Adding Voice

Years ago I was a product line manager at Computer Telephony hardware manufacturer. Back then the big applications were voice mail, automatic call distribution, and numerous variants of calling card, personal assistant and unified messaging applications – and of course conferencing.

Back in July Jeff Pulver lamented that not much has chanced – saying VoIP vendors were failing to take:

“advantage of the IP based platform presented to them to deliver innovative services and instead chose to take the easy way out and simply use their platform to replicate the same services that TDM based systems gave us.”

He goes on to say that there is still “great opportunity to disrupt the communications industry”.

I’d go further. It’s not just the communication industry that could be disrupted by innovative voice services – social networking and e-commerce are ripe. And the opportunities for advertising and brand building are right around the corner.

What’s holding things back – in North America at least – is slower than need be VoIP uptake. GigaOm reports that 2011 VoIP penetration is forecast to be representing 20% of the phones in the US and 40% in Europe. That’s big – because VoIP is going to be an enabling technology because of its ability to dissolve geography and integrate to seamlessly with web applications.

That raises the other impediment in North America. Slow and expensive wireless data services. This is because voice is both a natural and efficient interface delivering both information and emotional context – and that the distribution of smart phones is moving from the enterprise to consumer markets – making those services valuable to broader pools of users.

So that’s the down side. The upside is that it cheaper than ever to add voice. Look no further than Jim Courtney write-up about the Skype Mash-up contest or Alec Saunders description of the development of Iotum’s Facebook conferencing application.

Both writers describe applications where voice enhances existing applications – and application development that is as much a business process (negotiating with service providers) as it is developing the interfaces to bridge internal and external services.

If you’re not already thinking of it – it’s time to think of how adding voice can turn your company into a disruptor.