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Posts from April 2015

What Open Table Needs to Do Better

I have been using OpenTable, the restaurant booking service since almost it's inception. And, honestly, making reservations and managing them is so, so easy. But, for whatever reason, they're keeping their restaurants in the dark ages.

One of my biggest pet peeves with the service is the restaurants desire to "confirm" the reservation with a phone call. Almost always those calls come at the most inopportune moment. Like when I'm sleeping or in a meeting.

Given OpenTable has apps for iPhones and Androids, how hard would it be to use the built in notification system, and their own app to receive the "please reconfirm" message from the restaurant, given that's how the reservation was booked in the first place? How hard would it be to create a Google Chrome or Safari plug in that can be another point of notification? Why can't they create a system using SMS that simply send a message saying "please confirm your reservation by clicking this link, or click this other link to cancel or this third link to open the app to change the time of the reservation."

Seriously. Open Table is already looking to be the mode of payment to restaurants, so perhaps they can figure out how they can be the most streamlined service for communication for the diner also. 

Silicon Valley’s Best Kept Secret Is Out

Thirteen years ago, a serial entrepreneur, who I had worked with in the late 90s and early part of the start of the century, Adityo Prakash talked to me about an idea. The idea was to drive drug discovery, not the traditional way, purely in the lab, but through complex algorithms that would simulate certain interactions in silicon to find drugs for many diseases that impact human health.

 The 13-year quest of Adityo Prakash and Eniko Fodor’s Verseon, a story they kept by design as much as possible in stealth from a communications perspective, could become one of Silicon Valley’s best success stories of a company that has not been on the radar so far.

Last week Sky News in the U.K reported the plans for the company’s IPO. If Verseon is starting to come out of stealth mode then that is because they are ready to show the world just how disruptive the results of their drug development process can be. I expect to see this company go from strength to strength over the coming years.

In essence, what Verseon does is use complex proprietary algorithms to design new drugs that can’t otherwise be found. For the pharma industry this is massive because patents keep expiring on the current drugs and the industry needs these new drugs on a steady basis to produce better treatment outcomes for patients and keep up its many hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue.

For me, this is very personal. Back in 2002, when I was redefining my agency's direction, Adityo approached me for help. That was before he had raised any money. I took a gamble. I helped him with his brand design and initial website, and we brainstormed over Hawaiian food a few times, and together we came up with their original communications strategy. That strategy was to be in stealth mode to most people, while being just visible enough to those who mattered.

You see, at the time their idea was one of those great ideas that was too far ahead of its time. But, as pal Alec Saunders once quipped about what I do, it seems I had picked one that should keep getting bigger.





Why T-Mobile Is Winning Customers

I keep watching as T-Mobile is winning new customers and have to admit, that having been one of their customers for over 15 years, as well as with Verizon and AT&T, the Magenta network is constantly getting better. And they are doing a better job than the competition of telling the world that they are.

Honestly, I haven't used my Verizon iPhone 5 that much since the iPhone 6s arrived. The first reason was how poor the voice quality on Verizon has become, especially on calls routed via Google Voice or Switch to the phone. This is the opposite when compared to T-Mobile, where the audio quality is either HD when the other party is calling also on the T-Mobile network, or just better, because their network isn't as crowded. 

The second reason was obviously that I had new iPhone 6's (6 and Plus) that were only GSM editions. 

The third was  even more important. When I'm on T-Mobile's LTE network and using a conferencing service that has an app, like WebEX or GoToMeeting, the audio quality exceeds Verizon and AT&T, though the coverage areas is not as large.  Too often, especially on AT&T if I'm in motion on the highway, I'll drift from LTE into 4G coverage. Out here in San Diego, in the areas surrounding I-5 I found that T-Mo's LTE coverage was not as geographically wide, but where it was, it really was and it didn't come and go as often as AT&T does. 

Lastly, I'm a big user of iTunes Spotify, Pandora and TuneIn when I'm in the mood for music, and while I also have access to SIRIUS XM in the car and via their Apps, sometimes I just want my music or the music I like. T-Mobile's unlimited music delivery means none of what I'm listening to goes against my data cap.

My primary iPad, the iPad Air 2 is also on T-Mobile, so while I haven't yet given up my iPad on AT&T's SIM that is totally and will forever be "unlimited" I found that for the most part I'm not lacking in coverage that often.

Ironically, where I have found T-Mobile to be weakest is at major airports, and that's something they need to address. But it comes at a time when I'm also finding AT&T's coverage in some airports to be less available as airports like San Diego have modernized, but their DAS system is virtually non-existent, if they even have one.

Right now, I'm loving how good T-Mobile is. I'm sure though that the Blue and Red guys will catch up, but by then Sprint will have expanded their network enough to be someone to consider again.

