Alec Saunders on Voice 2.0 - One Year Later

by Bruce Stewart

Occasionally I come across blog posts that require serious contemplation and can take awhile to digest, and Alec Saunders, co-founder and CEO of iotum and a prolific blogger, has written more than his share of these. I knew I was in for another when Alec dropped me a note the other day about his latest essay, Voice 2.0 A Year Later, which was partly inspired by a wave of recent grumbling by some (myself included) about a couple of the new start-ups in the telecom space. I knew I wasn't going be skimming this one.

Alec has been a vocal proponent of what many are now calling Voice 2.0, and his company iotum provides a shining example of the kind of exciting applications this future will hold with their relevance engine. Alec penned the widely-cited Voice 2.0: A Manifesto for the Future, you guessed it, about a year ago, and it's definitely both fascinating and pretty impressive to see how the ideas Alec expressed in his manifesto have fared in the span of just one year.

In Alec's original essay he coined the term "Voice 2.0", noting that telephony applications like Skype and PhoneGnome were beginning to take advantage of the Internet and predicting that companies that could capitalize on the combination of telephony and web technology were poised to explode on the scene. Alec saw the merger of "talk" and the web as the foundation of this application-centric communications shift he called Voice 2.0

We’re witnessing the beginnings of a titanic clash between the internet and the telecommunications industry. My hope is that clash will be the, albeit painful, evolution of Voice into a full blow internet application — the birth of Voice 2.0.

Alec's Voice 2.0 is not something that can be easily explained in a sentence or two, and I won't try and paraphrase his writing on the topic any more here, if you want to know more you should definitely go read his first essay on the topic. But the Voice 2.0 Manifesto does seem to be foreshadowing events in the telecom space, such as the growing need to separate (and standardize) the presentation layer of an application from the transport layer.

It's interesting to note the signs of uptake in Alec's current reflections on the state of Voice 2.0, as he's seeing that consumers can now buy call originations and terminations, as well as identity services, from a variety of vendors, APIs are becoming common, and a batch of new and different telecom applications are emerging. Alec also points out the wisdom of AOL's recent moves to open up it's network to third-party applications and developers (like iotum), noting that in this type of scenario AOL handles all the origination/termination issues and network infrastructure, and telecom developers can (finally) focus their energies on their applications. That's very Voice 2.0 and I agree with Alec that we'll be seeing more opening up of networks like this, and it was a savvy move on AOL's part. (And yes, I didn't really expect to ever be using the words "savvy" and "AOL" in the same sentence.)

In fact, just today (as Alec is one of the first to point out), Skype is making similar moves by allowing developers to switch off the visible Skype UI within applications.

It’s the first indication that Skype will allow developers to separate the UI from the engine, and deliver what Peeter Mõtsküla referred to last April as Naked Skype.

I confess to bristling at the frequent adding of a "2.0" suffix to seemingly any technology these days, but I'm slowly coming around on this one and think Alec's Voice 2.0 vision is insightful and right on. And I'm already looking forward to next year's essay.