And why the mobile browser is the key to easy application development
Do you remember just how amazingly different the Internet and mobility were in 2005? Facebook, a fresh new entry on the social network scene with fewer than 4M members, had just allowed high school students to join; MySpace had been purchased by News Corp earlier that year; Google’s IPO was just one year earlier; eBay acquired Skype; Evan Williams hadn’t yet thought about creating Twitter; the term “Web 2.0” was new; and, oh yeah, that was still two years before Apple launched a little thing called the iPhone.
I’m taking this trip down memory lane because of Alec Saunders’ speech at eComm 2009. Saunders, the CEO of iotum, took a retrospective look back at the Voice 2.0 Manifesto he had authored all the way back in 2005, to see how far we’ve come. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Back in 2005, Saunders’ basic idea was that voice would be
commoditized, and that a “long-tail” market of applications like what we now
call voice mashups would ultimately be the real value in the network. It
was a very user-focused vision, and included these elements: presence
(noting when people are available to have a conversation), the ability for users
to provision their own directory entries (back in the day when operators
controlled the directory listings), and technologies like scripting languages
and XML (which could be the foundation for call control).
In his speech at eComm 2009, Saunders assessed how much progress had been made:
Long-Tail Market of Applications. The Voice 2.0 Manifesto said that all kinds of interesting applications would be built and communities would spring up around them and that would be where the real value was going to be created. How did we do? There’s definitely a long-tail market for applications today. You just have to look at Skype marketplace or the iPhone application store or what Calliflower (iotum’s product) is doing. That happened.
Presence. Progress is uneven. Skype is the exemplar of the implementation of presence in the market today. Everyone’s got it on their desktop. But Twitter shows us that people are very interested in more granular information about what people were doing – not simply availability info. In some ways what Phweet has done in being able to trigger a call based on a Twitter message is much more akin to what people want with presence. Thus, progress has been uneven on presence.
User-managed identity. These days, on any social network, you can create a profile and hang any contact information off it (phone, email, and it has completely escaped the operator’s control.
Scripting. The state of the art in programming has advanced dramatically, with Jaduka, Adhearsion, Twillio, Tropo, Ribbit… and the list goes on. There’s a growing consensus that voice applications ought to be easy to build.
Made Manifest by the Web Browser
Iotum’s experience in building voice applications is that it’s easy to build applications quickly by using browser-based and open source tools. Iotum’s product, Calliflower, is such a browser-based application. The application server is a Rail server running on Linux, Apache, and MySql; the interactive components are all delivered through MQ, an open source queuing package; the call flow server and the bridge are provided by ThinkEngine; and the streaming server which enables document sharing is hosted at Amazon Web Services. Using this collection of highly distributed tools, iotum is able to create sophisticated voice applications in just 10-12 weeks.
This is night and day from iotum’s tortuous experience developing the same applications for the BlackBerry, where they encountered extreme platform and channel fragmentation. Every single version of the BlackBerry device may have a different implementation of the OS, and that leads to extreme channel fragmentation when marketing to carriers. It was a problem that was untenable for a company iotum’s size, so it gave up.
By contrast, once Apple had launched the iPhone, iotum was
able to develop Calliflower in just 10 weeks as a wrapper around the embedded
Safari browser, which is why Saunders concluded his speech by saying that “all
the other handset manufacturers are going to have to come up with a standard like
the one that Apple has created.
Alec Saunders can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 613-482-9088.