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Sunday, July 06, 2003

Internet Access as a Human Right

Estonia's 2000 law that declared Internet access a human right is referred to vaugely in the CS monitor and being slashdotted.

This, hot on the heels, or should I say shoulders -- of the Estonian dominance of the Wife Carrying World Championships.

"We take too many things seriously," concedes Indrek Keskyla, the mayor of Vaike-Maarja. He blames the communists who ran this Baltic nation. "In the old Soviet Union days, we had to be serious, gray people," he says. Under communist rule, the village pushed to be the best farm cooperative in Estonia. Now, it produces the best wife carriers.

12:06:54 PM    comment []

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Communication and Collaboration Convergence

Uh oh, there's that word again.  Convergence.  The solution to all our problems.

Siemens has released OpenScape, which integrates phone, voice mail, e-mail, text messaging, calendaring, instant messaging, and conferencing services. Its all centered on IM to synchronize use of different modes of communication, with a SIP server (Session Initiation Protocol) for telephony integration.  OpenScape 1.0, however, requires Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Server 2003 and Greenwich collaboration server. Its the latest in a long line of communication and collaboration solutions to leverage Outlook as a platform.  And its estimated to cost as much as $400 per seat.

This may just be unified messaging redux, but Mike from Techdirt is right that it has potential as a productivity tool if its simple enough for people to use.  People use many modes of communication.  Optimize only a one or two and you may make communication in its entirety even more sub-optimal. 

With the falling cost of more traditional communcations (original videoconference sessions were $100k a pop), putting users in the driver seat is not a bad thing.  Problem is this approach of deep integration creates greater costs and risks.

Corporate IM is a good center for user management of complexity, but who knows if they have gotten this right.  If as advertised, its designed to fit within workflow, it may be on the wrong track.  Communication is not a process, its an informal practice whose patterns cannot be pre-defined.

1:54:45 PM    comment []

Free Belly I

Phase 1 of the "Free Belly" project, to rid myself of the phone company, is complete.  Installed Vonage last night on our home phone.  Setup, if you haven't heared, is effortless.  I estimate we will save at least $200 per month (we have a huge long distance bill, particularly to one tiny country on the other side of the world). 

The one negative is when I did call in to track a shipment I recieved and answering machine.  Aside from marketing execution, the one thing that could kill this company is poor support.

Phase 2 is bypassing the baby bell local loop, more on that later.

9:19:03 AM    comment []

Friday, June 13, 2003

Land of Stonia

So Azeem is in Tallinn, Estonia and easily finds free WiFi.  What a great country.  Unfortunately I had to postpone our vacation to Tallinn this summer because of work.

In other news, Beware the Estonians: First Nigeria, now Estonia. Once again an Internet scam defrauded Alaskans.

10:07:20 AM    comment []

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Vonage, Hacks & Arbitrage

The way Joi and Gen are using Vonage is a new arbitrage method for international long distance.  International telephony has always been about arbitrage (risk free profit).  Technology driven cost reduction outpacing regulatory regimes that prop up prices.  Here's a brief history of international long distance arbitrage and a suggestion for a next stage.

International telephony was originally governed by the ITUs Global Accounting Rate system.  A body of national PTTs that would convene and negotiate bilateral settlement rates.  For example, the US and German would tally up the traffic imbalance as measured in minutes and agree on a settlement rate.  Problem was, country code #1 had significantly greater amount of outbound call volume.  With the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), to this day, calls are paid by the originating carrier to transit and teminating carriers.  The US negotiated volume discounts that were significant for its outbound calls.

When the PC came around some smart entreprenuers realized an arbitrage condition existed and the technology to take advantage of it was affordable.  They invented Call-Back.  An individual customer living abroad calls to a PC in the US, enters the country code of the final destination number (the hub country or another)  and then hangs up.  The individual is called back by the PC while the PC calls the destination country and recieves a dial tone for the destination country.  The settlement fee is paid from the hub country (the lower outbound US rate).

