March 31, 2008

What Comes After AORTA

This morning Alec Saunders talked about the effects of pricing plans in wireless data market. His point was aggressive pricing will induce increased use. In that context he mentioned a term introduced by Mark Anderson. Mark claimed that the chief benefit of broadband internet is Always On Real Time Access (AORTA). Alec elaborates: “Not the fact that broadband is fast, but that it's always up, which means that you can have access to the 'net instantaneously.” But having an access to the net is only half the battle.

It is equally important that internet peers must be able to access the application clients running in local machines. In the wired world this manifests itself as NAT/FW traversal problem. It is a generally accepted solution for the local clients to maintain connection with an external server which proxies traffic (at least initially) from other peers. The problem is different in the case of mobile internet. Normally NAT/FW traversal problem is not there in the mobile environment. But mobile devices consume a large quantity of radio resource to maintain the access link to the ‘net. This means that it is much preferable to design pull-style applications. But many popular applications like email require servers to push information. Take a look at the figure taken from a whitepaper published by Alcatel-Lucent.
AL 9900.jpg
Even though the amount of bandwidth consumed by email application is very small, the corresponding airtime consumed is very large. This is a sleeper problem with the approach Blackberry has taken. Microsoft has taken a different approach to push email. The Exchange server sends an SMS which prompts the mobile device to pull newly arrived email. Since there could be delay in the delivery of SMS, sometimes Microsoft’s approach may not behave like push email. A better approach might be for the Exchange server to send a notification to a designated server at the Mobile Carrier, which in turn can send a notification using the “paging channel”. This is the same channel used to send the notification for an incoming call. So the next step to AORTA is for the carriers to provide a service whereby mobile subscribers can designate the application providers who can send paging indications for events associated with web services. This service is worthwhile even if the carriers charge for such notifications.

Posted by aswath at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2008

Replacing IVR Systems

I am certain that each one of us have horror stories relating to IVR maze. To ease this, many IVR systems allow look-ahead dialing. But then many administrators ask us to listen to all the choices before selecting one because thy have changed recently. Of course they do not say how recently the menu choices have been changed. All in all, IVR is a necessary evil because the user has limited way to signal the far-end. Recently Fonolo has come up with a crazy like a fox scheme to overcome this tedious interaction.

Apparently, they utilize multiple techniques to traverse large companies’ IVR systems to map the menu tree and make them available in Fonolo’s website. Users can visit their website, select the menu tree corresponding to the company they are interested in and identify their choice. Then Fonolo will connect the users to the company’s IVR system, navigate the IVR menu choices and land on the intended point. This has received lots of positive attention in the blogosphere. Of course some have pointed out a practical difficulty. There are times, IVR system will collect private information and some users may be reluctant to pass it on to Fonolo. But my objection is more fundamental. Fonolo has inserted itself between me and the enterprise I am interested in. This very fact may be of value to Fonolo and can claim that it is entitled to market this information because they are providing a free service.

Just because I take exception to their solution does not mean that the pain point they address is not real. My suggestion to IVR designers is to recognize this and simplify those callers who have access to Internet. A preferred approach could be for these enterprises to produce IVR map on their own website. Then internet connected callers can first visit this website, traverse the IVR menu tree just like Fonolo users will do. Once they reach the desired point, the site can generate a string of digits. Then a caller has to dial the standard number and enter the generated number string. The IVR system can correlate the entered digits to the selection made on the website and route the call accordingly. This way, we can augment the limited signaling capability available in PSTN with the rich UI available through the web browser. This is what “Intelligent at the End” will suggest.

Posted by aswath at 02:28 PM | Comments (0)

Distributed Social Directory is the Real Trouble

I posted the following entry at EnThinnai blog. Please visit there to post your comments.

Daniel Berninger periodically writes in GigaOm under an evocative banner called “Here Comes Trouble”. These posts follow a familiar pattern: Historically the business model (invariably referring to the traditional telecoms) has been to have a control over the users, usually aided by monopolistic and regulatory environments; given the distributed nature of IP Communications, such control is not feasible; so the telecoms are under threat by upstarts. And here is the clincher. Almost invariably he will conclude with one of the upstarts will end up having full control. Even though he invokes distributed nature of IP, he replaces one ubiquitous entity with another. He has done the same thing with his recent post where he seems to suggest that the traditional telephone directory will be replaced by a “social directory” created by merging the telephone directory with the social networking model. Not only that. His concluding sentence is noteworthy: “However, Google’s revenue represents less than a third of what the declining telephone directories generate in the U.S. alone. Riches await the infocom company that achieves gatekeeper status for the Internet’s communications applications.” Let me repeat for emphasis. He thinks that there is an opportunity for a gatekeeper in IP Communications. EnThinnai is betting against that.

