Updated "Directory Dilemma" Article Now On CircleID...

Back in December, 2014, I published a post here called "The Directory Problem - The Challenge For Wire, Talko And Every Other "Skype-Killer" OTT App". After receiving a good bit of feedback, I've now published a new version over on CircleID:
The Directory Dilemma - Why Facebook, Google and Skype May Win the Mobile App War

I incorporated a good bit of the feedback I received and also brought in some newer numbers and statistics. Of note, I now have a section on WebRTC where I didn't before. You'll also notice a new emphasis in the title... I'm now talking about the potential winners versus the challengers. I also chose "Directory Dilemma" not only for the alliteration but also because the situation really isn't as much a "problem" as it is an overall "dilemma". It may or may not be a "problem".

I'm not done yet.

I'm still seeking feedback. I intend to do yet another revision of this piece, but in doing so intend to:

  • Change it from the informal tone at the beginning to more of a "paper" style;
  • Include a bit more about potential solutions.

Comments and feedback are definitely welcome... either as comments here on this site, on social media or as email to "[email protected]".

I'm not sure when I'll do that next iteration, but probably later this year.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. An audio commentary on this topic is available... see the embedded audio plater at the bottom of this post... (below the graphic)


Directory dilemma




Will iOS 9 Make My iPad2 Usable Again?

Massive Glacier

I have one very simple question amidst all the media hype about Apple's WWDC announcements yesterday:

Will iOS 9 make my iPad2 usable again?

Yes, all that other stuff announced yesterday sounds cool... but I have this more basic question.

You see, I made a mistake.

I believed Apple when they said that iOS 8 would run on an iPad2. I mean, the device is from 2011 - it was "only" three years old when iOS 8 came out last year. It was still working very well with iOS 7 and I was excited to try out iOS 8.

To be crystal clear, Apple is correct - iOS 8 does "run" on an iPad2. But...

... it... r...u...n...s... s... o... o... o... o.... o.... o... o... ... g... l... a... c... i... a... l... l... y... ... s... s... l... l... o... o... o... w... w... w... l... l... l... y... y... y...

... that it's hardly worth using. It takes a long time to open up applications, to bring up the keyboard, to switch between applications, etc. It is so slow that I've really stopped using it for almost everything but occasionally reading documents when traveling.

Yes, I do realize this is a very definite "first world problem" in that much of the world doesn't have access to even a device such as an iPad2. So who am I to complain about how slow a device is?

I acknowledge that.

But the iPad2 did work very well with iOS 7 ... and the cynical view is that iOS 8 seemed to be a way to make all of us iPad2 users get frustrated enough to buy new devices. And sure, that's perhaps great for Apple's revenue (assuming we don't buy an Android device instead) ... but it's not great for all the electronic waste of discarded devices. I'd like to continue using what is otherwise a perfectly fine device.

In the WWDC announcement yesterday, Apple's Craig Federighi mentioned that iOS 9 was slimmed down to be able to be upgraded easier over-the-air. He said that it was to help make sure it would run on all devices.

My request to Apple would be simply that - please make iOS 9 truly run on the iPad2!

If Apple is going to claim to still "support" the iPad2, they should do so in a way that lets you use the device in the manner in which we used it when we purchased it.

Or... they should simply be truthful about it and drop the iPad2 from the list of supported devices. Then we all who have them can at least know and not bother upgrading iOS. (And we can figure out what we want to do with the device...)

Will iOS 9 make my iPad2 usable again? I don't know... but I'll definitely be upgrading when it is released because at this point I don't know that Apple can make the device worse than it is running iOS 8. :-)

Photo credit: an image of a massive glacier by David Stanley on Flickr


WebRTCHacks Publishes Analysis of Facebook and WhatsApp Usage of WebRTC

WebrtchacksThe team over at webrtcH4cKS (aka "WebRTCHacks") have been publishing some great articles about WebRTC for a while now, and I thought I'd point to two in particular worth a read. Philipp Hancke has started a series of posts examining how different VoIP services are using WebRTC and he's started out exploring two of the biggest, Facebook and WhatsApp, in these posts:

Those articles are summaries explaining the findings, with much-longer detailed reports also available for download:

Both of these walk through the packet captures and provide a narrative around what is being seen in the discovery process.

A common finding between both reports is that the services are not using the more secure mechanism of DTLS for key exchange to set up encrypted voice channels. Instead they are using the older SDES mechanism that has a number of challenges, but, as noted by the report, is typically faster in enabling a call setup.

