Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Coffee Talk with Jeff Pulver - Shift Happens, Eh!

I really tried post this just after Jeff's keynote, but things have been go-go here all day. There is lots going on, which is a great sign for the market here. Better late than never...

Jeff had his usual keen insights about where VoIP is going, and he made some very good analogies to the real world. One is coffee, which Jeff is very big on! The main idea is that he prefers to patronize places like Starbucks and Second Cup - not so much because the coffee is better, but because he can walk out of there with the coffee exactly the way he likes it. Other places will add the cream and sugar for you, and you really don't have control over the "user experience". IP is just like that, and he would argue this is one of its great strengths - the power - and hence the appeal - lies with the user who controls the where, when, how, why, etc. of how he/she communicates.

Another key theme was that "shift happens". The open nature of IP makes all kinds of disruption possible, and as this market finds its legs, Jeff encourages vendors to be bold, and not focus on cheaper voice solutions or replication of the PSTN. Similarly, regulators should not stifle innovation - they should embrace it.

This led to Jeff's big question - where is the Steve Jobs of VoIP? We're certainly at the point now where this type of breakthrough visionary would make his/her mark, and transform VoIP from a hobby/techhie technology to something that's must-have and cool.

Well, Jeff's position is that person is in our midst - and literally, here with us now. And that person is Niklas Zennstrom of Skype. We're very lucky to have Niklas return to Canada, which is a "safe haven" for him. For a change, Canada gets something the US can't have, and I think it's a great coup for Jeff to have Niklas at the show. My next posting, btw, is my take on what Niklas had to say during his keynote yesterday.

Jeff used the apt analogy of spreadsheets to put some context around this. Which generation of spreadsheets is Skype most like - VisiCalc, Lotus 123, or MS Excel? He says Lotus 123, and I think that's the right answer. It's early days, but Skype has clearly brought ease of use to VoIP, and is reaching a substantive audience now. Not quite mainstream like Excel, but way beyond VisiCalc. So, this begs the question, of course - who will be the Excel of VoIP? Microsoft? Not likely, but you never know.

Skype is just one great example of how "shift happens", and really is the beauty of IP. Anyone can come along and create totally new, disruptive businesses and applications, like Skype or Asterisk. And that's what's happening now. Jeff summed this up nicely by pointing out how this is a key difference between open and closed systems, and simply put, so far, VoIP is an open chapter, with many more chapters to be written.

With all the buzz around the show, I realize this post is late to market. I urge you to follow two other fellow bloggers who are tracking the show on a more timely basis, and are great reads as well.

Mark Evans of the Financial Post

Alec Saunders, CEO of Iotum Corp.

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