It’s been a while coming, but here are my thoughts on the CES panel on IM, mobility and VoIP which I chaired January 4th. The panelists included Microsoft’s Anupam Gupta, Earthlink’s Thomas Hsieh, and Yahoo’s Jeff Bonforte. I had a pre-prepared set of questions, some of which got used, but the audience was also very interactive. All in all, I think it was a great session.
Some of the more interesting observations:
1) Jeff Bonforte has a very large view of Yahoo’s business. He’s articulate, funny, and has great vision. I predict it won’t be long before we see his job title become Vice President.
2) My first question asked how Skype had influenced each company’s plans. Jeff talked about how Skype had demonstrated the need for great NAT traversal, and high quality voice. He gave a great "mea culpe" — Yahoo needed to spend more time on that, and Skype encouraged them to do that. Tom and Anupam said it hadn’t really influenced their plans, which I didn’t find credible. It was a good public relations answer, but if it was really true, then why did MSN license GIPS last year?
3) We had a lot of talk around APIs. My impression is that Microsoft has the clearest view on this topic. Certainly Anupam sees the need for APIs for presence, directory, and so on, which don’t yet exist today. If Microsoft can execute this well, it will ensure that Microsoft Live is a credible platform for the internet.
4) A hot topic, and hotly discussed, was interaction models between networks. Tom was by far the most vocal proponent of an open strategy. Earthlink would benefit greatly from a network model similar to that of the SMTP email model, where traffic from different, and potentially competing, services just moves across the network to the right destination. Both Anupam and Jeff sounded cautionary notes, suggesting that until the model was more thoroughly thought through, "customer safety" dictated that they work on a federated model. But, as Henry Sinnreich observed earlier in the day, the danger of federation models is that they simply become a an equally inefficient replacement for the current tariff and toll model that exists between incumbent providers.
I really enjoyed chairing this panel. Thank you, Pulver Media, for giving me the opportunity. And thank you Andy for the kind words. I hope to do this again.