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ITEXPO: Brad Garlinghouse

I’m at the Internet Telephony Expo, and listening to Brad Garlinghouse of Yahoo give his keynote.  I really wanted to hear this speech, because I missed him at VON. The session is sparsely attended.  I hope that’s not a harbinger for the rest of the show.

He begins by talking about two "pink elephants" – the MSN/Yahoo interoperability agreement, and whether VoIP will kill the telecom industry.

He compares the agreement between MSN and Yahoo to interoperate to Theodore Vail’s decision, 100 years ago, to drive interoperability between the telephone networks.  Moreover, as presence becomes integrated across all of your experiences, it becomes critical to have interoperability.  It’s the first time I’ve heard a VoIM vendor explicitly talk about themselves as the public presence cloud.

On the topic of "Industry Misperceptions" that VoIP will kill the phone business, he is backpedalling like mad.  There are still over a million rotary dial phones in use in the US.  These industries move slowly.  Rather he sees VoIP as a massive opportunity – to extend voice into other devices, to use internet calling as a base to build other businesses, to expand voice into many other businesses.

He explicitly compares the Web 1.0 / Web 2.0 transition to where VoIP is.  Skype is VoIP 1.0, Brad contends.  It isn’t the rich, converged experience that he feels is VoIP 2.0.  Lovely spin here.  He’s got a graph of Skype’s growth rat over the last 8 months, declining.  It’s a striking graph which makes it look like Skype’s growth has slowed.

So, how do we think about the birth of Voice 2.0?  It’s an omnipresent platform. Applications bridge the PSTN and IP Worlds.  Voice drives value for the entire ecosystem.  We have to bridge the IP and PSTN worlds to drive seamless experiences across the entire ecosystem.

The worlds of communications are colliding — the networks are colliding, the devices are colliding.  And now, where Yahoo is focused, the applications are colliding — IM, SMS, Email, voice, video.   There is an opportunity to simplify users experiences dramatically.

He also talks about "intelligent presence".  It’s about "where I am", "what I am doing".  We need intelligent networks that can learn from user behaviour.  That will be the driver that causes the emergence of voice 2.0.

One of the reasons that Brad believes Voice 2.0 will be successful is because, unlike the Voice 1.0 experience, it will not require a change in user behaviour. It will be seamless, and users won’t even know that convergence is occuring.

What are the new opportunities? 

  1. Convergence: SBC and Yahoo are rolling out a new service.  More profound, the address book needs to converge.  YAWN.  I’ve been doing that for more than five years, synching my outlook and my mobile phone.
  2. Personalize: ring tones exist on mobile phones.  What about your land line?
  3. User Control: the advantage of the telecommunications revolution is that you are always connected.  Laughter.  He describes a scenario like the one that Iotum is building, with an intelligent agent capable of filtering and managing calls on your behalf.
  4. Mobilize: making voice omnipresent across the network.

Yahoo does a lot of research.  The message they hear from customers is "communications should simplify my life".  

What is Yahoo doing?  "We’re clearly focused on how we can lead in a Voice 2.0 world."  They view Voice 1.0 as a necessary, but not sufficient framework to win.  Voice 2.0 is an integrated experience across networks, devices and applications; a personalized experienced.

The four walkaways:

  1. Interop changes everything.  Broad industry interop
  2. The PSTN is alive and well. 
  3.  Voice 2.0 will be omnipresent.
  4.  We have to deliver a consumer-centric approach.

 I understand Brad’s softpedal message.  The PSTN is going to evolve into a Voice 2.0 world… it has to, or it will fail.  His future is a compelling vision, which we believe in at Iotum.  I’m glad I got to see this.

Update: Here’s a link to Rich Tehrani’s post on Brad’s speech.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Aswath October 25, 2005, 9:28 am

    Want to see an evolving dinosaur? Take a look at Verizon’s iobi and the realted One Phone. VoIPers only talk about new features but offer only POTS. Shouldn’t Vonage or somebody like that offer a phone with a screen and the associated controllable features?

  • Alec October 25, 2005, 12:07 pm

    I agree. I am shocked that there aren’t more phones with displays out there –> even small displays. The phone UI is in need of a serious upgrade.

  • Vijay October 26, 2005, 4:04 am

    That’s an interesting thought. But, as It was mentioned in the speech itself, what we are working with at the moment is VoIP 1.0 (if you can call it that). We are still trying to form the platform, define some standards and formulate solutions to connect the past with the future. I think what is advertised as features, is the potential that VoIP holds.

    I am all for progress. But I think sometimes we fail to stop and think about the simpletons who form to be the majority of the userbase. If VoIP is supposed to be an elite standard for the very specific market segment, then it makes sense. But otherwise, we need end-terminals that are as simple as possible – atleast until the arrival of new features that will push towards a new design.

    The key to mass adoption is a device that is transparent that the users wouldn’t even notice the change that has taken place.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Alec October 28, 2005, 1:02 am

    I have a very fundamental disagreement with you Vijay. My customers, Verizon’s customers, Yahoo’s customers aren’t simpletons. They are simply customers. At every step of the way we should be working, as an industry, to amaze and delight those customers. Displays on terminals are simply a mechanism for enabling a whole new generation of services, applications, and features that will delight those customers.

    If the cellular phone industry had thought the way you do, we wouldn’t have ringtones, ring back tones, MP3 players, or cameras in our phones. It’s ridiculous to assert that the average consumer is too stupid to understand the potential of this technology.

  • Vijay Anand November 6, 2005, 12:16 pm

    I stand corrected Alec about the comment on small displays. I agree with you. My comment was more towards how new technology would find better acceptance if it is introduced as one with a familiar and well-known standard and once the critical mass of adoption is achieved, taken to the next level of evolution and advancement, whatever the case might be.

    I guess by now most people are used to the convenience of small displays on cellphones. Though I believe that there was a basic phone around before they came up with all these nifty services such as ringtones, ringback tones and all that.

    I think approximately half the world's population is still below the age of 25-30, so they can adapt to new technology. It's a good business case to think about the rest who are too grown up to wrap their minds around a new technology. I still see so many people who don't know how to use a cell phone and there was an article recently that I came across that mentioned how the average consumer is getting tired of constantly having to adapt to new technologies.

    The basic idea was to initiate a discussion on what differentiates a system that everybody adopts and is comfortable using so that the next wave of technology could be built upon, and a system that the early adopters love sizzling themselves with, and to which category the present VoIP technologies belong to.

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