Monday, February 25, 2008

Social Address Book,Next Killer App!: Part I

We have heard about address book/phonebook 2.0. (Check out my Article on address book 2.0) So what is Social Address Book- A combination of web 2.0 address book and other social connect applications address book like email, IM , phonebook etc is my version of Social Address Book( aggregated social graph). Nonetheless, Address book per se has a broader dynamics than only the contacts. It could even contain URL, which is the new form of identity given to a user. Welcome to the URL world. I guess this is the key architectural decision of the semantic web. Well, gone are those days when people were identified by their names or email ids. The whole web 2.0 paradigm shift has taken precedence and has given user an identity in the internet world. I guess Tim O’Reilly had sensed the need of WEB 2.0 address book a while back .

So how does Social Address Book help consumers- From a consumer standpoint, it makes his life easier by getting all his profiles, relationship, content and media in one single interface. Imagine as a user, if you are part of different social networking platform, and at the same time have subscribed to email, IM and other blog/microblogging sites. It shall become a network fatigue for the user to keep track all his activities and his buddies on different networks. In Addition, sharing media or social data across these multiple platforms would be a daunting task. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a single interface that has all the information about me, my friends and data that was created across different communities and platforms? This shall be User’s Global Address Book (aggregating the graph, decentralization). There is so much that can be done with this Global Address Book aka Social Address Book. Freedom from the walled garden. (How I wish!) Is this really possible. Well, the technology already exist, there are lot of initiates in this arena that is gaining momentum. Worthy of mention are Data Portability and OpenId Open ID. Google’s OpenSocial and Social Graph API is by far the most promising initiative in this direction. Theses groups/forums are playing a bigger role in shaping the Social Data management. ( Check out Chris Saad blog for more juice about data portability)

Some of the advantages of Social Address Book:
• Consumer has more control on his/her social graph data.
• Single Sign on process for different applications or Social Networking sites.
• Easy access to social data from a unified interface.
• Easy to share, spread and publish user social data across different platforms..
• User has an option to host his social graph.
• View status updates, media streaming, photo uploads, Activity streaming and more from a single unified interface.
• Tracks buddies on different networks from a single interface. ( Real time location of buddies possible provided buddies use GPS enabled handsets )
• Link your profiles from different social network and group friends
• Choice of multiple communication apps that can be easily integrated with Social Address Book

So what is the biggest hurdle for Social Address Book? Well, Walled garden approach by most of the social networking sites and social applications. Content is exclusively tied up with the social network. In fact, we have seen this within the IM world. (Except for some third party hack apps like Gaim and trillion, I don’t think we have a commercially available unified single interface chat messenger, that can be used to send message across different IM servers). In addition, these social networking sites block interaction with the outside internet. User from one social networking cannot interact with a user on a different social networking platform. For e.g., a user from MySpace cannot interact directly with a user from facebook. I guess the fundamental business model of these social networking and social application doesn’t allow distributed model.

I like what Jeff Jarvis says:

The internet doesn’t need more social networks. The internet is the social network. We have our identities, interests, reputations, relationships, information, and lives here, and we’re adding more every day. The network enabler that manages to help us tie these together to find not just connections or email addresses or information or songs but people — friends, colleagues, teachers, students, partners, lovers — across this open world, that will be the owner of the biggest network of them all

Stay tuned for part II of Social Address Book, I will discuss some of the early birds that support social address book.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

One billion free voice minutes and still counting!

Skype reached One billion free voice minutes and still going strong. In Addition, 12 million anytime online users. Infact, according to Skype journal, Skype reached its additional 1 million in 42 days . This is what I call a true VoIP disruption. It’s a great victory for consumers and a big loss to telecom operators. Though, PC-to-PC calling might not have eroded much of the operator’s revenue. Still I think Skype has done enough damage to be considered an Evil from an operator’s standpoint.

Here is a quote from Villu Aruk :

“ And now, Skype has served 100 billion minutes worth of Skype-to-Skype calls. Please, do quote me on that.”