P.S. And, there's one massive reason why they are winning too. It's all in the customer service. Over the past seven months every single need I've had has been addressed professionally, and within the day, on a par with American Express' level of care. 

Just Call Me - Conference Call 3.0

I have seen the future of Conference Calling, and it's "Just Call Me."

Just Call Me was created by Voxygen, the UK telecom product design company started by Dean Elwood (VoIP User, Truphone, etc.) Voxygen started up a few years back with the premise of approaching telephony as "Voice as a Service", the new Just Call Me service is currently only available for O2 users in the UK, but given Voxygen's relationships with Telefonica and other mobile carriers I suspect that won't be the case for long. (To learn more about Voxygen check out the profile from back in January by pal Martin Geddes.)

The quick start guide and video on the O2 web page is a great place to start as it makes it easy to understand how the service works, which is simplicity itself:-

  1. The organizer schedules the call and invites participants

  2. At the appointed time the participants just dial the organizers mobile number to join the call.

No PINs, no dial-in codes.

For those who are asked to join but didn't receive an email invite, they just call the organizers mobile number and the organizer allows them to enter. What's really cool though is the ability for the organizer to direct non call participants to voicemail. This "in call" and in session whisper feature allows the right non-invitees to join the call, while keeping the organizer squarely in control. The host just dials “321” from their mobile to join. If they need to dial in from a landline (deskphone for example) there’s an admin code enabling that.

Available now in the UK, the elegance and simplicity of the service has me wanting to use the service. Beyond the simplicity of Just Call Me, it also overcomes the two biggest hassles I have found with conference calls of late. First, is simply getting people to be able to log on via apps. The second is the disruption that’s caused by echo and delay that third party services seem to arise on IP calls due to a multitude of network, software and hardware.

What Voxygen has done, by integrating the service within the mobile operator's network (O2), helps avoid much of that, as the service has the backbone reliability that carriers and operators can provide. This level of quality can only be achieved because mobile operators have interoperability standards they must follow for calls to pass between networks. Apply that approach  to conference calling, and you have a far better base to build on top of. That's something that has been missing from all the new over the top types.


While services like GoToMeeting, WebEx, Calliflower and UberConference run over the top (OTT), what Voxygen has done is "Through the Telco" or "TTT" as Elwood calls it. It's an approach whose time has come, and for constant conference call participants, something that has been needed for a long time.

Twilio Goes Video, Puts Pressure On TokBox Now

For the past two years, when it came to WebRTC video many early developers would look at TokBox and use their platform. Today, the heavyweight of heavyweights in developer programs, Twilio fired a broad shot across the bow and entered the fray. This is big news for WebRTC because Twilio has the key part of the equation. The developers. And that means a lot more than what they have in their stack. Their entry also begs the question how Genband will react as they have been tossing Kandy around for months but with hardly any news about deployments.

Tsahi also raises the same concern I have towards TokBox, but overlooks a key missing piece of the equation. That is the lack of Internet Explorer or Safari compatibility that plagues both TokBox and now will impact Twilio. Both would be well served by working with client, Temasys, whose commercial plug-in brings IE and Safari to WebRTC players. 

So for now, devs working with either Twilio or TokBox will still have to go to Temasys directly to license the functionality.

If I was a developer working on IoT products, apps for iOS or Android or someone looking to appeal to the millennial generation, I'd run, not walk, to Twilio's dev program as this will speed up the adoption of WebRTC even without Microsoft being friendly today. That day will come. Just like Christmas does.


Messenger Adding WebRTC Is Big News

BlogGeek.Me has the skinny on Facebook Messenger using WebRTC, and it is big news.

Messenger adding WebRTC is big news because it comes at a time when Skype has taken their eye off the ball. Skype is now chasing the business crowd, and in turn, not doing much to keep the consumer market loyal. And, the consumer market is what Facebook owns.

The addition of real-time communications based voice and video by Facebook, something they have been trying to offer for many years going back to the earliest days of their apps, keeps people inside the universe of Messenger. Given the volume of users who already take advantage of it as an alternative to text messaging,  between Messenger and WhatsApp, Facebook addition of voice strikes a blow against Skype, just as Skype hit the operators.

The deployment also comes at a time when telco/mobile operator voice minutes are declining. Mobile operators are equally under attack on the SMS front, with the assault coming from many of the alternatives that the worldwide youth market uses. And, because the youth market is app first, carrier agnostic, and not operator loyal the long term revenues of operators are at risk.

