October 29, 2007

Owning Your Social Graph

In a post yesterday, Tom Evslin identifies the directories of social networking to be exciting. He says: “The directories of social networks like Facebook are exciting. YOU own your directory entry; YOU decide what it says about you. Most important YOU decide who has access to which information in your directory entry and who can communicate with you.” (We may “own” our directory entry, but “They” are the real arbiters; but it is a quibble.) He goes on to say, “Social networks, especially their directories, are enablers of the next big thing in communication.” And a bit later he also points out, “But, so far, the social networks are largely developing as islands. [… all your friends] don’t all live on the same social network.” But we all live on one Network, the Internet. As I have quoted Gary McGraw in an earlier post: “People keep asking me to join the LinkedIn network, but I’m already part of a network, it’s called the Internet.” We need to focus on developing what I call “User-centric Social Network”. To borrow one of Jeff Pulver’s oft quoted refrain: You can own your own social network. To hear more about it, please come join us at “Social Networking” session in Innovators’ Track on Wednesday at 9AM. Alternatively, you can explore EnThinnai to get hands-on experience.

Posted by aswath at 09:21 AM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2007

Fall VON 2007

I will be attending Fall VON 2007 that is scheduled to start on 30th. I will be participating in the Social Networking session on 31st. The scope of the session is topical covering all the aspects of IP Communications continuum, as Jeff Pulver calls it. The other session that is of interest to me is New Services with Old Lines. Over a period of time I have written here how one can marry IP and PSTN and offer new services to PSTN. So I will be interested to hear the opinion of the panelists and participate in the discussion that will follow. Rest of the time, I will try to contribute as much to the Unconference as possible. Another major objective I have during these three days is to meet with people who are interested in new and revolutionary communication devices targeted at the IP Communications continuum that can be targeted at the consumer market. If you are interested please look me up. Finally, I will be proudly demoing EnThinnai to the interested parties.

Posted by aswath at 03:23 PM | Comments (0)

Reverse 911®

During the current disastrous fire in the state of California, there have been repeated mention of Reverse 911® calls made by the emergency agencies warning the residents of approaching wildfire. These are directed calls to residents living in the affected areas. Even though I am supposed to be working in the telecom field, I have never heard of this service. But come to think of it, I have received a couple of such calls from my local gentrified municipality because they spotted a coyote in the backyard of a neighbor’s house.

So naturally, I googled that term to find out that this service has been in use for quite some time and that the term is a registered trademark, I presume owned by Sigma Communications. Reverse 911® refers to a community notification system used by many organizations. It is used for targeted notification of local emergency. It uses landlines for notification. This is a critical point, because cell phone and VoIP lines are not notified. Here is another instance where giving up landline has unrecognized drawback. Only recently, Homeland Security Administration is allowing San Diego residents to register their cell phone and VoIP numbers to the database. I think the IP Communications industry should work on expanding the notification system to other forms of communications as well, not just cell phones and VoIP.

When I received such notification calls before, the Caller ID box will give the name of the local municipality; but otherwise there is no indication that it is an emergency notification call. I feel that the ringing tone must be significantly different to indicate as such and the caller ID should also contain this information so that any automatic call processing can be disabled.

Posted by aswath at 01:47 PM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2007

Fixing Presence

Since my Lucent days I have been taking issue with the claims people have made about Presence. I have expressed them in public for a in places like LightReading forum and various blogs. All that time, I was under the impression that I am being alone. Then around last year, Alec Saunders wrote a piece called “New Presence” echoing many of my thoughts. EnThinnai, a project that I have funded so far has implemented many of these points and I go over in detail in a post in EnThinnai blog. I hope you get a chance to read and share your thoughts as well. Also if you have not done so, please sign up and explore many of the new technologies introduced in EnThinnai.

Posted by aswath at 03:41 PM | Comments (1)

October 18, 2007

False Promise

On Tuesday Microsoft launched several products that it claimed is its answer to the needs of “unified communications”. In a story related to this, CNET quotes Jeff Raikes, President of Microsoft’s Business Division as saying: "The era of dialing blind, the era of playing phone tag, the era of voice-mail jam...that era is ending." This is a tall order. We have seen such claims before. People identify the failures of the traditional phone and attribute them to the technology. They think that having Presence information of each other will solve all the problems. But the technology hasn’t failed; so a new technology will not solve the problem. The problem is fundamentally social. Most of the IMs allow us to specify a stealth Presence setting for one or more o our buddies. So, we may not dial blind, but we may end up leaving a message of some kind (even if it is not voice mail). The moment I can/need to leave a message eliciting a response call, which may end up in a voice mail, we have the possibility of "telephone tag".

