Spring VON Final Thoughts
I promised to finish up my VON posting after getting back, and wanted to comment briefly on two keynotes I particularly enjoyed.
First was Tim O’Reilly, who is Jeff Pulver’s counterpart in the Web 2.0 space. Jeff and Tim’s worlds are increasingly sharing a common orbit, and I hope we’ll see more cross-pollination here in future shows. Actually, Tim’s presence struck me as the only really fresh wrinkle in the VON format, and I suspect—and hope—to see more content moving beyond voice to encompass things like Web 2.0 and video.
Tim message about tech innovation had parallels to Jeff’s keynote, and it was really neat seeing photos of the very first Apple computer and virtual reality headgear, as well as early versions of snowboards. They were all crude and clunky designs, bearing little resemblance to what we use today. VoIP and telephony are now in the same boat, and this was a good lead-up to his basic question—“what are the alpha-geeks doing with telephony?”
From his Web 2.0 perspective, his message was simple—“they’re treating it as an extension of the Internet, and it’s not about walled gardens.” This may seem obvious to the VON crowd, but the core message is important—this is not obvious to the broader world, and you have to look to the early adopters to see where things are going, and not to where telecom—and even VoIP - has been coming from. To emphasize the point, he cited the famous William Gibson quote—“the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
Going further along this path, he noted that most of the “killer apps” of the Internet era—Google, Amazon, iTunes, Wikipedia—are built on open source. Furthermore, they are primarily information businesses—not software, and certainly not hardware. In essence, they are simply “Internet platforms”. That’s a very different reality to where telecom has come from, and he sees no reason why the future of voice will be any different. While the rest of his talk was more about the key elements that drive value for Web 2.0 than the telecom space, it’s pretty clear that voice can/will play a different role in this emerging world, and that gives rise a whole host of new business models.
James Enck’s presentation was another highlight for me. He’s always irreverent, but on top of the key themes driving IP. He did a great recap of the key stories of last year—Skype/eBay, Google, cable telephony, etc.—all with the theme that the telecom business is under assault from all sides. His Euro-focus confirmed similar trends to what RBOCs are living through, such as loss of landlines, increased competition, and the uptake of VoIP.
Among all of this, I was pleasantly surprised to see him cite a Canadian example of the trend toward the outsourcing of corporate networks, namely the Royal Bank deal where Bell Canada is going to manage their voice network using IP for over 8,000 lines. Overall, nothing new or radical here, but James delivers the message in a very engaging way, and puts things in high perspective as only a top analyst can do.
I also wanted to pass on a hat tip to Skype Journal’s Stuart Henshall for his thought-provoking posting about the conspicuous absence of Skype/eBay at the show. I fully agree, especially with eBay being so close by to the show venue. We’ll just have to wait until VON Canada next month, where Niklas makes his only North America live appearance. Jeff Pulver is of the same mind - at least about Skype/eBay - and noted this on his blog this morning.
On a broader note, it’s also worth noting other key IM players like Google, Yahoo and AOL were hardly in the mix during the show. Microsoft exhibited, but they weren’t really there to talk about MSN Messenger. I’d like to think this will change, as VON really is a great forum for them to be sharing their vision for VoIM.
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Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates. To visit the weblog maintained by Jon Arnold
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