This risk is there because, in essence, the Millennials care less about the operator and are patently brand disloyal from the start. They also tend to be pre-paid subscribers because they have not yet established credit. Being pre-paid allows them to jump between operators when offered a better deal. They also prefer more about what they communicate than over whose network they are on and will switch in a minute if it suits them. They aren’t even cord cutters for they didn’t even have the cord to cut.

What this means is looking longer term is that Facebook and Messenger will already have the people using their service even before they have a mobile phone because tablets connected to Wi-Fi will be the kids first connection.

By adding WebRTC based voice and video, data channel capabilities and a p2p core just like Skype of old, inside a Facebook tied service you have the makings of an even bigger threat to the telcos that even Skype.


And, that's why it's big. BIG..BIG NEWS.

Tame That Inbox (Until Something Better Comes Along)

Let's face it, like many, I have a love/hate relationship with email. While I'm doing as much as I can to move things over SLACK, Skype and Yammer, PushBullet, plus iMessage,  Facebook Messenger and Twitter there's still a lot of dependency on email no matter how much we all try to get off of it.

Thankfully, I'm starting to become much less "stuck" in my INBOX(es) and today got around to purging two of them. It all started with Mailstrom and SaneBox, a killer combination that are both metrics based. Mailstrom which I've been using since it was in Beta gives me lots of insight as to what's going on in my Inbox and has some very nifty and powerful unsubscribe features. Sanebox though has been for me, a lifesaver. I liked it so much I've added it to my personal email as well as my primary business GMAIL account. 

What SaneBox does is look at which emails I reply to and who I send email to, and then prioritizes the Inbox with only what it feels is important, moving the rest of the mail to SaneLater, a way of keeping my attention on the work that needs to be done, not getting distracted by newsletters, credit card charge alerts, renewals of services that are happening or distracting "sales" offers.

In essence, while Mailstrom lets me analyze the inbox on a very granular basis, and lets me know how much mail came in and went out the day before, SaneBox lets me focus on getting things done.

After two months of SaneBox I'm finding I'm out of the Inbox and into my apps more which led to my deciding to clean up both my personal and business email Inbox this morning. Three hours later I'm down to under 5 unread emails between the two. I've also unsubscribed from a bunch of lists that I either no longer need to be on, or never signed up for. I also deleted a bunch of emails that simply don't matter.

For me, until something better comes along, SaneBox and Mailstrom are my Inbox heroes.

Telzio Adds More To Their Offer

Telzio, the all cloud-based telco, which I first wrote about in September 2013, continues to make progress with their platform and the rich array of services that they offer. 

The Los Angeles based company has added the same leading and wanted features that customers of RingCentral, Vonage and 8x8 clamor for and make use of regularly. They have accomplished all this by busily executing on the technology work to get on par with the three publicly traded companies' feature-wise. At the same time, Telzio has also been continuing to propel their insanely low pricing model where they only charge per phone number and usage.

Co-founder Peter Schroder told me that one key reason they've been able to offer their very different pricing model, when compared to competitors, is how much their customers love them. Given Telzio growth, and really low churn over the past 18 months, the company is cracking the code on what drives customer loyalty.  From their customer metrics and analytics, they have been able to determine what their customers' want to be paying for, and deliver that to them, at lower costs, and with lower overhead.

They are also adding on to their Plivo powered platform by building out additional features and functionality using Kamailio and Asterisk. They will use, which is already used by the likes of GoogleVoice, while increasing their International termination through the addition of more carrier service providers. Bandwidth will also provide Telzio with local numbers in the USA, while they will work with Voxbone on their International numbers.

Schoder admitted that the company spent the better part of the past year working on making the user interface really simple to navigate and easy to use. Adding, that with and the January release of a mobile app behind them Telzio will be adding WebRTC capabilities later this year. 

If you're looking for an alternative and cost effective cloud telephony provider, Telzio may just be what you want to check out.



Interesting Times in VoIP and RTC Comms

It's getting interesting again in the VoIP world. After months of basically not much happening, we're beginning to see the return of what Jeff Pulver labeled Purple Apps and Alec Saunders highlighted in his Voice 2.0 Manifesto of years ago. It's almost hard to believe this has all taken almost ten years or more to see the excitement really get rekindled again, but for some reason after years of "me too, me also" but not much "me different" I'm feeling that the winds of change are a comin'.

Let's start with Google. Today 9to5Google reported about GMeet, a service that will provide users with the ability to:

"schedule and join teleconference calls with one click. Instead of having to dial into a teleconference call, one user could create a meeting topic in GMeet, then invite everyone else to the call. People who received an invite would be able to then join the call with a single click."

If you think this is simply Google Hangouts, I'd say you're wrong. Hangouts is a cumbersome service to use, and from the summary it seems Google is striving for Apple like simplicity.