All in all the reports make for interesting reading. It's great to see both Facebook and WhatsApp using WebRTC and I think this will only continue to help with the overall growth of WebRTC as a platform. As an audio guy, I was pleased to see that Facebook Messenger is using the Opus codec, which is of course the preferred codec for WebRTC... but that doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be implemented by companies using WebRTC within their own closed products. Kudos to the Facebook team for supporting Opus!

Thanks to Philipp Hancke for writing these reports and I look forward to reading more in the series!


Wow! Cisco To Acquire Tropo's Communications Application Platform

Tropo siteWOW! In companion blog posts today Cisco and Tropo announced Cisco's intent to acquire the Tropo team and platform:

As someone who was at Voxeo in 2009 and helped launch Tropo (and wrote many of the early blog posts about it[1], as well as some of the python samples), I'm thrilled for the team there now that this is happening.[2]

Congratulations to all involved!

Over the years since leaving Voxeo, I've written about Tropo from time to time and continued to watch its progress. I've continued to be very impressed by what they've done over the years. They've truly made it easy for people to create powerful applications using simple programming languages.

It looks like the Tropo website is struggling right now so here is a snippet of their announcement post:


Six years ago we launched Tropo with the idea to make it easy to power phone calls through a simple API. Since then, we’ve empowered thousands of developers to add voice and messaging to their applications.

From our very first sign-up in 2009, to powering thousands of mobile and voice applications, our mission has been the same: to make real-time communications more accessible and productive through great APIs.

Today we’re thrilled to share that Tropo is joining Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group. Together we’ll enable completely new ways of communicating by opening up Cisco’s collaboration products to every developer on the planet (and maybe some off the planet…hey, they need collaborative tools on the International Space Station!)  :)


Knowing a good number of folks at Cisco, too, I think this is a great win for them in that they'll be able to make some of their products and services more accessible to developers.

I remember well back in 2009 when Jonathan Taylor (then CEO of Voxeo) brought in the Adhearsion team and "Voxeo Labs" was set up. Tropo was the first of the Voxeo Labs products, along with a number of others that were released over the following years. I watched as Voxeo Labs was then spun off from Voxeo in 2012 as a separate company and then Voxeo was acquired by Aspect in 2013... and Voxeo Labs was renamed to Tropo.

I watched, too, as the Tropo team continued their heavy involvement with WebRTC and brought that technology even deeper into their various services.

Congratulations to Jonathan Taylor, Jason Goecke, Johnny Diggz and all the rest of the Tropo team on this acquisition!

I look forward to seeing what Tropo and Cisco will do together to make it even easier to create voice, chat, messaging and other kinds of applications!


UPDATE #1: Jonathan Taylor has published a post on Facebook that outlines some of the history that led to this announcement. He includes this information related to Cisco:

We were even more surprised when Cisco approached us about acquiring Tropo. Selling Tropo was the last thing on our minds. But the potential was clearly huge for both companies, and over the course of the discussion, the deal terms clearly quite attractive. So here we are today!

UPDATE #2: A number of news stories are appearing on Techmeme.

UPDATE #3: Writing over on NoJitter, Zeus Kerravala dives into more detail about the acquisition based on his pre-briefing with Cisco's Rowan Trollope. Zeus' article: Cisco to CPaaS Providers: Game On!


[1] Although in the time since I left in 2011, my account was understandably removed from the Tropo site and the author on all those posts I wrote between 2009-2011 was changed to someone else. :-)

[2] In full disclosure, I should note that I am a very minor shareholder in Tropo after exercising a few options upon leaving Voxeo in 2011. I had no knowledge of this acquisition and have not participated actively with Tropo since leaving in 2011.


Wire Launches WebRTC Voice/Chat Web App For Windows, Linux, more - Includes High TLS Security

Yesterday the team over at Wire launched a new WebRTC-based "Wire for Web" app that lets people on Windows, Linux or any other platform now communicate with people using Wire on iOS, Android or OS X. You can get to it simply at:
https://app.wire.com/
If you already have an account you simply sign in with your credentials. If you don't have an account you can easily create one.

I've been running both the native Mac OS X client and the web client for a bit now (I was part of web beta program for Wire) and it is truly amazing how well the team has made the web experience to be seamless between the web and native client. Here's a screenshot showing both side by side (click/tap for a larger image):

Screenshot wire for web

In the web view on the right you have the browser bars at the top and one of the images did not go the full width of the column, but otherwise the experience and visual display has been essentially identical between the two platforms. The synchronization between the two is nearly instantaneous and all the features work really, really well.

