Social Media – Voice on the Web Facilitating Personal and Business Conversations Across a Voice 2.0 World Thu, 01 Jun 2017 17:02:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Facilitating Personal and Business Conversations Across a Voice 2.0 World Social Media – Voice on the Web Facilitating Personal and Business Conversations Across a Voice 2.0 World Social Media – Voice on the Web 103460194 Returning to Blogging Tue, 30 May 2017 17:54:49 +0000 After a two year hiatus I am returning to blogging but expanding my coverage to cover the interrelated issues of communications and social networking as well as today’s intelligent devices such as smartphones, tablets and maybe even speech driven devices such as Amazon Echo (for which I recently watched a live demonstration).

During this time we have seen Apple evolve its line-up of iDevices and Android’s adoption on many hardware vendors’ platforms, the emergence of healthcare devices such as Fitbit, the spread of messaging, voice and video communications offerings well beyond Skype to include Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Wire; the latter having been financed and developed by a team that includes former members of the Skype developer team. Aside from voice and video call quality, encryption, privacy and security are the accompanying issues.

On the BlackBerry front, the “original” BlackBerry has become an enterprise security software publisher while they have licensed out their hardware technology and security software to third parties based in Indonesia, India and China. Tomorrow from TCL in China we will see the launch of their first product, BlackBerry KEYone in North American markets via a new subsidiary called BlackBerry Mobile. More on that tomorrow. Suffice it to say I have had several BB10 devices, such as Z30 and the Passport – which was heavily used for my activities as a Pan Am Games volunteer two years ago. For the past year I have been using BlackBerry PRIV, the final smartphone developed and marketed by the “original” BlackBerry; it certainly gave me an indication of how a secure BlackBerry hardware phone would perform running the Android operating system but its hardware created some user experience issues that KEYone appears to address (and I have seen the device).

In September I will be featured, via a website for Seniors, as the presenter on a video series discussing the use of today’s devices and social networking offerings for Seniors’ activities, such as special interest groups, ongoing family communications and healthcare. Many of my posts will provide some background for this activity.

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BlackBerry: A Smartphone Manifesto Wed, 01 May 2013 18:21:29 +0000

PlayBook.HomeScreen.051013To tablet, or not to tablet, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Competition,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Tablet-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream;

With apologies to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Yesterday BlackBerry CEO, Thorsten Heins, in an interview on Bloomberg, mentioned that he felt tablets would be passé in five years. He also mentioned that the only platform you will need will be your smartphone. Of course it has generated controversy across the Internet with posts ranging from how that concept could lead to BlackBerry’s demise, given the potential sales volumes, to how BlackBerry is focusing on making visionary market leading business decisions built around their unique mobile platform technology. He has hinted previously that he would need to see a unique business case for any new tablet device.

“I want to gain as much market share as I can, but not by being a copycat.”, Thorsten Heins

Yet he dreams of a smartphone-centric mobile computing world. Quoting from the Bloomberg article linked above:

Heins said in a January interview he’ll only consider a PlayBook successor if it can be profitable. He reiterated yesterday that a BlackBerry tablet has to offer a unique proposition in a crowded market.

“In five years, I see BlackBerry to be the absolute leader in mobile computing — that’s what we’re aiming for,” Heins said. “I want to gain as much market share as I can, but not by being a copycat.”

BB10.SliderFor the past ten weeks I have been using the BlackBerry Z10 and come to appreciate both its power and its potential. “Did I say it was fast?”. That’s actually been the most challenging aspect of using the device – getting accustomed to how fast gesturing, predictive text and the Hub, amongst other features, contribute to a very smooth operation in a real world environment.