Next came Refile, which turned this arbitrage method from a consumer service to a wholesale operation.  Competitive carriers in foreign countries (many were cropping up because deregulation was taking place at the same time, first in the US, then the EU and culminating with the Uraguay round WTO accord that liberalized 90 countries) sent calls in aggregate over International Private Lines to the US.  A re-file carrier re-originated calls from the US to foreign countries, initially saving in most cases over 500%.

Calling cards allowed re-file carriers to provide consumers a way circumvent originating carriers and get to their re-file hub.

Next came Internet Telephony.  Initially it was used for transit on private lines to take advantage of compression.  Then some carriers used the public Internet for transit with some sacrifice for quality.  Some new businesses like ITXC leveraged redundancy in transit to increase quality.

Consumer Internet Telephony didn't prosper until now because of the variable quality of transit as well as the interface at the ends.  Vonage has changed that with some success (just reached the 25,000 subscriber mark).  But its primary focus is domestic long distance.  It probably doesnt provide the service internationally both because of the quality of transit, complexity of serving diverse markets and potential regulatory backlash in foreign countries.

What's interesting about Joi & Gen's use, and they aren't the only ones, is they are setting up their own arbitrage method -- originating calls abroad, transiting over the Internet and terminating through Vonage's network (mostly over the Internet) and re-file agreements.  Vonage's greatest value is a persistent circumvention of local monopoly carriers (where most of the cost of a call resides because of the above driving efficiency in international markets), but its value for international transit is worth consideration.

It will be interesting to see what Vonage hacks arise.  There are a few options created by its bridge feature -- If you're on the phone with party A, you can flash, dial #90, dial party B's number, # and hang up. It then calls party B and the call continues between A and B.  A hack that allows you to call to your Vonage box from your wireless phone and have it bridge you to an international destination seems tantilizing.

A hardware hack to make the box more portable would be invaluable (I would rather pay for a dedicated DSL connection from a hotel room and then use Vonage to bypass their telephony toll trolling).  Particularly with WiFi support.

When arbitrage conditions exist, as with wireless carrier rates compared to terrestrial or hotel customer capture, the market ultimately converges upon it.  Vonage has the potential to be a platform.  But if regulators try to stem its diffusion another call delivery method will just take its place.

9:06:58 AM    comment []

Thursday, March 06, 2003

World of Ends

Dr. Weinberger and I decided to sum up a whole bunch of stuff in one big site: World of Ends: What the Internet Is and How to stop Mistaking It for Something Else. Dr. W. explains more here.[The Doc Searls Weblog]

The Nutshell

1. The Internet isn't complicated
2. The Internet isn't a thing. It's an agreement.
3. The Internet is stupid.
4. Adding value to the Internet lowers its value.
5. All the Internet's value grows on its edges.
6. Money moves to the suburbs.
7. The end of the world? Nah, the world of ends.
8. The Internet’s three virtues:
a. No one owns it
b. Everyone can use it
c. Anyone can improve it
9. If the Internet is so simple, why have so many been so boneheaded about it?
10. Some mistakes we can stop making already

It all begins with Simplicity, turns out bandwidth is a commodity, and let's be stupid and not screw it up.

10:41:48 PM    comment []

Friday, February 21, 2003

Obfuscated Competition

Kevin Werbach on the FCC decision:

It re-energizes the Bells' obstructionist strategy, and it takes away near-term competitive threats from independent DSL providers that might have spurred them to invest anyway. Verizon Senior VP Tom Tauke's quote says it all: "The future of telecommunications is broadband, and on this issue the commission appears to have moved in the right direction but may have important details wrong. Moreover, the future investment in the wireline network is tied to a strong financial base for the overall business." Doesn't sound like someone planning to "jump start investment in next-generation networks," as Commissioner Martin predicted. [Werblog]

The Bells already have a core competency in obfuscation.  They can continue their misrepresentation of inventory and costs between their traditional and competitive networks.  Only now they dont have to hide costs, just shift inventory to get the benefits of deregulation.

