While talking about the Social Media Press release yesterday I mused about the need for real-time communications to be included in the system.

Actually the call is for a much broader inclusion of person to person or person to group communication in Internet services – direct discussion between people using a site and between users and the posters of content. Talk.

One of the things all sites do is to attract people who share a common interest. From time immemorial this has formed the basis for personal discussion and connection. It is how we meet other people – through a shared activity.

The internet has introduced a new type of shared activity that mimics its predecessors –while removing the requirement for temporal or spatial connection. In doing so it has both enriched some aspects of our social lives while leaving others unsatisfied.

It is hard not to believe the rise of services like Twitter and newsfeeds on social networks from FaceBook to Linkedin, which send out a stream of deeply human but typically mundane activities, is not a reaction to an unmet desire to connect around the ordinary activities that consume most of our lives.

For myself I cannot stand in line at a store, or contemplate some types of purchase without engaging in discussion with those around me. And it’s not just me who relishes in chance encounters. On the radio this morning a store owner was recounting how his store grew out of his interest to share his knowledge with customers. One of the things he regretted with the Internet store that remains was his business was reduced to availability and price.

It doesn’t need to be like this – the ability to personally connect either with individual users or connect users with each other is both easy and cheap. More importantly it provides a means to develop the rich personal connection between people that real time voice allows.

One easy way to start is to consider adding conferencing as a regular activity related to your site.  Check out Iotum’s free conference service as an example of one service to speak to multiple site users simultaneously. Use it to educate, understand, or to explore a specific topics and tangents. It reintroduces the personal onto your site.

Want more continuous connection? Add click to call buttons – but if you’re a small organization consider integrating with find-me applications so you’re not tethered to a desk. This is a great way to add value – especially if the goods, service or cause the site is dedicated to are based on something unique where sharing insights and discussion enriches everyone.

In time I love to see infrastructure that would notify me that other users were on the same page I was – and if they were open to a spontaneous discussion. Of course in this scenario Web shopping can again become the shared activity around which people meet which it is for many in the physical world.

In the end adding voice to an Internet site re-introduces temporal connection to the relationships they build – making them more concrete and meaningful.


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.

Om Malik is putting people onto Downfly – a social link exchange service with a twist. Not only does it make it very easy to send links to your friends from any page or application. To get an idea of how easy, and social this is check out this little promo:

According to Om it can also::

 “track where those links go, i.e., if any of your friends forward them to others.“

Boy is there value in that!

It could be like Nielson’s or Arbitron for viral ads and commercial referrals. And imaging how commercial connections could change if referrals replaced ads, or even if the metrics gathered were aggregated to measure effectiveness, reach and potentially psycho-demographic characteristics associated with interest in the link.

Don’t worry – Downfly isn’t doing this – in fact thier terms of use and privacy policies are squeaky clean – they notify you that they may put advertising on the site.

Which is a pity, the aggregated data they could gather is way more valuable to marketers, and way less intrusive to you.

Enhancing E-Shopping with Voice

The other day I commented on a post Mitch Brisebois  made about Etsy  the fantastic crafters e-store. I thought I’d elaborate on those ideas here.

First what sets Etsy apart is it appears to understand that shopping isn’t just about getting what you want – it’s about the experience you have as you identify what you want.  Like the hunter gathers we once were it’s about exploration, discovery, and surprise of finding something you weren’t expecting.

Etsy plays on these experiences by providing a number of innovative ways to display crafts. My favorite is the time machine which spirals images of items outwards in a random and un-ending stream. Simply clicking on an item takes you to it for a detailed look. They also do categories by broad characteristics – like search by color – which can display everything from jewelry and clothes to household goods as long as they are the same color.

The fun of shopping is not buying – its finding. Make finding fun and buying will follow.

So that’s one part of the shopping experience – the other – is that shopping is very social – at least in the physical world. It’s talking about shared experience, discussing what you’ve found with others. Even I ,who mostly shops by alone, can’t go to a store without engaging people’s opinion about what I’m buying (have they used something similar, did it work for them) or to ask them about them (what are you going to do with that salmon). For some demographics shopping doesn’t occur unless there’s a group to share the experience.

To me it seems natural that adding voice (conferencing) to the online shopping experience moves it from expedient buying into a pastime and in so doing opens the door to a massive shift in consumer behavior, and increase in online revenues.

Friends can meet and shop without being in the same place, chance meetings can occur if people on the same page can signal their interest in conversation. 

What’s also interesting is that this suggests that online community doesn’t just have to be about blog’s – it can be about extending ones current community online through shared experience.