Paradigm Shifts in how we Use Data and Voice

You may have heard some of these questions (some from me) or thought of them yourself:

  • Why does only the iPhone have visual voicemail?
  • If I can make calls for free using skype from one computer to another why can’t my phone automatically know if I’m calling a computer and switch to that when wifi is available? (if the phone has wifi built into it)
  • Why is instant messaging free, but texting costs money when they are essentially the same thing except on a computer instead of a phone?
  • Why don’t my facebook notes comments sync automatically or easily to my professional/non-facebook blogs comments and vice-versa?
  • Google voice seems awesome, but why doesn’t it integrate better into my phone, and why hasn’t my carrier done something like that before (or at least integrated it into the phones)?
  • What is going to replace email? It was invented in the ’70’s and hasn’t changed much since then. Why haven’t we thought up better ways to communicate yet?


Maybe I’m weird, but I actually think about these questions a lot. These questions plague me more and more as Google is routinely blowing my mind with awesome products like Google Voice, and Google Wave (especially Wave).

It seems to me that for a while we have been on the cusp of a paradigm shift in how we communicate. I know there have been lots of major shifts and new shiny things out that expand how we communicate or consume information, and for some that has been paradigm shifting. But for some people like me, it feels as if there is a lack of cohesion and depth to these products.

For example:
I email and chat with people using gmail (Wave is going to combine that with document sharing, and some other neat stuff, go check out the video on their page if you want to see a demo)
I leave public status messages / funny or quipy site links on twitter, which get sucked into facebook. Comments on facebook don’t get posted to twitter though, and replies in twitter don’t turn into comments.
I text and call people with my phone. Soon Google might transcribe that for me automatically.
I can IM people on my phone now, and even get messages while I’m not in that program (yay push notifications – I envy the palm Pre users for their native ability to run an actual IM app in the background). But I can’t interleave that with my texting unless I’m on a palm pre.
I post blog posts on my blog which get sucked up into facebook and livejournal (which is not as straight-forward as it should be to set up IMO). But, no comments or replies sync between sites.
All of these different sites and devices have different log ins, different ways of handling what is basically a flow of information to and from me from and to other people.

Why don’t we have a way of integrating these together?

There are lots of reasons why, and I have lots of opinions on the subject, but rather than bitching or pondering how the system has failed I’m interested in possibilities.

So, here is what I’d be interested in:

– Something akin to google’s new Wave product as a base, meaning an open protocol designed to track flows of conversations and discussions. Only bring in google voice so it has my call logs and texting history right in the flow of conversations.
– Voice calls have to fundamentally shift from being a perceived as ‘audio’ to being perceived as data and an important part of the flow of the conversation. That means, that a call should be logged into the flow of a conversation. (what conversation – I will get to in a second)
– The ability to record or transcribe calls would need to become a common addition (and probably optional, all conversations could go “off record”). So in a conversation it would either mention that a call was placed, or it would have a recording or a transcription embedded into the overall flow. Same for video chats.
– Open authentication – not facebook connect style, but more openID style. And the ability to associate your phone number(s), email addresses, and tie them across servers would be paramount. This means if you have an account at livejournal, gmail/google, and facebook, you could tell them to synchronize your credentials. This would then have facebook check your listed number against googles, and if googles is different both places would add the different numbers as secondary phones to your account. And, then livejournal would be able to access that and mention that you have a blog in your ‘sites’ profile. Also you could use any address (facebook user name, google email address, livejournal username) to log into any of the services. This is basically an expansion of openID in my mind.
– Complete control over permissions and accessibility of data. Privacy is important and I think facebook gets this mostly right. You need to be able to say “Only people I authorize can see detail X, and unless I give them special permission they can’t see Y, but everyone can see detail Z.”
– With permission, people could add you as a contact and then see whatever information you make available to them, like facebook, only synced across multiple sites (like a few points above mentions). So if I add friend “Bob ABCD” to my phone, and Bob approves me as a friend, my phone would automatically have whatever data he is willing to share with me and has on his profile. (Or alternatively, I could augment it with manually entered data that is stored only in my contacts, not pushed to his profile he shares)
– Contacts already approved and stored in your contact database and associated permissions for contacts need to be non-centrally stored. Meaning if you get a new phone, or decide to switch from yahoo to gmail cuz you like it better, you can just log in and tell it to rebuild your contacts. This information should be stored in a fashion similar to your login credentials, and people could only see your contacts/friends or a subset of them if you give them permission.
– Client / server model would have to be de-centralized. Multiple servers across multiple domains need to be the primary place you go for tracking this information. So if you prefer Yahoo’s interface, no problem just use yahoo. Or if you prefer facebook to manage this, plus all the silly quizzes and memes, use facebook. But it all syncs across boundaries. Meaning your cell phone provider is still the gateway to your cell phone, but not the only keeper of all your history and contact information (and neither is your handset/cell phone)
– Micro blogging / status updates and follow-up comments need to be seen as a conversation, and should span across boundaries of services.
– Blog posts could be the beginning or continuation of a ‘wave’ or thread of a conversation, and comments would be carried across site boundaries.
– A push notification framework would be required, but it would have to have the ability to filter so you only get notifications of things you want (texts/IM, phone calls/audio chat/video chat, emails). Drinking from the firehose is fun for about 2 seconds.
– Hardware agnostic, meaning that the connection you use would be data-based. Not audio based like a cell phone network, which then has a data network laid over it (like texting is).
– Conversations need to be able to take different forms. We need the ability to tag by topic, and sort that, but also by person being communicated with to produce a chat/IM/txt like history only with emails and calls in there as well. But we want to also be able to start off a topic of conversation and just follow where that goes like how gmail threads email chains (again with everything else put in it) A conversation/wave/whatever you want to call it, could also be filtered by type – microblog (twitter/facebook updates), blog, email, chat. But the advantage here is managing it from one location.
– A good standardized codec for voice and video chatting. Something that takes into account the connection someone is on, and device they are using. So on a cell-phone data network you could stream lower quality video, prefer good voice, and use a smaller resolution. But on a PC with a high-speed cable connection it would give you higher quality everything with a bigger resolution.
*Neat idea as an add-on*
– Incoming package notification. Someone shipped you a package, or you are buying something from amazon. It could find that out via you associating address info with your login credentials, and a discovery API for connecting to the UPS/fedex websites.

I do believe we are headed to a place like this with our communication.

And I think much smarter people than me have already been working on some ideas like this for a few years (if google’s continued desire to buy-up innovative companies and create game-changing products is any indicator). And, I think with Apples obvious lack of love for AT&T constantly trying to pigeon-hole the iphone (no data tethering!?!??!) I believe we could see a shift to handset makers building phone/data devices around such a protocol if there were one.

So, does anyone else have a suggestion about something like this, or a way to make it more interesting or useful? Or do you look at my suggestions and wonder what the hell I’m talking about and just wish I would only send this to nerds so it didn’t show up on your facebook/livejournal page? 🙂

  1. So I didn’t read all of your ideas, but I get the gist of it. We need a standard that meets all or your requirements. Right now integration is done adhoc often by like minded people who want similar applications.

    Every user needs to build a database of their profile, contacts, etc. that any carrier could conceivably read and display in an appropriate manner. There could be special tags for specific apps as well to help with ease of integration but the core information in everyone’s profile could be shared.

    I have no idea where the best place to store such info is. Do companies created a service to setup said profile and host it and then you give a link to your profile when you want a service or product to have access? Could people host their own database.

    It doesn’t really matter where the data is stored, the big issue is trying to get the standard developed. I think IEEE would be the best place host such a standard, but there may be better organizations for this.

  2. This is very interesting Ben. And well thought out. But, it also sounds like the end of the world. 😉

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