Business

DEMO: On lets you present different "faces" to the world

Orange Vallée is one of 70 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2011 event taking place this week. These companies do pay a fee to present, but our coverage of them remains objective.

On is a mobile address book which aims to be the hub of all your communications. It covers contacts from Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and your phonebook and allows you to view everyone’s tweets and status updates in a single stream.

At DEMO, On is launching VoiceFeed, a visual voicemail app for iPhone that lets you customize your voicemail message for different callers or groups. When your partner calls, he is greeted in a different way to a client or friends, e.g. you can let the latter know which bar you are heading to. You can also browse your voicemail messages and choose the ones you’d like to hear first. VoiceFeed is a freemium service. The free version has ads. A monthly fee of $0.99 monthly fee gets you unlimited greeting messages, message storage and no ads.

On has been more than three years in the making and involved sociologists, anthropologists and designers, who observed how people form groups. Giles Corbett, the head of the On project, told Fast Company that the most surprising thing they learned was “that you have no secrets with strangers. The things we keep secret, we withhold mostly from those who are closest to us. If I’m a 15-year-old kid walking around smoking a cigarette, I don’t care if strangers see it, but I do care if my parents see it.”You can assign contacts to different circles (something like Facebook groups but more configurable), where you can see the updates from those contacts, control which updates they see from you, how you can be contacted and whether they can locate you. On can be configured so that it only releases your location when you’re in a specific context. You may want to share your work location with colleagues but not where you are after-hours. Similarly you may want to be available to your friends, but not work colleagues after a certain point in the evening.

On was created by Orange Vallée, the innovation arm of mobile carrier Orange, which has 193 million customers in 32 countries. However, On is available to anyone with an Android or iPhone, not just Orange subscribers. On is part of Orange’s attempt to counteract “over-the-top” communications players like Google or Skype who challenge the mobile carrier’s role in the mobile eco-system. Competitors to On Voicefeed include Hullomail, Google Voice, YouMail, Friends by Taptivate , etc.

It’s hard not to see some similarities between On and Vodafone’s ill-fated Vodafone 360. 360 also tried to aggregate all contacts and communications. However, On places greater emphasis than 360 did on the different “faces” we present to the world in real life and how those identities can be reproduced in our virtual lives. On is also not restricted to Orange subscribers as Vodafone 360 was to Vodafone customers. Since launching in beta a year ago, On has acquired tens of thousands of users who, on average, use it 7 times per day.

The On project started in 2008, has 25 employees, is based in Paris and is funded by Orange.


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