Some statistics:
• Skype-to-Skype voice and video calls are free
• Skype’s been around for about 4.5 years
• As of the end of 2007, Skype had 276m registered users, adding 30 million in Q4 alone

I guess when ever we talk about VoIP being disruptive, Skype is only application anybody can think of. I’m a big fan of Skype and hats off to Janus and nikalas for building such a great app.
I wish there is more disruption in this arena than basking on past glory.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mobile VoIP- Free Voice calling options

I was reading Markus analysis about different calling options and why one is better than the other. I thought of summarizing some of these options with more technical details. I kind of feel it’s geekier and may not appeal to all the audience. Still, I will try my best to appease all the audience.
Mobile VoIP is slowly coming out of the shell and becoming more disruptive. In its purest form, Voice call origination from a Mobile phone that uses IP as a backbone for traversing voice packets could be termed as Mobile VoIP. Here the assumption is Voice packets travel all the way to the handset through mobile IP backbone and not TDM backbone. Nevertheless, most of startups claim their solution as Mobile VoIP; there argument is- considering there are two legs in the call, even if one of the legs uses VoIP and the call is originated from Mobile, it is still considered Mobile VoIP. Well, either way we could argue why, and why not.

So here is different Voice calling option’s from a Mobile VoIP perspective, using which user’s can make Free/Cheap local and international voice calls. (I’ve put some pictures to explain each of these options. “A picture is worth a thousand words”) I have addressed advantages and disadvantages for each of these options. In Addition, it has some information on how users can save those hard earned penny when it comes to international calling; please read below.

Typical Mobile VoIP calling scenario-
Using his/her mobile phone, user could call a-
o mobile phone
o Landline number
o SIP client
o IM client’s like yahoo,skype,AOL,MSN etc
o International Number

Call through Model that uses Cellular Data network for voice packet traversal

Voice Calls originated from the handset uses operator’s Cellular data network. The soft client residing on the handset initiates a voice call using the standard SIP/XMPP or any other propriety protocol. Here the originating side of the call uses data interface (GPRS, EDGE, 3G, HSDPA, WIFI etc). There is definitely a voice quality issue depending on the data speed supported by the operator broadband network. Hopefully, the latest 4G or WIMAX shall address mobile bandwidth issues. In case of a Dual mode handset, WIFI network shall be used to originate the voice call. Depending on the terminating user type, for e.g., if it’s a mobile or landline number, then the call is routed through a circuit switch network. So the user pays only for one leg of the call. If the call is terminated to an IM client or SIP client, user doesn’t have to pay anything. It’s free Voice Call.

o In case of call termination to IM clients like Skype, Yahoo, MSN, AOL etc, user has the flexibility to reach his IM buddies from mobile phone, which was possible only with a PC environment.
o In case of calling a mobile or landline number, pay only for one leg of the call. The originating leg that connects to the third-party gateway server is completely free, as it uses Cellular Data Networks. Off course, user has to pay for the mobile data package.
o Receive all incoming call from IM clients like Skype, Yahoo, MSN, AOL etc, from your mobile phone. Freedom from PC!

o Good Voice quality may depend on the mobile broadband supported by the operator. In case of GPRS, voice quality will be pretty bad. Nevertheless, with the latest advent of EVDO-REVA, HSPA,WIMAX or 4G, this shouldn’t be a concern anymore
o You need a have unlimited Mobile data package
o Soft client may not be available for all the handset models. Limited only too few handset models.

Startups that follow above calling models are: Fring, Truphone, Barablu, Mig33

Call through Model using operator’s circuit switch network

Voice Call originated from handset uses TDM resource to connect third-party vendor’s gateway, which in turn connects the called party using IP or TDM interface, depending on whom the caller is trying to reach. A predefined gateway number is configured with the handset client for voice call. Whenever a voice call is initiated from the handset, soft client initiates a voice call to the gateway number. In addition, an SMS or IP transport is used to exchange signaling (information about contact or group) messages with the Gateway. Most of the mobile VOIM (iskoot, eqo) products use this kind of signaling methods to convey contact or group information to the gateway.
Mobivox also uses Operators circuit switch network to connect the originating calls. However, in order to use their service, you don’t need to download any soft client on the handset. This makes them sexier than other startups in this space. When you register with Mobivox, a dial able number is assigned to your mobile. Any calls to this number shall connect you with VoxGirl, which will guide you with the call.