But not only do I not waste time waiting for applications to re-open or for spinning clocks, it has become apparent, through using it in practice for many applications, how powerful a device BlackBerry 10, running on the QNX/BB10 OS can become. A few examples:

  • hooked it up to my TV panel to watch Argo
    • downloaded from BlackBerry World
    • just prior to winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards
  • made a Power Point presentation using it as a controller for my PlayBook hooked up to a display projector
  • show friends pictures from our Costa Rica trip on the TV panel
  • access all my messaging through the Hub,
    • which is continuously running in background
    • includes Twitter, SMS, Facebook and LinkedIn
    • also easily access upcoming Calendar events
  • followed the NHL and Major League Baseball activity as games progressed
    • also use it as a reference source for game summaries, standings and replays
    • watched portions of a few games, including while away from a WiFi environment
  • Hands-free calling from my car via Bluetooth connection
  • Follow Twitter on a unique and powerful application
  • used BlackBerry Messenger’s video for a virtual hospital visit that saved the need for family members to drive about 50 km through rush hour traffic
  • access all my pictures via DropBox
  • pull up all my critical documents via DropBox or SkyDrive
  • browse to many “applications” via their mobile websites (post to follow)
  • send and receive faxes (via PamFax) with no phone line or other hardware
  • viewed and edited Office documents: spreadsheets, presentations and text documents
  • managed WordPress activity
  • listen to music services and/or radio stations worldwide
  • read newspapers online
  • and the list goes on….

I have also had years of experience working with various form factors for intelligent devices, ranging from SlingBox to PBX’s and routers. Physically they can be almost handheld size yet deliver on intelligent performance. I have experienced tablets from Apple, Samsung and BlackBerry.

Over the past couple of weeks I came to realize how powerful a QNX-based device with a smartphone form factor could be. It has the potential to become a full computing platform.

“Typical explanations of the cloud focus on the technologies that deliver cloud computing, such as server virtualisation. These are accurate descriptions of the machinery, but are inadequate as a means of understanding the impact of the cloud. It is rather like attempting to understand the automotive revolution by considering the properties of asphalt and oil.”

Martin Geddes

Take a look at the trends:

I can envision a world where we simply carry around a smartphone with a handheld form factor but as we move about:

  • connect to any display panel via either HDMI or a DLNA certified device
    • ranging in size from Playbook’s 7 inch screen to 100 inch meeting room displays
    • available in your home, automobile, Internet cafés, libraries and business friendly locations
  • connect to a keyboard via Bluetooth or use the smartphone’s physical keyboard
  • connect to the Internet via WiFi or whatever high speed carrier technology is available
  • access printers remotely at the end point where paper documents are required

Bottom line: What runs through the back of my mind as my BlackBerry 10 experience builds is how I am carrying, in that little black “slab”, a computer that, when combined with an communications ecosystem, makes it many times more powerful than the IBM mainframes I ran for complex research and industrial applications many years ago. Add the input and output hardware appropriate to the user’s environment and needs and you have a powerful mobile computing device that becomes central to managing all your activities.

Think of mobile computing platforms as extensions to, and resources for, our overall neural functioning.

As Andy Ung at Seeking Alpha states in “BlackBerry: Understanding QNX”:

As smartphones pack stronger processors and become more powerful, the main use of mobile devices will no longer be to make phone calls. BlackBerry is envisioning a future of mobile computing, where distinguishing between computers and smartphones becomes increasingly difficult. From anywhere around the world, in the portability of your pocket, a full-blown computer will be at your access.

We look forward to BlackBerry’s announcement(s) at BlackBerry Live in two weeks: Will it be:

  • More powerful smartphones?
  • A new platform that launches BlackBerry into the M2M market?, or
  • Another unique value proposition built around smartphones and the BlackBerry 10 platform?

How will BlackBerry “take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them”?

Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal tablet,
Must give us pause

BlackBerry issued a statement late yesterday:

The comments that Thorsten made yesterday are in line with previous comments he has made about the future of mobile computing overall, and the possibilities that come with a platform like BlackBerry 10. We continue to evaluate our tablet strategy, but we are not making any shifts in that strategy in the short term. When we do have information about our PlayBook strategy, we will share it.

One final comment: many reports talk about PlayBook as a failed device. Yes, they may have sold 200,000 a year ago but in their most recent quarterly report they sold 370,000 units. Not an iPad killer but I find many of my acquaintances who have one could not do without. It remains my primary tablet device, largely for email, browsing on a larger display and viewing videos.

Other posts reflecting on Heins’ statement re tablets:

Full disclosure: the author has a small holding of BlackBerry shares. But he also has iOS and Android devices in order to experience a cross section of the smartphone and tablet market. These observations are based on publicly available information combined with his own past business experience at senior management levels in high technology markets. His main interest is in seeing several thousand jobs maintained in not only the Canadian economy but also in BlackBerry organizations around the world.

