One of the things that’s great about the Internet is that people have become so spoiled by the click syndrome. Hyperlinks and Google take people everywhere they want to go, helping them find blogs, podcasts, photos and video. They don’t have to know anything beyond a search query to find the information they’re looking for.
What if people could do that with communications. Could they take a page out of social networks to make this happen?
Currently, people all have numbers assigned to them, or at least to their devices. They can press a single button for speed dial, but the fact is they-or their device-still need to know a number.
Telecommunications software programmers have been working on this issue for years, but have yet to develop hypercommunications, or an ultra-easy way to help people communicate, said Daniel Berninger, CEO of FWD.com, a VOIP (voice over IP) firm founded by telco luminary Jeff Pulver.
Berninger, who recently blogged about his frustration on GigaOm, said that when he lines up the Web world and the telco world side by side, he’s struck by the similarities in operations.
“We still dial phone numbers, whereas on the Web side we gave up IP addresses 25 years ago by creating URLs on top of those,” Berninger told eWEEK. “There are some tremendous advantages about the way the Web works, clicking through and how it weaves all of our information worlds together [in a way] that we don’t have on the telecom side.”
For example, he said that for as much as Google has done in organizing information on the Web, the company barely touches the telecommunications side. Despite this glaring omission, Berninger said people still use Google as a form of addressing functionality by typing in a few characters and clicking whatever pops up.
What about Google’s GrandCentral Networks, which lends click-to-call functionality and lets people be connected anywhere through one phone number to reach peoples’ voice mail, PC, land line or mobile phone? He said the service may be convenient, but peoples’ identity is still the phone number.
Social Networks as a Remedy for VOIP
He said he and his staff at FWD.com, which relaunched last summer to tackle this issue, are still puzzling over the problem. They are trying to create some sort of telco linking technology to make the addressing disappear, similar to the way the IP addresses are glazed over by the hyperlinks.
This would create some efficiencies. In the Web world, people can change the IP address that underpins a URL and keep the same URL because the URL serves as an abstraction layer. But if they want to change a phone number, somebody has to climb a telephone pole and do some rewiring.
Berninger said social networks could be the linchpin to ushering in hypercommunications. Implicit in social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace is contact information.
The contact info on these networks tends to be hidden, but that doesn’t prevent people from connecting with one another through the social network’s walled e-mail. People e-mail each other all of the time, but don’t use an e-mail address. They just select a friend and click to send them a message.
Why not add click-to-call capabilities behind those walled gardens so that people could call each other from the computer to any device, such as a smart phone, laptop or PC?
“We put up with all these things on the telecom side, like the address book,” Berninger said. “All day long, I’ve got to find a dang phone number. There’s no clicking. We don’t put up with that on the Web side.”
Mike Spencer, founder and owner of network consulting firm i2 Partners, thinks Berninger could be right. Facebook has discovered how to relate to people that is not predominantly based on the address of any medium or device but is based on the networks of people, Spencer told eWEEK.
“If it is so attractive to consumers to do text communications or file sharing within a social network, then isn’t it equally appealing to them to initiate their voice and video and other real-time communications in the same environment?” he said.
This is some food for thought as VOIP and unified communications vendors move forward in 2008.
Clint Boulton here. Will social networks become the de facto phone network for us in a year or two?