Startups that follow above calling models are- Nimbuzz, Iskoot , Eqo, Mobivox

o No Unlimited Mobile Data package required.
o Use your existing cellular minutes to call your IM buddies all over the world. If you have an unlimited voice calling plan, you could call any of your IM buddies across the world free of cost.

o Need call forwarding for receiving calls from your IM buddies across the world. So for e.g., if you want to receive call on your mobile from your Skype buddy residing in a different country; you need to buy Skype in credits to support this option.
o In case of calling landline or mobile calling, user shall be charged twice the rate. This is because the callee and the caller are connected by the third party gateway.
o Availability of local dial-able gateway number.

Call Back model, using the Mobile Web or SMS

Using the mobile web interface, user can enter his/her number and his/her friend’s number. Within some seconds, user would get an incoming call from the third-party gateway, which will bridge the call between him and the friend. This makes more sense when making a long distance or international calling. What you end up paying is a local airtime fee, if the other end is a VOIP endpoint or fewer rates for international calling, because of VoIP backhaul being involved in call setup. Another interesting call back model is- sending an SMS message with callee and caller details to the third-party gateway. Based on the SMS message, the third-party gateway shall bridge both the numbers. Raketu RakSMS is an example of this model.

o No need to install any third-party clients.( Mobivox)
o Works on pretty much every handset in the world

o Mobile-to-Mobile or Mobile-to-Landline are charged twice the rate since both callee and caller are connected through the third-party gateway.

Startups to watch: Jajah, Talkster , Gizmo

BTW, i got a mail from jajah mentioning about valentines deal from jajahdirect.
check out the link- Jajah valentines day deal

Looking at all these different options, it would be great if one of these startups can come up an intelligent soft client that can decide the calling option based on location, data coverage, availability of local number and international roaming. My point is- User doesn’t have to understand all these complicated calling models. Bottom line, cost effective calling and good voice quality is what user cares than how these complex technology works. Is somebody listening!

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Location Based Advertisement is knocking the door

Well in the past I have talked about location based services as mobile killer app . Adding to that, there is lot of interest being shown in what is called “Location based advertisement”. Om has a nice article about Location Based Advertisement . Apparently, with inbuilt GPS mobile devices growing day by day, location based services are going to catch faster than any other application. According to ABI research, “GPS-Enabled Mobile Devices", Shipments of GPS-enabled mobile phones will generate over $50 billion in revenues in 2008, rising to $100 billion in 2012.

So what is Location Based Advertisement? How does this technology help Handset Manufacturers, Content Provider and Advertisement Agencies? Sharing context sensitive information based on user’s location is called Location Based Advertisement. Context sensitive information could be anything from restaurant discount coupons to discount sales in a shopping malls etc. For e.g.: You are walking down the street where start bucks is located, you are a coffee freak, your mobile phone receives an SMS message with a discount coupon of 1 dollars for your favorite latte; This is what is going to be the future of marketing. “Welcome to the world of Location Based Advertisement”. The wheel's evolution has started. For advertisement agencies, this concept brings in a new paradigm shift to their existing advertisement channels. The interesting aspect of Location Based advertisement is that it brings in new advertisement and marketing channels due to the combination of location and mobility. For content provider, a new channel to share their content based on location. And for the handset vendors, new innovative platform to support advertisement based on in-built GPS. All that said it’s the users that will decide the fate of this technology and not the advertisers or the technology by itself.

A study from IDC reveals that Consumers are very receptive to ad-supported local search. Also, despite perceived resistance among consumers and service providers, mobile consumers are receptive to mobile advertising. I’m not really surprised by the outcome of this study from IDC. According to eMarketer, Mobile ad spending will reach almost 3.5 billion , major share of this going to “direct response ads”. This segment is where Location Based Advertisement has great value. According to Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt,

“Location based advertising, which is the most talked about aspect of mobile advertising as of now, has the potential to make mobile advertising far more powerful and effective than what it is right now”

If you look at all the bigger players in the industry, one thing that everyone is scurrying about is supporting some kind of mobile location based services. Be it Google, Yahoo, Nokia or Microsoft; All of them have their money rolling in this hot arena.