Given that RIM stock has been somewhat volatile for the past few months I can only say check with your investment advisor before taking any action. These posts are for information purposes only.

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Voice On The Web: Now a BlackBerry 10 & Playbook App Fri, 01 Mar 2013 12:46:55 +0000 BB10.AppGenerator.SimpleLast fall I made a couple of changes to the Voice On The Web infrastructure, including adoption of responsive design to automatically adjust its display format across all PC, smartphone and tablet platforms. At the time I felt this was sufficient to meet viewer needs and I did not need to look into building device specific applications.

Back in January when the BlackBerry Developer Relations team was holding one of its weekend Port-a-thons I decided to try out the BlackBerry App Generator simply to  experience the process for launching an app, without the need to understand any programming language or tools. It appeared to be fairly simple and straightforward.


Clicking on the “Create Your App” button I was taken through the process in only a few steps that basically involved entering a link to Voice On The Web, incorporating a logo and creating a few representative screenshots. The entire process required 10 to 15 minutes.

As a final step you must also register as a Vendor and select what you want to charge for your App; “Free” is one option. BlackBerry also requests some form of verification of your business, either via business registration documents or other appropriate means; finally, if you charge for your app, they need any relevant tax registration, such as VAT in Europe or HST/GST in Canada.

Once approved as a vendor you have access to the Vendor portal where you can track and modify your apps as appropriate. In my case I had to wait a couple of weeks for final approval due to the huge number of apps submitted during the port-a-thons (~35,000). Finally it became available on BlackBerry World for both BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry Playbook.


And the Vendor Portal provides access to managing the ongoing app activity: charges, revisions, comments, etc.


Some representative screenshots of the actual app in action:

BlackBerry 10

BB10.VOTWApp.Home BB10.VOTWApp.PostExample
Home Screen Sample Post
BB10.VOTWApp.PostMenu BB10.VOTWApp.ShareOptions
Post Menu Share Options

BlackBerry PlayBook

Home Page
Swipe to left or right to see additional posts summaries
Individual Posts
Arrows to slide between posts; swipe down to view post content
Note the Twitter and Facebook buttons

BB10.Browser.ReaderMode2Bottom line: Generating a smartphone app from the content and RSS feed of a website provides one more access point to content on a website’s posts. Costs were negligible, even in terms of time and, in this case, for the user, the app is free.

On the other hand, bringing up a “responsive design” website directly in a smartphone’s browser retains the full integrity of the original website. Menus and the associated navigation remain readily available; the sidebar, while moved below the main content page being viewed, is accessible simply by swiping downward. Via the menu you can access WordPress Pages in addition to Posts. All the options to “Share” a web page remain available.

The BlackBerry 10 browser’s Reader mode display option, shown on the right, retains the actual formatting while providing a standardized, readily readable font with easy adjustment of font size. While larger images are reduced in size in the Reader mode, tapping on the image brings up the full size image (within the constraints of the actual display size).

While generating an app for a website provides one more access point to its content, I still have to go along with recommending use of responsive design and the smartphone or tablet browser. I will not be looking at doing an iOSx or Android app for Voice On The Web. My primary benefit of this exercise has been the opportunity to experience in practice one form of the app developer submission process without having any programming or developer tool experience. (Can anyone say FORTRAN IV or WATFOR?)

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A BlackBerry 10 Tale: Why your Microsoft ID is Becoming Important Tue, 26 Feb 2013 12:36:00 +0000 BB10.Microsoft.BlackBerry.logoA few months ago Skype introduced the ability to associate your Skype ID with a Microsoft ID and the option to log into Skype via your Microsoft ID. The most immediate advantage is the addition of your Windows Live Messenger contacts to those accessible from the Skype client.

While many Skype users have taken advantage of this feature, some have raised objections but then again it’s optional. On the other hand if you are into using Microsoft products you will want to get the bigger picture that I see evolving with the introduction of Windows 8, Office 2013 and associated “cloud” offerings, such as SkyDrive.

A heads up: if you are not into using Microsoft products, then you probably want to bypass this post. On the other hand (potential) BlackBerry 10 owners will also be interested in what is discussed here.