9:06:37 AM    comment []

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Google buys Pyra

Google Buys Pyra: Blogging Goes Big-Time
posted by Dan Gillmor 07:41 PM
permanent link to this item

NOTE: This is a slightly edited version of a special column running in tomorrow's San Jose Mercury News. We're posting it early to get the story out.

Weblogs are going Googling.

Google, which runs the Web's premier search site, has purchased Pyra Labs, a San Francisco company that created some of the earliest technology for writing weblogs, the increasingly popular personal and opinion journals.

The buyout is a huge boost to an enormously diverse genre of online publishing that has begun to change the equations of online news and information. Weblogs are frequently updated, with items appearing in reverse chronological order (the most recent postings appear first). Typically they include links to other pages on the Internet, and the topics range from technology to politics to just about anything you can name. Many weblogs invite feedback through discussion postings, and weblogs often point to other weblogs in an ecosystem of news, opinions and ideas.

"I couldn't be more excited about this," said Evan Williams, founder of Pyra, a company that has had its share of struggles. He wouldn't discuss terms of the deal, which he said was signed on Thursday, when we spoke Saturday. But he did say it gives Pyra the "resources to build on the vision I've been working on for years."

Part of that vision, shared by other blogging pioneers, has been to help democratize the creation and flow of news in a world where giant companies control so much of what most people see, hear and read. Weblogs are also becoming a valuable communication tool for groups of people, and have begun to infiltrate the corporate, university and government spheres.

Just three and a half years old, Pyra's Blogger software has 1.1 million registered users, Williams said. He estimated that about 200,000 of them are actively running weblogs. Pyra charges for some higher-capability services not available in the base configuration, but most of its registered users don't pay.

Google is known best for its search capabilities, but the Pyra buyout isn't the company's first foray into creating or buying Internet content. Two years ago Google bought, a company that had collected and continued to update Usenet "newsgroups," Internet discussion forums. More recently, it created Google News, a site that gauges the collective thoughts of more than 4,000 news sites on the Net.

But now Google will surge to the forefront of what David Krane, the company's director of corporate communications, called "a global self-publishing phenomenon that connects Internet users with dynamic, diverse points of view while also enabling comment and participation."

"We're thrilled about the many synergies and future opportunities between our two companies," he said in a statement on Saturday. He didn't elaborate further on what those synergies and opportunities might be, but said more details would emerge soon. Users of the Blogger software and hosting service won't see any immediate changes, he added.

For Williams and his five co-workers, now Google employees, the immediate impact will be to put their blog-hosting service, called Blog*Spot, on the vast network of server computers Google operates. This will make the service more reliable and robust.

How Google manages the Blogger software and Pyra's hosting service may present some tricky issues. The search side of Google indexes weblogs from all of the major blogging platforms, including Movable Type and Userland Radio. Any hint of proprietary favoritism would meet harsh criticism.

Blogging was moving mainstream even before this buyout. Several weblogs draw a large readership, and bloggers demonstrated their collective power to keep an issue alive even when the traditional media miss the story, as former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott discovered to his dismay late last year.

Major technology companies are seeing the potential. Tripod, the consumer web-publishing unit of Terra Lycos, recently introduced a "Blog Builder" tool. America Online is expected to be on the verge of doing something similar, and no one will be surprised if Yahoo and Microsoft do the same. Are more buyouts of blog toolmakers in the offing?

Developers of blogging software have been finding user-friendly ways to help readers of weblogs and other information find and collect material from a variety of sites. It's in this arena that the Google-Pyra deal may have the most implications.

More than most Web companies, Google has grasped the distributed nature of the online world, and has seen that the real power of cyberspace is in what we create collectively. We are beginning to see that power brought to bear.


9:29:04 PM    comment []

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