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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Notes from eComm

I'm in Mountain View for the next couple of days, at eComm 2008, Lee Dryburgh's get-together for an impressive assortment of forward thinkers around personal communications, billed as the "trillion dollar rethink" - what telecoms will be when it grows up.

I'll add thoughts & edits to this post as the event evolves.

I'm not sure I agree with Lee's opening stance that "the telephone is dead, long term". The idea being that it morphs into a "relationship lifecycle management device". I'm not so sure - I think the phone has been around for 100+ years and people quite like it. For people with 2+ devices (or people with 1 device but not much money), I'm unconvinced that cool stuff like social networking & presence on their primary phone is very valuable or desired. Especially compared to (say) a camera, MP3 player or cute design.

David Isenberg (of "stupid network" fame) talked about Net Neutrality and "The Political Layer" above the usual ISO network protocol stack. He dragged Martin Geddes on stage and asked what I thought was a weird question "How many ISPs can you get access to in Edinburgh?". Martin answered "about 30", and I shrugged. Then he asked the (predominantly US-resident) audience members "Who here can get access to more than 1 or 2 ISPs?". Pretty much the only people raising their hands were the Europeans.

Now I understand why Americans get so exercised about open access, net neutrality and so on. I hadn't realised quite how appallingly competition policy had failed in the US - I knew it was bad.... but I hadn't really grasped just how bad. The stuff I take for granted in the UK - lots of wholesale ISPs, and quite a few local-loop-unbundled ones, plus cable - just doesn't map onto the reality in the US. I've realised that I sometimes assume that ordinary, mundane, competition will give deep packet inspection and application-blocking a solidly good kicking. Which is fine, if ordinary, mundane competition actually works.

Edit, 2pm Wednesday

There's been a lot of discussion about assorted voice-recognition technologies and applications, like Voice XML. Frankly, I don't think it's that interesting - I know lots of people seem to think that voice-based applications are some sort of magically futuristic appeal, but apart from widely-detested IVR systems and in-car handsfree voice-dialling, I'm just not convinced. Voice apps fail the "real world" test - I don't know anyone (outside the industry) who likes them, and I can't imagine anything that's likely to change that. Most of the suggestions I've seen are solutions looking for a problem, whether they're mobile-oriented or fixed.

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