Next is the riveting debate about WhatsApp adding VoIP that pal Tsahi Levent-Levi of BlogGeek.Me penned yesterday. Tsahi takes WhatsApp to task for poor quality in Israel, challenging Facebook if they are using WebRTC (they're not--yet). But what Tsahi did was begin to expose the fact that WhatsApp really can be in the voice business, something I have been wondering about for years since I started using the next generation of the marriage of IM and SMS. 

Pal and uber analyst Dean Bubley wrote about the world passing the point of Peak Telephony yesterday. Dean's point is highlighted as he writes:

"In other words, between 2008 and 2013, the total net amount of outbound phone traffic in the UK, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands and US fell in absolute terms. In Italy, Germany and Korea it was flat. We are past the point of "peak telephony" in many markets."

In the UK, the Register reports that EE, a distant relative of T-Mobile in the USA, is following on their USA siblings IMS based Wi-Fi calling with the introduction of the service. While Three (3) has had an app based Wi-Fi calling service for a while, this is the first pure Wi-Fi calling capability by a UK mobile operator.

"Subscribers will not need to install any special apps: their phones should be able to seamlessly and automatically send and receive text messages, and make and receive calls, via wireless networks when there is no cellular network signal. You're out of luck if there's no usable Wi-Fi to latch onto, obviously."

TMCNet's Rich Tehrani took time recently to interview Comunicano client, Temasys. In an interview with CEO Chip Wilcox, Tehrani elicited a lot of candid insight on the Singapore based company's efforts to address browser interoperability with WebRTC. Tehrani's opening paragraph pretty much nails what Temasys is doing to solve the problem that faces service providers and users.

 "Temasys is spearheading the effort to alleviate the interop challenges facing the WebRTC community"

Maybe its me, but I'm feeling the vibrations coming again in VoIP, largely around WebRTC at the core, where ten years ago SIP was IT. As services like ScreenHero, Apper.In and others get embraced by services like Slack and HipChat you can just feel the changes coming our way..and for that, I'm thrilled to be "watching" out for you.....




Welcome To Limited Edition Television

Today Ad Age had a very interesting take on the state of television related to the limitations surrounding Sling TV customers being able to watch everything that the channels they are carrying.

 I first I looked at the news like most people. "Oh gosh, they're screwing over subscribers." As someone who has deep experience with the idea of "limited edition" products like wine which I collect, and trading cards, which I marketed at The Upper Deck Company in the 90s, I understand "limited edition"

Then I looked again, giving it more thought, That was when I began to compare the concept more closely to that of a "limited edition" marketers approach like we had at Upper Deck or the way sports teams sell out stadiums, something else I know a lot about. In many ways, it was looking more comparable to the way collectors of Bordeaux and Burgundy all race to purchase futures of their favorite producers as soon as the scores come available from The Wine Advocate and other touting publications.

Here's how I see this. Studios are all under increased pressure from writers, actors, producers and directors to be paying more. As such they are looking at ways to determine the true value of their content. The networks and distribution companies are looking to determine how they can charge more. Advertisers are putting increased pressure on their agencies concerning audience delivery. Put this all together, and you have the dawn of a new model. Limited Edition Television. 

Under the "Limited Edition" model of broadcast, the first-run showing of a television program or movie release can only be sold to so many viewers, much like a sporting event. Had MadMen been presented that way last night the first 10 million who had scheduled to watch it get to watch it for free, and in turn their demographics are provided to the advertisers for targeting. No wasted Lincoln Continental commercials on me, as I recently leased my Audi S5. Instead why not show me a commercial for British Airways or Virgin America as I have trips coming up all the time. Next, offer for a premium, perhaps ties to a purchase of some advertisers product, the ability to watch the series. Maybe it requires taking a survey to get more audience profile information. After that, the audience is capped and has to watch the "second showing" of the program. Imagine being relegated to the "rerun" class of the second season of "Empire."

This model follows the way movie studios have released feature films. First to the big screen. Then to hotels and airlines, home video, cable, over the air television. 

With the "Limited Edition" model, the first airing will set the tone for all that follows. Which brands advertize, quickly followed by which modes of distribution are chosen. This information is used to determine when the series gets viewed on Hulu or Netflix. The collected data and the post-viewing surveys and social media chatter or heat could then be used to decide if the series produces six, 13 or 2 episodes, which day of the week is bet to air the program, what time, etc. Given streaming is involved this allows the service provider to determine how much capacity they need, or can afford as the cost of distribution is different than the older over the air or cable models where those costs are known and fixed.

All of this comes from Limited Edition TV. So rather than look at this as a problem, I prefer to see the limiting of the number of viewers as the new way to build the audience, and to make money.