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Disappearing Telephony

Posted by Martin Geddes on Feb 02, 2006

I’m just stepping back a minute to think about what Emerging Telephony actually is.

You might have seen my earlier musings on the different philosophical underpinnings of “Western” telephony and “Eastern” thought. In an oversimplified nutshell, the Western approach puts the individual in the centre of the universe. The Eastern idea is to put the group in the middle.

I see “conversation” as being the shadow of a group. So future telephony may look quite different from PSTN-style calling and even philosophical cousins like Skype. We don’t put groups or conversations at the centre of our “Voice 2.0” telephony experience. This could provide a philosophical problem to all the VCs and geeks here at ETel.

Here’s a concrete example. Teens are group-centric. They need to belong, get group affirmation. They send a zillion SMS messages to wring a group experience out of the technology they have.

But imagine if members of the group could see when other members of the group are in a conversation (IM or voice). Then you can (virtually) walk up and try to join in. It requires some digital social gestures that mimic a conversation pause and turning to allow the new person into the ring.

Hey! Telephony is supposed to be a substiute for “being there”. This is the kind of “presence” experience that today is totally missed. (Presence isn’t just smiley icons, folks.) “Voice 2.0” doesn’t even mimic the real world yet, let alone exceed it. And many of the ETel examples are still hamstrung by the legacy thinking of 120 years of circuit 2-person telephony where presence is a 4th class citizen. We’ve still got some learning and exploring to do.

UPDATE: Another example: Skype’s grouping feature (bless them for the effort) is entirely manual. But what the users probably need is some kind of semi-automated grouping of contacts, based on call patterns, social network analysis etc. Personally, I wouldn’t have bothered with the feature at all unless it was adding some serious “wow” and makes life for the users much, much simpler. Yes, I’m setting the bar high. But humans are sophisticated social animals, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if our conversation tools need to act intelligently too.


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