Notifications in the web browser (if you allow them) work great to alert you to new messages.

And the voice calls from within the web browser have the same outstanding audio quality I've come to expect from Wire.

All in all the web implementation is quite excellent.

This new web app also addresses a concern I had from the initial launch of Wire back in December - the lack of a client for users on Microsoft Windows. With this web app Windows users - and Linux users - can now equally participate in communication over Wire. This is all courtesy of WebRTC that allows modern browsers to be able to use voice and chat from directly within the browser. Wire co-founder and CTO Alan Duric published a post about how they use WebRTC.

Alan also clued me in to the strong degree that the Wire team takes security extremely seriously. In fact I would say they take it more seriously than many other similar web apps I've seen. If you go over to Qualys SSL Labs and plug in "app.wire.com" you get a result of an "A+":

Ssllabs app wire com

The same can NOT be said of other similar web interfaces that I tested from similar services.

I've been writing about Wire for a bit now (see my various articles) and I have it running on my Mac all the time, primarily because of the great value I get out of a couple of group chats that I am in. From a chat / messaging perspective it's one of the best I've seen and I find it extremely useful.

Curiously, I don't find myself using Wire as much for actual calls, primarily because I find that much of my interaction has moved to video calls, and Wire doesn't support those yet. When I do use Wire the audio quality is truly amazing, but that has to do with the audio pedigree of the team behind Wire, and the fact that they are using the Opus codec. On a larger level, there is also the continued "directory dilemma" that I've written about, namely that Wire has the same struggle as most other new tools in that you need to gather a strong "directory" of people who are actually using the app for it to be an app that people regularly use. Most of the people with whom I regularly communicate aren't users of Wire ... yet.

Still, the release of this "Wire for Web" gives me hope that Wire may be able to build some momentum now that, for example, Microsoft Windows users can now join in. Time will tell... but this will definitely help!

Kudos to the team at Wire for this very excellent web release?

P.S. If you are using Wire, or try it out, you should be able to find me on Wire as "Dan York".


Note: an audio podcast about this topic is also available:

WhatsApp Calling Arrives on iOS - More Telecom Disruption Ahead!

Whatsapp callingAs I checked my AppStore updates on my iPhone this week I was surprised but pleased to see that WhatsApp now includes "WhatsApp Calling". As it says:
"Call your friends and family using WhatsApp for free, even if they're in another country. WhatsApp calls use your phone's Internet connection rather than your cellular plan's voice minutes. Data charges may apply.

How many ways can you spell "disruption"?
(Hint: w - h - a - t - s - a - p - p)

Sure, there have been a zillion mobile apps providing Over-The-Top (OTT) voice services, many of which I've written about here on this site.

But this is WhatsApp!

This is the application that just passed 800 million monthly active users! (Techmeme link) With projections to hit 1 billion monthly active users by the end of the year.

Oh, and it's owned by Facebook! :-)

Now, I personally don't use WhatsApp that much right now. The people who I want to message are primarily using iMessage, Facebook Messenger or Wire. (And every once in a great while I'll fire up Skype on my iPhone.)

But obviously there are 800 million people who do use WhatsApp each month... and they now have free calling! (If they are on Android, iOS or BlackBerry 10... and subject to a staggered rollout, i.e. people will get the actual ability to call over the next while.)

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

WhatsApp provides a messaging app with a very simple user experience (UX) that works seamlessly inside the iPhone. Now that same app can be used for calling. And most importantly, WhatsApp has the massive directory of users.

The legacy telcos are going to be saying good bye to even more of their diminishing calling revenue...

Interesting times ahead!

More on this topic:


Congrats to the Jitsi Team On Their Acquistion By Atlassian

Jitsi

Congratulations to Emil Ivov and the whole team behind Jitsi for their acquisition by Atlassian! As they say on the Jitsi news page:

The Jitsi Community just got a lot stronger! BlueJimp, founder of Jitsi, is now part of Atlasssian! The plan is to keep Jitsi at the cutting edge of innovation by keeping it open and in the hands of those who created it in the first place: the open source community.

The news is outlined in an article on TechCrunch and explained in more detail in a HipChat blog post.

To be clear, Atlassian is acquiring the company BlueJimp that employed the founders of Jitsi, but in the process they are also effectively getting the open source Jitsi project. It's great to read in their blog post, though, that they intend to continue to support and invest in the project.

