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Requiem For The Future of VoIP

Om has pointed to an Aswath post regarding the winding down of the AOL Total Talk service.

Rather than look at it as a failure, my take on this is AOL really has seen the future sooner than others. Much like the BT announcement earlier this week about their softclient, and like their other online portal player competitors including Yahoo, Google and MSN, AOL’s Voice Team has seen the future of telephony and is moving in that direction with AIM PhoneLine, and the burgeoning ecosystem that already has started to bubble earlier this month at the VoIP Developer’s Conference, and will likely have a big boost at VON in Boston next month.

But unlike Yahoo and MSN who have so many internal battles to fight, AOL as part of Time Warner has leadership that is smart enough to not fight a marketer (Time Warner Cable) who wants to sell a phone 1.0 replacement, and instead is focusing on Phone 2.0 and where it can be.

Just like AOL did with AIM, a concept that set the trend for all that followed in the Instant Messaging world, when others were just discovering email, and how in it’s initial days, AOL got people to discover and use online communications, the new AOL is saying with this move that the old is out, and what will be new is where we are going. This ties directly into the whole concept of Pulver's Purple Minutes and Alec Saunder's Voice 2.0 Manifesto.

Sure it’s a gamble, but to stop being a “me too, me also” type of company, AOL has to move in these directions by saying “me different.” The move to drop TotalTalk as a  service in a sector that is really becoming a commodity driven game is well timed, especially in an era where broadband goes more places (and will go even more with Muni WiFi and WiMax) than the end of wire necessitates portability. That portability has to exists not only in devices, but in digits too.

By biting the bullet on the customer’s they had, and winding down the Total Talk service, AOL is taking its first real steps into 2.0, and likely setting the stage for the rest of the portals to follow. By being different now versus later, AOL comes out of the box and depositions the competition, forcing those companies into a “me too” role.

As for TotalTalk, the service, my experience with it last year was rather positive. The service and the sound quality was as good as AT&T’s CallVantage, with only the CallVantage feature set being the differentiator in my mind. The network was exceptional with Level3 underneath, and the AOL team’s approach to E911 was from day one, dead on the mark of where the FCC was heading.

That’s why I’m not looking at this as a death sign, but instead choosing to see TotalTalk as the pregnancy that has birthed a true Phone 2.0 child and the future of voice with what we’re starting to see with AIM PhoneLine.


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