[Editor’s note: Thousands are crowding into the San Jose Convention Center here in Silicon Valley for the Spring VON conference, a four-day discussion about voice and video on the net. We asked Michael Cerda, chief executive of Jangl, to tell us where he sees phone services headed. He speaks on a VON panel tomorrow. His company has just released a new Web phone widget.]
You’ve heard of VoIP, and most likely associate it with cheap calling. That was 1.0. In 2.0 we’re stepping beyond cheap calling, into more lifestyle oriented services.
I don’t post my phone number on my blog (that wouldn’t give me the privacy or control I need around my phone). Rather, visitors Jangl me. They Jangl me by interacting with a widget on my blog that provisions them a Jangl phone number. Each of them get a different number, letting me identify them, which I’ll explain further in a second
First, a disclaimer: Ok, so I am the CEO of Jangl (promotion alert), so my usage of Jangl is biased. That said I’m attempting to use Jangl just as an example of a Phone 2.0 service. While there is no other widget around that provisions a Jangl phone number, there are indeed other services in the phone privacy space. Instead of providing a phone number, some initiate a phone call from the web. And there are others in the burgeoning Phone 2.0 space such as Grand Central, Pinger, and TalkPlus.
This Jangl phone number isn’t my real phone number, it’s a virtual phone number. When one of these virtual numbers is dialed, it automatically forwards to my real phone number. Then when my real phone rings, I get to screen the caller before accepting the call. This comes in handy because some of the calls come from investment bankers looking to build a relationship with me (yikes). Other calls come from headhunters trying to recruit me (I guess they don’t realize I started the company I work for!).
Other calls come from vendors, potential partners or entrepreneurs interested in networking. I choose to accept some of these calls, but because I’m using a virtual number, I can manage when and whether they can continue to reach me. About half the time I end up deleting the relationship so that the people I don’t want to reach me, can’t reach me anymore.
This end result is the ability to take control over these relationships born online. I’m married so I don’t do online dating, but that’s a great application for this. Same goes for social networking or online buying and selling. This capability of bridging my relationships is very compelling because I’m with my phone much more often than my Mac.
This is a good example of Voice 2.0 at play. It’s a good example of a capability that I can’t get from my traditional phone carrier. Instead, I subscribe to a free service (Jangl, or one of the other start-ups) which is agnostic of my carrier, device or access method. Ideally, it won’t require a software download or a piece of hardware; I hate that stuff.
The virtualization of numbers that is made possible by tinkering with a Voice over IP service layer • which lets you do all sorts of other things. My virtual numbers will also be text (SMS) enabled. Meaning, you come to my blog and get a number for me…not only will you be able to call me, but you’ll also be able to text me. And it gets better. I’ll be able to choose where that call or text is routed, i.e. e-mail, IM, separate phone, GTalk, Skype, etc. And I’ll also be able to personalize your experience when you call or text me. I’ll be able to post up content for you to interact with, or information for you to get. I’ll be able to have persistent identities and attributes with each relationship I have.
This is precisely why I prefer to call this Phone 2.0 rather than Voice 2.0. Heck, I might even talk myself into calling this Communications 2.0 because it really does suggest a collapse of the various silos that are IM, e-mail, web-whatever and phone.
The big carriers may someday adapt to all this. By then, the little guys already doing this will be doing something else futuristic. Entrepreneurs are doing the hard work in the meantime, i.e. creating services, finding audiences for them, iterating and stabalizing. The big boys won’t get involved until those of us in the emerging Phone 2.0 space make something of it.
There are enough companies in Phone 2.0 to consider it a bona fide space now. Each of them has their niche they’re pushing. GrandCentral is offering a one-number for life, with all kinds of bells and whistles. Pinger is focused on asynchronous voice messaging. TalkPlus is offering a mobile phone download with identity management. There are various services focusing on privacy, control, personalization, identity, groups, content publishing and more. Those that attain success in their opening acts, will each have an opportunity for an encore. As this happens over time, these companies will begin to look more similar. We should plan to see some companies break away from the pack later in 2007.
Michael Cerda blogs @ cerdafied.typepad.com.