As a prelude I should mention that the only reason I previously had a Microsoft ID was to use Windows [Live] Messenger or its predecessors several years ago. I stopped using Messenger four or five years ago when I found that all my Messenger contacts (not many) were also Contacts on Skype. So I had basically let my Microsoft ID languish in favour of Skype for its richer feature set.

However, over the past few months I have been learning, by pragmatic experience, more about the evolving cloud-based Microsoft ecosystem.  Skype account integration with a Microsoft ID is only one component of the entire story. A new Windows 8 desktop PC (acquired to address RAM and processor issues with my previous PC that cost me one to two hours a day), a few days evaluating a Microsoft Surface, signing up initially for Microsoft Exchange and later Office 365 have all contributed to building a better idea of Microsoft’s “big picture’”.  Microsoft ID has become the gateway to many Microsoft offerings.


First here’s what I now log into with my Microsoft ID:

  • Skype (on PC’s, iPhone, iPad and Android tablet)
  • MS Exchange
  • Windows 8
    • Microsoft ID is required to log into Windows 8 in place of independent Windows User iD’s
    • Logging into Windows 8 auto-logs me into Skype for Windows 8, Mail, People and other MS Windows 8 applications, including SkyDrive
  • SkyDrive (also accessed from MacBook, iPhone, iPad and Android)
  • Office 365 (Office 2013 on Windows and Office 2011 on Mac)
  • Microsoft Surface (when I was evaluating it)
  • ( but with MS Exchange using the same ID I can no longer access
  • Windows Live Messenger (but that is being merged into Skype)
  • Windows Live Writer


Now over to my BlackBerry 10. I have now had six days to experience this new mobile computing platform. I referenced some reviews in a previous post. At this time just a few quick comments:

  • BB10.ActiveApps.ExampleIt’s fast. Access to messages, via the Hub, launching programs, web browsing especially, returning to open programs – they’ve taken away many of the little hesitations and pauses one gets with previous devices. Let me repeat – it’s fast.
  • The Hub is the “always open” messaging feature where BlackBerry leverages QNX’s multi-tasking capability. While maybe Android supports multi-tasking programs in background, BlackBerry leverages its multi-tasking to provide a totally unique user experience.
  • The keyboard: I’m not waiting for the Q10 with a physical keyboard. I can do 50 to 100 character sentences in 10 to 20 keystrokes (and I don’t have to go back to correct typing errors nearly as often).
  • Gesturing: There is no “Home” button to launch activity. I had some experience with gesturing when using the BlackBerry Playbook. There’s a bit of a learning curve but once you get it you can move quickly to wherever you want to be. (And the learning curve is no where near as much as with using the new Windows 8 tile UI.)
  • An amazing display; more on this topic and the BlackBerry 10 in a future post.

Bottom line: the BlackBerry Z10 is an entire new mobile user experience. As one who has always pushed multi-tasking to the limit (and sold the concept and associated user experience for a major portion of my career), BlackBerry got it right.

Over the weekend I was watching the Lync Conference keynote given by Tony Bates, President of Microsoft Skype Division and Derek Burney, Corporate Vice President, Lync. More about that in a later post. However, at one point mention was made of SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage offering. Out of curiosity I decided to see if I could access SkyDrive via the BlackBerry 10 browser. And I got some interesting results that give a much better picture of the extent to which your Microsoft ID  is leveraged to reach into the cloud, especially in today’s BYOD environment.

SkyDrive.SidebarIn the BlackBerry 10 browser I went to (it redirects to Asked me to login with my Microsoft ID. Then I ended up at a screen that gave some of the standard sidebar options for accessing files (as seen in, say, Office 2013) but I also noticed additional links to my two Windows PC’s on the sidebar (I still have that old Windows 7 PC online).

I clicked on the one for my new PC; there is a 2-step security procedure. It sent out a security code to my associated mobile phone (my BlackBerry in this case). Switched over to the BlackBerry 10 Hub; sure enough the message was there with my code. Switched back to my browser and entered the code. (BlackBerry 10’s true background processing feature makes this switching quite fast – no hesitations.)

On the left below is what I saw:


PC C: Drive Screen
Favorites, Library, Computer
(as also seen in Windows 8 File Explorer)
Select a file
Notice how one can use right/left swipe gestures across the bottom to move between file images

But is was only when I rotated to landscape that I found the full feature set available.