I've been a big fan of Jitsi for quite some time as it was one of the earliest VoIP clients to support both IPv6 and DNSSEC. I wrote about this support both here and also over on the Deploy360 blog and recorded this video interview with Emil Ivov:

Previously I'd also written about Jitsi's support for DNSSEC as it was the first softphone to do so.

More recently I've been using Jitsi's WebRTC-based video bridge for some of the remote participation work we've been experimenting with inside the IETF.

It's all great work and I'm delighted that Emil and his team have found a home inside of Atlassian. I hope it works well for them all and I hope we see further evolution of Jitsi and other similar products.

Congrats to the whole team!


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Jim Courtney Discussing His "Experience Skype To The Max" Book on March 27 on VUC at Noon US EDT

Vuc534 skype to the maxWant to learn more about what's up with Skype right now? Tomorrow, March 27, 2015, at 12 noon US Eastern, my friend Jim Courtney is going to be discussing the new second edition of his "Experience Skype to the Max" on episode 534 of the VoIP Users Conference (VUC) podcast.

As noted on the VUC page, Jim will be talking about:

  • New features over the past three years and why they don’t have the “buzz” impact that new features used to have. Are we becoming calloused to anything new?
  • The challenge of innovating with a product that has built up a legacy and familiarity
  • The challenge of educating users about features beyond free voice and video calling (and it’s also a challenge for smartphones – to make users realize there is value in all those applications available beyond voice calls and SMS messages).
  • The feature set to consider when evaluating other alternatives
  • The directory issue
  • Skype vs Skype for Business
  • Asynchronous vs real time comms (migrating to IM backend has allowed more “persistence” with chat messaging, for instance)
  • Anytime communications Rooms

It should be a good session. I've known Jim for many years through his blogging about VoIP and he has a great amount of knowledge about Skype. Sadly, I'll be occupied with IETF 92 activities during the live broadcast so I will have to catch up with the recording of the session.

It's probably best to also join the IRC backchannel where links are shared, questions are answered and other comments occur. You also can visit the Google+ event page for the VUC #534 session today where there may be additional links and info.

If you won't be at your computer, you can also call in via:

  • sip:[email protected]
  • +1 (646) 475-2098
  • Skype:vuc.me

The session will of course be recorded so you can listen/watch later. Here is the YouTube live video stream:


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Join Live Today at 9:00 CDT - Internet Video Codec BOF at IETF92

Ietf square 1Can we create a royalty-free (RF) video codec that can be deployed ubiquitously and become the new open standard for video communication across the Internet?

THAT is the fundamental question of the Internet Video Codec (NETVC) Birds-of-a-Feather (BoF) happening at IETF 92 in Dallas today, March 24, 2015, from 9:00-11:30 CDT (UTC-5). You can listen and participate live using the following links:

You also may want to view the presentation that will be used during the session.

The goal of the overall effort is defined as this:

  • Development of a video codec that is:

    • Optimized for real-time communications over the public Internet
    • Competitive with or superior to existing modern codecs 

    • Viewed as having IPR licensing terms that allow for wide implementation and deployment 

    • Developed under the IPR rules in BCP 78 (RFC 5378) and BCP 79 (RFCs 3979 and 4879)
  • Replicate the success of the CODEC WG in producing the Opus audio codec.

The BOF proposal contains more of a narrative:

The Internet needs a royalty-free (RF) video codec that can become the backbone for universal deployment of video related technologies. Royalty-bearing codecs put constraints on implementors that are unacceptable, but current RF codecs are not yet competitive with royalty-bearing offerings. This dilemma stalls innovation in the space and means large sets of consumers don't have access to the best video technology.

There are efforts underway by several groups to produce a next-generation, royalty-free (RF) video codec, including VP10 by Google and Daala by Mozilla/Xiph.Org. While far from complete, these efforts aim to surpass the royalty-bearing competition. Efforts within other standards organizations like MPEG to create RF video standards have been unsuccessful so far, but have showed that many consumer device manufacturers would support an RF codec.

The success of Opus from the CODEC WG has also shown that collaboration, based on the IETF's principals of open participation, can produce better results than competition between patented technologies. The IPR rules in BCP 78 and 79 are also critical for success. They impose a duty to disclose, and require exact patent or patent application numbers, in addition to basic licensing terms. This allows participants to evaluate the risk of infringement and, if appropriate, design work arounds, in any technology adopted, and assess the cost of adopting such technology. Because it does not force participants to agree to license their patents under RF terms, it helps to encourage participation even by those opposed to such terms (instead of guaranteeing they stay away). In addition to an environment which encourages third-party disclosures, this provides much better chances of success than SDOs which have a "patent-blind" process or which require blanket RF grants.

