IT Expo is not normally a conference I look forward to with any great relish. My impression with IT Expo is that the sessions stay basically the same from year to year; the expo floor varies a bit more, but it still takes at most a couple hours or three to explore the floor and have the conversations you want to have. When asked to speak at the conference, I was pleased, but perhaps not as excited as I might otherwise have been, having low expectations. Was this the crowd that would see value in voice mashups?
To my great surprise, the answer was a big “yes.” On the confference floor, I met companies like Intelepeer that are not only building their own mashups, but also working to create their own developer programs and to engage that critical Web developer in the telephony space. Throughout the hall, I saw “API”, “Developers”, and other keywords that didn’t always mean “reaching non-telco developers”, but did at least mean that people are recognizing value in reducing the barriers to working with their products.
Better was the session itself. I met Thomas Howe for the time, who was the other speaker at my session. Knowing his work and focus, I knew we’d have a lot to talk about, but didn’t realize just how much unity of vision there would be. He noted afterwards how nice it was to talk to somebody who “got it”, and I felt the same way; so much of the language he was using to describe the voice mashups space and its relevance was deeply familiar. When you are telling a relatively new story, you can feel a little out there at times, and it’s good to have that comforting reminder that others see the opportunity as well. After all, there’s lots of room for many people to play in this space.
The carriers are beginning to pay attention, and not just the Europeans, who were the first to recognize the importance of simplifying the telco application development process in order to expand the market for usage of their voice minutes (witness BT’s Web 21C program, and their subsequent purchase of Ribbit). Thomas had a great presentation explaining the business case for the carriers, which you can see here; my thirty-second summary is this:
- Carriers have excess capacity
- Voice is a commodity, and one whose price sure isn’t going to go up
- Voice has value in a wide variety of apps
- To produce these apps, and drive more usage, carriers need to make it easy to build apps around their capacity, not try to write the apps themselves
It’s a problem both of expertise and personpower. So many of these apps are specific to a vertical or a brand’s needs or a specific consumer group. There’s no way the carriers can or should develop the product expertise for each niche product. It’s partly a long-tail problem, and partly just a matter of what your core competency is. As for personpower, the potential marketplace for such applications is pretty tremendous. To use a flawed analogy, you wouldn’t ask all Web development to be done by a few software houses, right? You want to spread the work around, and take advantage of developers and entrepreneurs with a variety of skillsets and levels of experience.
My own presentation didn’t have Thomas’s great metaphors going for it, but you can see it here anyway if you’d like. The topic is simply an explanation of voice mashups, why they matter, and what developers are looking for out of a voice mashup development environment. A lot of people requested it after the session, so I guess it’s not bad – just a little plain-Jane. One more thing to work on…