs to travel between those cities. I can charge whatever I want, give away free trips on the line to my buddies, and partners in other industries if I want to. But, surely someone will step up and become a competitor right? As it turns out, probably not.

The cost of laying the railroad down is pretty hefty. Plus, the profit the new competitor would derive would be limited (unless the demand is so high that both lines are near capacity). So really, the economics of the situation are against competition. So the economic theory presented that day in class was that if the proportion of upfront capital investment was so out of whack with the possible return, then regulation or a monopoly makes sense.

It’s the same thing with the ISPs. It’s expensive (at least today, who knows with WiMax and other technologies) to get a pipe to the mass of the residential markets. The providers are making decent profits, but really, they want to (ab)use their power by charging more, or by limiting bandwidth for applications they don’t like (or that potnentially compete with some of their higher margin offerings).

Te me at least, this doesn’t make any sense. As consumers, we are largely without choice. Sure, you could get a satellite connection, or maybe you have both DSL or cable available. But really, it all comes down to a few players controlling the entire ISP market. So my stance is that until the capital investment in residential ISP services comes down, regulation is needed.

On a final note, this is another example where big companies are fighting to keep their old advantages and are slow to capture the new economics of the situation.  The CEO of the company I work for, IfByPhone had an excellent post that captures this issue in the Voice 2.0 area.  The Telcos are currently still trying to cut costs, and as of yet have not fully embraced the Voice 2.0 concepts that are on the horizon.  The basic message is that as the cost of calls goes down, it becomes more and more important to do something interesting and engaging on top providing the actual transport of the call.

At least ISPs have more control over their fate.  Their services are a little more sticky than the telephony market.  But both are going to have to find way to use their advantages as the transport to open up more and new services for their end customers.

Making Twitter Sticky

I read this post at How to Split an Atom, on the recent problems with Twitter and participated in a nice discussion.

Twitter is a nice little service. I hesitate calling it a product, even though it has some high profile investors. A product, by my own definition is something you can sell. A service is something you can use. I use Twitter, but I can’t figure out how they’d make me want to pay for it (or as an alternative, monetize my use).

I really like aspects of Twitter. I see conversations that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and I meet new people (in the online sense at least). It’s a great tool to keep in touch, and learn what’s going on today, and what’s important to people you have things in common with.

Beyond the obvious “how is it going to make money?”, the question I have with Twitter is: What makes it sticky? What prevents people replacing it with something else? Nothing that I see. Would there be pain if I left Twitter, and wanted to ‘take my audience with me?’ Probably. But is that pain enough to stop me from paying more attention to FriendFeed each time I get an API Error in my Twitter client? No. I’m sure you can use the API to help port users to another service if you wanted.

Twitter is in a similar position to Tivo. I love Tivo. My experience with DirecTv has been significantly worse since they replaced my Tivo box with their in-house branded DVR. But, am I going to cancel DirecTv and go with the more expensive cable just to stick with Tivo? No.

Twitter has to be more sticky if it wants to survive. I think it needs to understand that it is a transport mechanism first and foremost. The 140 character limit, the lack of threading, the concept of followers, all those are interesting but completely replicatable.

But if you look at it as a communications gateway to and from my phone\blog\sms\rss\blog comments\friendfeed discussions\etc, then it becomes indispensable. As Fred Wilson quotes a friend in this post: “It’s not so much the data that’s so valuable, it’s the flow of information through it.”

When Twitter becomes the defacto transport of data through the various social media outlets THAT is when it gets sticky.

Twitter, FriendFeed, Disqus and the lack of unity

One of the interesting things happening recently is the diffusion of conversations. When I first started using Twitter, I noticed that people were linking to their posts. Their followers would then send a reply commenting on the post. Those replies are part of the overall conversation. But they are not part of the blog post.

Soon after I started using Twitter, I also found FriendFeed. It’s somewhat similar to Twitter, but overall, it’s slightly better for conversations. How does it work? Let’s say you are the ego-free Robert Scoble and you see a post on Twitter’s Dev log that says one of the problems with scaling is that when users who have a lot of followers initiate a flurry of activity, it causes database backups. You write a blog post saying that Twitter is blaming you for their problems, and share that link with your 10,000 followers on FriendFeed. Now what happens? People comment on the blog. Other people comment on the shared post on FriendFeed. So again, we have multiple people commenting on one topic in (unfortunately) two conversations.

Fred Wilson wrote a post about this topic yesterday: Leaving the Instigator out. And today, Comment System Disqus (which I use for this blog), suggests a Commenter Bill of Rights.

The unifying theme about all of these topics is that with more and more communication methods available, there are exponentially more challenges to organize the discussions. Because what’s important (at least to me) is the overall conversation. A blog post in and of itself has value, but in the meritocracy of the Internet, it’s the whole conversation that has real value. And right now, we have one conversation that is fragmented in a million different ways.

At some point, the distribution method won’t matter. People will choose their client, their service, and everything will be pulled together. Ideally, the value of a Twitter or FriendFeed or Disqus will be in presenting interesting conversations to interested parties. In this interim period however, no one is doing a particularly good job of it.

Voice 2.0 and the long tail

There are two very good posts today from people at the forefront of Voice 2.0.  Alec Saunders (Jajah change is in the wind) talks intelligently on how carriers are finally taking notice that they need to embrace the next wave – which is Voice 2.0.  In order to fight declining revenue and smaller margins, they need to find ways to increase traffic.  Thomas Howe adds his thoughts here.

I highly recommend that you read both pieces.  The heart of the argument really makes sense to me.  The bottom line is that one way or another the cost of calling is going towards zero.  The future of the market is not in simply driving more calls.  It’s in the intelligence that can be provided.  Or, another way to say it is that it’s the apps, baby.  The long tail is the part of the graph that shows the volume that can be generated by the Voice 2.0 applications.

All this sounds great.  There are a number of Telephony Application Providers (TAPs) that are trying to capitalize in this space, my employer IfByPhone being one of them.  There is momentum – even in the last few months, I have personally seen that things that seemed foreign to non-voice 2.0 people have become more accepted (like click-to-call for example).  However, I can’t see big carriers jumping in with both feet.  That’s just not something they do.  Their modus operandi is to avoid risk, so they want to see the success first.  For them, success=$.  And as of today, the market is not yet fully developed.

Big companies like airlines, prescription providers, travel companies, and the financial industry have been doing voice 2.0 ish things for years.  United Airlines has integrated voice into several of their line of business applications (even though they haven’t really promoted it as much as they should).

Sure, while there is still an opportunity for big companies to take advantage of CEBP (Communications Enabled Business Procresses), the real sweet spot is going to be in the mobile & SMB markets.  Once rich and interesting applications really engage those markets, that’s when the carriers are going to take notice.

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