And the NETVC BOF agenda outlines the plan for the session today.

I do believe that creating this kind of royalty-free codec for Internet video is a critical step to enabling video to be used everywhere across the Internet... not just where people are able to pay to license royalty-bearing codecs. I'd like to see even more developer creativity and innovation unleashed with this action.

I'll be listening and participating remotely. I hope that many of you will join in as well. 9:00am US CDT today (10:00am for me on the US East Coast).

P.S. If you have no idea what the IETF is all about, you may want to skim The Tao of IETF first...


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Goodbye, Gigaom - So Long And Thanks For All The News!

GigaomThis one hurts. There have been many failures in the tech media industry, but the death of Gigaom is one that hurts. The word started filtering out early last week from people such as Mathew Ingram:

And then there were the confirmations from people such as Om himself:

And the starkly worded message on the main page of Gigaom that said in part:

Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time. As a result, the company is working with its creditors that have rights to all of the company’s assets as their collateral. All operations have ceased.

"All operations have ceased."

And there it was... the end of this particular dream of Om's. He followed with his own post, ending simply "Goodnight sweetheart, I still love you!"

MUCH has been written in the past two days. Some of the posts:

I struggled about whether to write anything... but I felt I needed to.

The "VoIP Bloggers"

I say that "this one hurts" because I watched Om grow Gigaom from the beginning. Back in the early 2000's when "blogging" was still new, there was this whole cadre of us who wrote about "voice of IP" or "VoIP" and how the Internet was fundamentally changing telecommunications.

There was Andy Abramson with VoIPWatch, Jeff Pulver with his various VON sites, Martin Geddes with Telepocalpse, me here with Disruptive Telephony, Tom Keating with his "VoIP and Gadgets Blog" at TMC, Aswath Rao, Alec Saunders, Stuart Henshall and so many more...

But perhaps the most prolific of all of us was Om with his site simply titled "Om Malik on Broadband." He brought his incisive reporting and his way of helping put news in context of the larger picture.

In those glory days of blogging we read each other's posts... commented on them... excerpted them... trackbacked... pingbacked... learned from each other... and so much more...

But Om had grander ideas...

Gigaom

I was impressed to watch the growth as "Gigaom" was born and soon became about so much more than just one person. Om added more writers... more topic areas... just more content in general.

It was impressive!

And in a sea of so many tech media sites I always enjoyed reading Gigaom. It was one of the "go to" sites I visited when I wanted to learn more about a topic.

In particular I enjoyed the work of Mathew Ingram who gave such great coverage to the way that the Internet is changing the ways in which we communicate - a topic I find so fascinating and write about both here and over on Disruptive Communications. I enjoyed his writing... as I did Stacy Higginbotham and so many of the other writers.

I watched the expansion into events and in particular into research. I was extremely intrigued by the "Gigaom Research" idea of paying a basic fee for the year and getting access to all sorts of research.

And Then

And then... suddenly... it ended.

"All operations have ceased."

In the days that have followed, there have been some reflections emerging with more details. A few I found more interesting and useful:

All really point to some of the financing, and particularly the debt, as the challenge the business faced and in the end couldn't solve.

I do, though, like what Mathew Ingram said in his "exit interview" with the Columbia Journalism Review:

"There’s a sort of barbell effect: If you are super small and super focused and super niche you can succeed, arguably. And if you’re super huge and mass and gigantic and growing quickly, you can succeed. But in the middle, is death. The valley of death. So arguably we got caught in that valley of death."

The whole piece is worth a read!

Goodbye, Gigaom...

And now it's gone. Nothing left but to wind down the final operations.

I have to think that most of the writers will land on their feet. They were excellent and have to be receiving job offers ... other media companies would be crazy not to try to snatch them up!

I will miss the site. What I enjoyed most was that Gigaom did NOT try to go after views with click-bait headlines or other gimmicks. They tried to just give us solid news with context.

Thank you, Om, for creating the site - and for aspiring to lead journalism in new and different directions. Thank you Om, Mathew, Stacy and all the others for all the news your wrote.

Thank you.


An audio commentary on this topic is available:


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