≡ Menu

VON: IM and Presence Round Table

I’m sitting in the Presence and IM general session at VON.  Kudos to Carl Ford for having organized this.  It’s the dream panel for this topic, which I unsuccesfully tried to recruit twice previously.  The panelists are:

  • Jeff Bonforte, Director of Voice Product Management, Yahoo!
  • Dan Casey, Director, Windows Live VoIP and Messenger Product Management, Microsoft
  • Mike Jazayeri, Product Manager, Real-Time Communications & Google Talk, Google
  • Ragui Kamel, Sr. Vice President & General Manager, AOL Voice Services, America Online
  • Nitzan Shaer, Director, Mobile Devices, Skype

There were some lovely comments made vis a vis modalities, and how younger people are using it.  Love the anecdotes.  Ragui talks about his daughter and their friends at McGill.  People talking about kids using the phone to call their friends and “get online”.

Some very interesting comments on video too.  Both Microsoft and Yahoo! have have had video for some time, and have lots of experience with it.  The Skype and Google team talk about “what happens when it’s free” — people tend to leave it running continuously. 

Ragui Kamel is talking about video telephony versus other models.  His research says there’s no market for the talking head phenomenon — I call it the talking forehead!  Video has been around for a long time, and there’s no real reason to think that demand has changed.  But, he talks about short videos — “here’s my new apartment” — and how people use video as an adjunct to a voice or IM conversation.  YouTube anyone?

Carl asks for numbers?  Consensus is that streaming is by far the norm, as opposed to two way conversation. Video is technically challenging.   Both people have to have usable working cameras!  I can relate.  I’ve been both a SightSpeed and Skype video user, and it’s not always the simplest experience. 

There’s an interesting discussion of presence going on.  Jeff Bonforte has just given a long view of his vision of the future, with repeated references to iotum (thank you Jeff!).  His view is that rather than blasting out my presence continuously, applications should be enabled with presence.  Wouldn’t it be great if the blog posting I am reading shows the last three or four people I know who have also read the posting?

Ragui has taken the conversation around to the idea of platform.  He believes that the future will be an ecosystem of third parties leveraging platform services, such as presence.  Here here!

Nitzan from Skype makes the iotum business case.  You need to be able to expose different elements to different people based on their relationship with you. 

Shifting gears — Carl asks how important is mobile?  Nitzan from Skype quotes some statistics and concludes that mobile is the next platform.  What’s holding it back?  Channels, and the operators that control them.  He suggests that WiFi may be a solution, but there are challenges around QoS. 

It’s a fascinating discussion. Ragui thinks that the problem of nomadic use has been solved.  Jeff, on the other hand, thinks that mobile sucks.  The devices, the networks, the operating systems — he gives them all a C.  Jazayeri largely agrees with Jeff.  Ragui jumps back in and says “we all carry a nomadic device — a mobile PC, or a cellular phone.”  He observes that we have too many numbers and that the one number value proposition is a compelling proposition for customers.  Presence and location based services need to come together as well. 

Microsoft’s Dan Casey talks about opening up the MSN and Yahoo! networks to each other.  It’s a hard problem.  Jeff Bonforte jumps in and says “we don’t want to recreate the mess of SMTP on IM”.  He’s raising the spectre of SPIM.  A cynic might say that he’s simply trying to protect his walled garden.  Ragui joins in and makes the same point.  Jazayeri notes that pairwise agreements can’t scale (yes!), and makes the case for industry standards.   He makes the very rational case that perhaps SPIM and security issues will emerge, but the only sensible solution is  to work through them as an industry.  I agree.  Frankly, I don’t think most customers want to hear about another interop agreement.  Users don’t want to be locked into the gulags of Soviet IM-Istan anymore! 

It’s spawned an interesting discussion between Skype’s Nitzan and Yahoo!’s Bonforte over the value of VoIP.  Yahoo! is focusing on making sure that when the toll arbitrage play is over (something which has been predicted for more than a decade, by the way), that Yahoo! has a value added position.  Nitzan, on the other hand, is focused on quality and cost. 

Carl is springing a trap.  He asks “Won’t you guys be more important than a mobile operator at that point?  When does the mobile operator simply supply access?”.  Nitzan gives a nuanced reply.  So long as the service isn’t perfect, competition on the basis of level of service will be real.  Bonforte compares the situation to the beginning of the ISP market.  His view is that, just as portals emerged after every ISP tried to build their own home page, the same will happen with VoIP.  He positions the experience he provides as a much better experience than other experiences — something that will lead to natural relationships with Verizon for presence enabled address books and so on.  Mike Jazayeri and Ragui Kamel both take the view that as more applications come to market, the operators are going to have to become providers of bandwidth rather than toll minutes. 

A question from the audience is how the mobile operators business will change in this scenario.  Won’t the wireless provider be reduced to being a mobile, commodity ISP?  The consensus at the table is that whether it’s minutes, or bandwidth being charged for, the total cost of service to the consumer, across all media, is at least staying constant, if not increasing.  That’s a view that’s consistent with historical data provided by the FCC also.  It’s also a position not inconsistent with the Voice 2.0 view of the world, which says that revenues must shift to applications away from tolls.

Another audience question is about enterprise use.  What are the enterprise plans for each of these vendors?  Jeff Bonforte jumps in and notes that his usage spikes during 9 to 5 in every market. We saw that a few weeks ago in the Cornell study of Skype usage that was released also.  Both Microsoft’s Dan Casey, and AOLs Ragui Kamel note that their companies have business offerings.  The AOL offering includes encryption, which I wasn’t aware of.

Another interop and peering question.  Jazayeri is the only one who responds, because Google is the only vendor with an interop story.

A question on business models asks how long the services can remain free.  Deftly handled by all parties, the observation is that advertising and other models allow the calls to remain free.  The Skype guy tries to drag it back to click to call too.

Digium’s Mark Spencer, at the back of the room, asks about their use of Open Source.  Jazayeri talks to the fact that Google is a heavy user of open source, and supports open source.   Bonforte points out that David Filo still contributes to OpenBSD, and that thousands of Yahoo! engineers also contribute to open source.

Carl asks for 18 month predictions.  Microsoft and Yahoo! predict very little big changes.  It’s too short a time.  Skype says “Wow… 18 months is a long time”, and predicts a lot of changes, especially in making this stuff more accessible to more consumers.  He sees a large scale shift in consumers, making it more a part of every day life.  Google says on integration and interop, expect big changes.  That’s the stuff we can control.  AOL’s Ragui Kamel gives the best answer, with five things we can expect:

  1. Great interworking, more openness
  2. More open platform, more third party developers
  3. A greater move toward nomadic use of the network.
  4. An integration of IM, and voice into Applications.
  5. We’ll all be sitting on a panel at VON2

My take?  This is a far more compelling articulation of vision than I’ve seen in the last couple of sessions like this.  It’s nice to see these guys finally articulate an application-centric vision, in varying degrees.  Kudos to Carl for a great job managing the session.  The one fly in the ointment?  The gulag model (sorry… walled garden) for networks is still in play. 

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • luca September 11, 2006, 11:42 pm

    Alec, thank you for the detailed report. It's like I was there. :-)

  • Frank Miller September 12, 2006, 6:48 am

    What a great post!

  • Rick September 13, 2006, 6:07 am

    Yes, AOL & Webex have a business version of AIM called AIM Professional.

  • Philip September 19, 2006, 1:39 pm

    Thanks for the great report.

Leave a Comment