You can “slide” through the various files via the file slider at the bottom. Across the top are a variety of options for handling the file in focus, including the ability to download the file and to share it using email, social networking or links:


As an aside I also found I could access Windows Live Messenger via the small chat icon in the upper right but it’s not a user friendly way to access and use Messenger. I’ll stick to Skype 6.x for accessing my Messenger contacts (and that goes away soon with the Live Messenger integration into Skype).

Bottom line: While it would be great to have a SkyDrive app for BlackBerry 10, this browser-launched approach provides a path to any files on my PC that are not accessible via my DropBox account for which a BlackBerry 10 app exists. More importantly it points out how deeply Microsoft is integrating into cloud-based services for more universal access to their offerings. It serves as an example of why the Microsoft ID is becoming more important for those who use any of Microsoft’s applications or services.

From the BlackBerry perspective, I have found that I can access many “applications’, such as, through their [mobile] website and get results as quickly as (or even faster than accessing the application on my iPhone 5.

As for the Skype – Lync demo, yes, you also log into Lync via your Microsoft ID but, as an enterprise focused offering, the Skype-Lync integration is a topic for another post.

As for any issue with using the Microsoft ID with Skype, yes, I am well aware that you are limited to associating it with only one Skype account. On the other hand I always launch Windows 8 directly into Desktop mode via the Start8 utility where I use Skype for Windows Classic (Desktop) for all my Skype activities, including access to my “testing” Skype account.

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“New” Skype for Windows 8; Not Your Skype for Windows “Classic” Wed, 24 Oct 2012 12:15:24 +0000 Two days ago Skype announced Skype for Windows 8– a new Skype for Windows user interface designed from the ground up to offer Skype as essentially an embedded application delivering real time conversations within the Windows 8 user experience. Skype provided a brief overview video:


along with some sample screen shots in the announcement post. Basically once installed from the Windows Store, Skype is accessed from the Windows 8 Start screen as a live tile. While using your Windows 8 PC or Surface tablet, Skype is always available in the background and notifying you of incoming chat messages as well as calls. But it’s integrated into the overall new Windows 8 user experience which has had mixed reviews.

Transitioning to Windows 8 is not the normal transition to a new Windows version and will have a learning curve that needs to be accepted by the Windows PC user base. Of course the major difference is that Windows 8 can also support touch screen devices, such as tablets and touch screen PC’s. One question is how does the focus on a touch-based device impact the user experience on the legacy PC?

What I have learned from posts on the Internet combined with the recent Skype 5.11 beta for Windows:

  • Skype for Windows 8 will be accessed through your Microsoft ID (which actually is required to launch Windows 8 itself). It will be necessary to merge your Skype account with your Microsoft ID/profile; if not already done, this happens the first time you use Skype for Window 8. Since the launch of Skype 5.11 beta for Windows I have been logged in through my MS account with no impact on my Skype activities. Keep in mind that this linkage implies that only the Skype account linked to your Microsoft ID can be running Skype for Windows 8; running or switching to a second Skype account would require Skype for Windows “Classic” on the Windows 8 legacy desktop.
  • Skype for Windows 8 will be “always on”, available in background. Hopefully the user will be able to manage the level of user ‘interruption” such that Skype notifications do not become an “annoying” disrupter of other Windows 8 activities.
  • Skype for Windows 8 supports Skype’s traditional features such as group chats, video calling and SMS messaging. Also calls can be placed to users on any Skype endpoint, PC’s, iOS/Android tablets (including Kindle Fire) and smartphones, TV’s, etc.
  • Windows 8 RT, along with Surface and other supporting tablets, is Microsoft’s first entry into the tablet market space. With the iPad and Android tablets, I have encountered many who use Skype on these devices as their main communications provider when traveling – usually by finding a WiFi access point. Also these devices can also have the potential to replace desktop phones in a business. Will Surface be in the competition amongst tablets to become the primary communications device for both personal and business use in the home or office, replacing legacy phone sets? Where will these devices be positioned relative to using a smartphone?
  • Skype for Windows 8 conversations can be launched through the Microsoft People application – an integrated “address book” or contact “hub” that incorporates social networking and other contact information. provides an initial indication of how the People application is intended to work.