Posted by aswath at 03:01 AM | Comments (1)

October 16, 2007

(Never Fired) Third Stage Rocket

A week back Tom Evslin wrote a post recalling a keynote he gave about 10 years back at VON in Boston. As he recounts it, he predicted at that time that the progress of VoIP could be compared to a three stage rocket: the first stage that will propel VoIP will be arbitrage plays that will bring down regulatory toll booths; the second stage will be characterized by the use of unified network, not just at the physical (“transmission”) layer (which it has been for a long period of time) but even at the network (“routing”) layer; during the third stage we will see innovative new phone services which VoIP would make possible (emphasis added). Tom goes on to say that just as his first two predictions have been proven right, he is wrong in the third one because “the phone system hasn’t become better” (again my emphasis). He further concludes that “the old phone paradigm can’t be incrementally improved in any significant way” and that “POTS won’t be improved; it’ll just be replaced.” I take a slightly different position and let me elaborate on my line of thinking.

To state it briefly, I am of the belief that user experience can be dramatically improved, it can be improved without replacing POTS, without any fear of regulatory obstacles and need for any fancy VoIP providers. To see that we have to stop thinking about phone system. We are given what POTS providers and VoIP providers give us. Depending on them for any advancement is like waiting for the waves to subside. We have to develop a technology that will allow users to circumvent the basic service providers or leverage the basic service so users realize the features they want. This means we have to stop paying attention to the service providers and start focusing on the end devices.

For obvious reasons, I am being cryptic. But the following example will give a hint: In an unrelated podcast, Jeff Pulver quotes a conversation had with a Cablevision executive. Jeff would like to filter a call before his phone rings and wakes him up at night. This executive’s response is that there is not enough demand for such features. This is a typical Bellheaded thinking. A Nethead would allow for a niche feature, in the hope that it gets adopted widely. An easy way to do this is to do realize them at the end device (I am avoiding “phone” advisedly). In Jeff’s case a Caller ID on steroid can intercept the call before ringing the phones. Indeed, Jeff (via Carl Ford) has a term for these devices – Class 6 switches. So the bottom line is we should focus on Class 6 switches and need not abandon POTS.

If you are interested in these Class 6 switches, please feel free to get in touch with me. I will be attending the upcoming VON if you want to have a face-face discussion.

Posted by aswath at 03:22 PM | Comments (2)

October 12, 2007

Daring Greatly

For the past few months, I have been supporting and advising a small team of developers who are developing a novel approach to sharing the digital world. They have been calling their application EnThinnai. You can read more about it in their blog. This morning EnThinnai was opened up for public registration for testing purposes. Even though the registration is open, we will accept only a small number of registrations in order to manage support issues. I request all the readers of this blog to read more about EnThinnai, register yourself there and try out the application. It uses only existing tools but uses them in slightly different ways to offer new experiences. Please do try it and give us your feedback. We will strive to improve it. I also request you to pass on the information about EnThinnai to others.

Coincidentally, this morning Michael Arrington wrote about Yossi Vardi. The message of the post was so inspiring and appropriate for this post, I borrowed the caption from Vardi/Arrington.

Posted by aswath at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

October 09, 2007

Speculating on Google’s Social Networking Plans: OAuth

Techcrunch had written that on November 5th Google will announce a major development regarding social networking platform. Subsequently Business Week is also running a story along the same lines. The gist of these stories is that Google will allow application developers extensive access to their social network Orkut. BW says that developers can run their application in their servers and still be able to access Orkut data. Indeed it says that Facebook users will be able to access Orkut data from Facebook itself. All this suggests that the November 5th announcement is going to be an implementation of the recently finalized specification called OAuth.

In short OAuth specifies how a user can give a delegative authority to a third party to access an application hosted by a second party. For example routinely social network sites request of its users login and password information of second party’s application so that they can get information from that application. Though many users seem to provide such information, it is a clear security hole, because the third party can get full access for an indefinite period. But OAuth will allow a user to provide a “security token” to the third party and the second party will honor the token, with a provision: the user can specify the range of access the token will entail and for a specified duration. Thus OAuth allows for disjoint social networks to build secure bridges between the users – I do not have to belong to Facebook to be your friend and to access your feed, wall or any other data. Thus clearly OAuth is an important development and it is going to change the landscape of social networks. Now everyone can make the following non-conformant claim: “People keep asking me to join the LinkedIn network, but I’m already part of a network, it’s called the Internet.” Gary McGraw, via Jon Udell, via Gavin Bell, via Simon Wiilison. (slide 144)

At last OAuth, in conjunction with OpenID allows you to be “your own social networking company” (with apologies to Jeff Pulver). Soon I hope to make an announcement about an effort that contributes this line of thinking.

Posted by aswath at 04:46 PM | Comments (0)

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