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Putting Group into the i Era

ITEXPO East 2010 - Alec SaundersImage by DanYork via Flickr

I'm about to go on a road trip this week with three of my team members. We'll all flying at almost the same time, but on different routings to take advantage of low fares and our closest airports. Staying in touch with each isn't hard by email, but it lacks the immediacy of SMS. Calling means reaching each on individually, or a call chain, and with weather being what it's been like lately, the risk of flight delays has to be considered, so communications between one another becomes rather important.

Thankfully there are services out there now which make keeping in touch easier and far more convenient.

The new services that tie group texting and group calling are both born and bred in Silicon Valley. One is GroupMe, a graduate of the StartUp Camp program held during IT Expo last fall and client CallVine, which grew out of Vello.

Both in essence do the same thing. They allow you to text to a group of people and to immediately group call all the members on the same list. But while GroupMe starts the call, CallVine's package is very complete, something TMCNet's Publisher Rich Tehrani pointed out, but of course the difference is you pay for CallVine. And in paying, that's where the added value comes in. With CallVine since the work off of the mobile number as the identifier, if you're on a call and the call is dropped, all the dropped party has to do is dial back into a toll free number and they're reconnected to their call. Given it's a mobile service, that's a big plus, especially on the iPhone and the challenges sometimes presented by a network operator.

Ironically, the core idea of group conference calling was started back in 2006 by Alec Saunders and his company, iotum, which is now called Calliflower. Saunders, and then co-founder Howard Thaw, had developed a service platform based on relevance of knowing which number to call you on, and if you would be available. They added in a service overlay called "Pronto" and made it the conference calling service that would call you, winning a DEMO God award along the way. Now these services and others like Beluga and Fast Society are ready for breaking out, with the likely forum being conferences and events like the SuperBowl in Dallas this year, followed by SxSW a few weeks later in Austin.

For Saunders, who was the original Product Marketing lead at Microsoft for both Internet Explorer and Windows Mobile, being first is nothing new. Since that time he's evolved Calliflower into being one of the most complete desktop and mobile collaboration platforms around, offering even Skype integration via the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and desktop.

These innovations in group communications highlight a growing trend for the mobile worker. The ability to do things on the fly, quickly, easily and conveniently, where ever you may be. What's more, the concept of distance, timezones and an office keeps being farther and farther knocked down as new solutions to problems come into play.

For my traveling party this week, CallVine and GroupMe will likely come in very handy, as we coordinate our post landings meet up in the airport, and gathering each morning for coffee. No more relying on hotel switchboards to call between rooms, and as a matter of fact, more use of SMS vs. BlackBerry Messenger, as the iPhone is rapidly becoming my device of choice when traveling, now that I have a legitimately unlocked iPhone 4 that I purchased in the UK. Plus, only two of us have Berry's while three of us have iPhones, and all four have SMS--Got it?

That in and of itself speaks volumes, and with more and more use, I'm finally beginning to question my need for the RIM Blackberry in my arsenal of phones, largely because of RIM's hard to penetrate concept of a developer program, or in providing tools to developers that would make things easy for them to deploy new ideas when they really were new. Now if RIM would open up the BBM platform to allow others to communicate with it seamlessly, there may be extended life, but their proprietary approach to it, likely leads to their own extinction over time with it.

All this leads to the idea of radical simplicity and radical clarity in communications being upon us. Services, applications, smartphones and tablets/iPads are bringing those ideas to the forefront, and the developers and minds behind companies like Calliflower, CallVine and GroupMe are clearly seeing the future of collaboration and group activities in the era of "i".

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Andy Abramson


I think you're right. Once enough people start using Group Texting someone like MACH or Syniverse, maybe mBlox, comes along, buys it up and sells it to the carriers. Other potential buyers or even new entrants into the markets would be NSN, Comverse, ALU, Huawei, Ericsson, etc.

It's a commodity market waiting to be exploited. Also, SMS usage will decline over time as data pipes from LTE rise and get more muscular. The short message method of communications becomes a standard in the USA, but we've been lagging...what's amazing is it took so long for someone to build out group SMS. Credit Twitter in my book for the growth and desire here in the USA.

Jonathan Greene

Andy - I'm curios what your POV is on the group messaging space in general. GroupMe is cool, but so are Beluga and Kik and all do a very simlar job managing group messaging quickly ... Seems it's more a matter of getting everyone on the same platform.

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