Dan suggests that traditional directories and their online versions can not handle currently available multiple communication modes. So he suggests that the optimal solution is “a user-generated directory in which individuals own and update their own listing.” EnThinnai, which has been operational for a year, does exactly that. He further states that the access to the directory needs to be restricted. He thinks, “[t]he social directory could implement an invite authentication process like any other social network.” Here again EnThinnai is ahead. EnThinnai users will have the ability to control who can access when and which contact information. However, we disagree that there will be a single or even handful of gatekeepers. We are striving to provide a mechanism for each individual to run their own EnThinnai and control their own directories. We do not just mouth “Intelligent at the End” mantra; we believe in it.

Posted by aswath at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2008

OpenID Providers that Don’t Consume are not Evil

I posted the following at EnThinnai blog. Please post your comments there.

In one of today’s post, Michael Arrington takes issue with the big Internet companies for their lack of support for accepting OpenID credentials from others. He argues that “… [they] have made big press announcements about their support for OpenID, but haven’t done enough to actually implement it.” He goes on to say, “Putting my conspiracy theory hat on, it looks to me like these companies want all the positive press that comes from adopting this open standard, but none of the downside. … It’s all gain, no pain.” Even though he quotes Bill Washburn, the Executive Director of OpenID Foundation and David Recordan, the Vice Chair of OpenID Foundation, he uses their equivocal remarks on this matter to admonish these companies “to do what’s right for the users and fully adopt OpenID as relying parties.” I, as an interested person in being a Relying Party, don’t agree with his analysis and for that matter do not share the general perception of the benefits of OpenID.

First a cheap shot: Michael, there are no downsides in being a Relying party and there are no pain points. If anything, OpenID simplifies the lives of Relying Parties. More seriously, the confusion is created by OpenID proponents themselves because they highlight unrealistic benefits.

A relying party that has decided to accept OpenID has no obligation to accept ID issued by one and all ID providers. For example one of the stated reasons for Sun to issue OpenID to its employees is that retailers who would like to give discount to Sun employees can use Sun issued OpenIDs as verification of employment. So it is conceivable that a retailer may decide to accept OpenIDs issued by Sun and nobody else. OpenID is a “Passport” and not a “Visa”. One of the implied casualties is the possibility of Single-Sign-On.

Secondly, there is a general perception that registration procedure is simplified because the Relying Parties could collect profile information from the ID providers. Even though the protocol allows for this exchange of information, there could be external reasons for Relying Parties to explicitly collect them from their users.

These are the top two claimed benefits of OpenID. But many of the OpenID proponents do not emphasize the real benefit of OpenID. We all the time joke that “in Internet, nobody will know you are a dog”. So if a Relying Party is interested in serving senior citizens, then it can look for an opened issued by AARP. If a social network meant for middle schoolers, then it can look for an OpenID issued by school districts. This is the benefit of OpenID. So as a proponent of OpenID, I would like to lobby AARP, AAA and school districts to issue OpenID to its members/students. Then as a Relying Party I will be able to target services to the appropriate audience.

Now let me defend the actions taken by the big Internet companies. As I reasoned earlier, it is not against the protocol for a company to only issue OpenIDs and not accept from others. It is not even detrimental to wider adoption of OpenID. Just this morning Alec Saunders (most assuredly a friend and a well wisher) discussed Michael’s post in his daily Sqwakbox. There he mentioned EnThinnai and laments that one of the reasons he is not trying it out is that none of his friends have OpenID. This suggests that as a Relying Party, I will benefit enormously if the Big Internet companies issue OpenID to their members and raise general awareness. What will be my benefit that they also accept OpenIDs from others? I am afraid not much. On the other hand if they talk up OpenID and people have general exposure to it then Alec will not have his reservation. So I would rather advocate the big Internet companies to educate their members of OpenID rather than expend my goodwill on them accepting OpenIDs issued by third parties.

I am passionate about the objectives of EnThinnai and it is not viable without the services of OpenID. I do not care so much as whether other sites accept OpenID or not; but it is imperative that there are enough OpenID issuers and that Internet users have pocketful of OpenIDs so that any two Internet citizens will have a mutually acceptable ID providers.
So if you are an OpenID proponent then i urge you to do the following:

  1. Ask any and everyone who provides authentication services to issue OpenID.
  2. Ask Internet citizens to amass as many OpenIDs as possible.
  3. Give visibility (not suggesting you heap praise, but offer an objective review) to budding Relying Parties. This is from a personal hurt. Here is EnThinnai, whose service objectives are viable only with OpenID. But not a single OpenID proponent has analyzed or discussed EnThinnai. But there is no end to people talking about Plaxo et. al. who don’r particularly require all that exposure.

Posted by aswath at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

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