CBS partnered with loopt to launch its Location Based Mobile Ads. However, the ads don’t pop up as an SMS message; instead these ads shall be shown in two of their Web Sites that are tailored for mobile devices (CBS Mobile News and CBS Mobile Sports). I don’t buy this BS idea, I mean it doesn’t make sense for the user to go and check CBS website when they reach an important destination. I guess while trying to address the privacy and spamming issues, they are missing the key value addition. But, overall it’s a very positive step for Location Based Advertisement.

All that said, since the concept is at its infant stage, there are still some potential challenges that needs to be fixed before we can see mass acceptance of Location Based Advertisement. I guess OPT in advertisement is one of the better strategies to avoid SMS spamming. Worthy of note here is that there are already some operators (Virgin Mobile) and startups (Blyk, Talkster, Pudding media etc) that are providing free SMS and voice calls based on advertisement.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

MySpace Developer Platform, What about Open Social?

MySpace announced their Developer platform for third party developers. Off course this made me wonder what was the deal with Open Social . OpenSocial was supposed to be the glue between third party developers and different Social network platform, which includes MySpace. So out of curiosity did some digging on MySpace developer platform. So here are some details.

The MySpace Developer Platform (MDP) allows developers to create their own applications that can interact with MySpace members and their social data. Was this not the functionality of Google’s Open Social? Well looks like both Open Social and MySpace have their own set of scripts that can be used together to build third party applications. So MySpace scripts shall give additional functionality not provided by Google’s Open Social.

This is a great initiative from MySpace for third-party developers. Nevertheless, with bleak advertisement revenues from most of the social networks, not sure how developer’s can monetize their apps. All that said, innovative apps that cater what user wants will definitely make the cut and make some big money in this arena. So if you are planning to get your hands dirty with social networking platform, this is the best time.

OpenSocial and the MySpace Developer Platform are a series of JavaScript and server-side components that work together to provide you with a standard interface to write your apps against.

Check out this picture for more clarity

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Giant ( Microsoft) awakened by Google, Bids for Yahoo

Well the giant finally woke up or rather was awakened by Google. I have said this many a times in my earlier articles, that Google is giving sleepless nights to Microsoft. So the acquisition bid comes as no surprise to me. Wow! this is one hell of a deal. Very tempting, will yahoo embrace it or will it brave the chest and take the bullet. To me, the merger makes more sense to both yahoo and Microsoft. It’s a win-win strategy. Off course, there is lot of upside and downside to this deal.

Microsoft 45 billion dollars deal, if successful, shall become one of the biggest in the history of acquisitions. Microsoft sees yahoo as the best option available to counter Google dominance in the search market. Though the deal has not been accepted with enthusiasm, I still see lot of potential in this deal. Also, there are rumors of News corp. bidding for yahoo. Who will win; will be out in couple of days.

So what is this deal all about? Search dominance or Internet social graph dominance. Google is way ahead in the internet search market. It has around 65-67% of the market share. Yahoo has around 20 and MSN trailing way behind both of these companies with 6-7% of the market. So the combined market share of Microsoft and yahoo still is way behind the Google might.

Though many observe that the deal is more to do with search than anything else. I beg to differ here; partly because yahoo dominates the social graph compared to Google. I guess the combo of Microsoft and yahoo's social graph should surpass any of the other internet giants. Despite the fact that yahoo has not been able to monetize its social graph; iam sure Steve Ballmer has all the strategy in place to monetize the social graph. So it’s going to be a paradigm shift for Microsoft to move from PC world to the internet world.
What is stopping Google from bidding? Well, if Google were to do so, a slew of anti-trust would emerge

Here is some data of search and applications (courtesy Hit Wise). Looking at this data, it’s very clear, Microsoft can benefit from yahoo’s social graph more than the search arena.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Finally, Iam back from India!

Phew, it was a very hectic trip for me. In the mean while, I couldn’t do justice to my Blog. I feel sad. So folk’s, apologies for this lame excuse of mine. I’m back and stay tuned for some interesting articles ahead. Look’s like a possible recession is looming around. I’m sure this shall not dampen those startup’s that have their product and strategy right.

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