Bottom line: Skype for Windows 8 represents the first deep integration of Skype into Microsoft offerings. Not only will Skype offer a new user experience; simply coming up to speed on the overall Windows 8 user experience will offer its challenges. Call it “New” Skype for Windows, available to launch and participate, on demand, in real time conversations while working with Windows PC’s and tablets.

Does it become a feature that helps justify Microsoft’s $8.5B acquisition of Skype and drives Microsoft revenues through Windows 8 adoption? Our only measures may be the increase in the monthly Skype user number, most recently reported in Microsoft’s quarterly report as now at 280 million along with the adoption rate of Windows 8.

Skype for Windows 8 will be available in the Windows Store on Friday, October 26 at the time of the Windows 8 launch.

As for the references to “New” and “Classic”: Some of my older followers will recall the introduction of “New Coke” in 1984; within a few weeks, Coke “Classic” appeared as a relaunch of the original Coke. Today we only see Coke “Classic” on the market. Let’s hope, in this case we see how the “New” and “Classic” Skype for Windows can complement each other in building the Skype user base.”

I hope to have more information for a post on launch day.

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Skype’s 9th Birthday: Whither Skype? Wed, 29 Aug 2012 11:06:00 +0000 Nine years ago today, with the necessary pieces of the Internet infrastructure in place, Skype launched as a Windows software application supporting free Skype-to-Skype voice and instant messaging conversations between Windows PC’s.  Within a month there had been over 500,000 downloads. This slide from a Skype presentation in 2008 sums up the situation at its August 29, 2003 launch :


Today we find Skype on multiple hardware platforms, including mobile devices and TV sets; it’s even available on “traditional” phone sets such as the RTX Dualphone 4088 and FREETALK Office Phone 3000.  Video calling and collaboration have become widely adopted. With over 250 million active users it has become one of the most widely used social networking applications on the Internet. TV newscasts would be lost without Skype calls.

But where does it go from here?

Certainly the recent $8.5B Microsoft acquisition of Skype helps to set the direction. In an update provided to USA Today last week, Skype is at home with Microsoft, Skype Division President Tony Bates envisions:

Skype has always been much more than just a way of doing low-cost calling. We think we can change the way people communicate across multiple platforms — on your PC, the mobile phone, in your living room. And we set our goal to get to not just hundreds of millions but billions of users, and change it from an experience that wasn’t just an appointment to talk like we’re doing now but became an everyday sharing experience. [Author’s bold]

HappyBirthday.whiteHe goes on to discuss Skype’s play in mobile and video calling. October’s launch of Windows 8 presents opportunities for a new user interface. Windows Phone 8, Xbox and Office are three more opportunities for incorporating Skype sharing experiences within the Microsoft domain. Tony sums it up when he says, in the USA Today article, “And there is definitely a strong belief system, certainly at my level and Steve (Ballmer’s) level, that communications is a fundamental human need that crosses over into a lot of things.”

But looking at the broader picture, one needs to consider some of the other communications market options. While their primary revenue generator remains advertising, Google is working chat, voice and video conversations into its offerings – start a Hangouts call to others on Google+. CounterPath is providing the software infrastructure for enterprise communications, bringing softphones to current generation PBX systems, whether premise- or cloud- based. Incorporating social networking support they even offer the opportunity to turn tablets and mobile phones into end points for these systems, often replacing the traditional desktop phone set.

However, the most significant battle will be between these “over-the-top” offerings that simply require an Internet connection to support a conversation, with the carrier revenue for the conversation being submerged into data offerings, and the legacy carriers who are striving to maintain their “independent” voice communications and SMS messaging businesses. As articulated last fall in a report on the potential of “over-the-top” providers Knowledge Center states”

The migration to LTE networks represents major discontinuity for operators’ voice services. While over-the-top players continue to launch new services and integrate applications, the operator community is still in the early trial stage. Operators have yet to decide whether their efforts should be focused on ensuring service continuity or with creating a new paradigm for voice communications.

With the transition to LTE data networks and the demise of circuit switch-based infrastructure these operators are trying to introduce their own protocol, Voice over LTE or VoLTE, as their form of IP-based communications. Their lucrative SMS messaging business is being eroded by instant messaging services, such as Apple’s iMessage, the combination of Facebook chat and Skype IM1or Google Talk. Once again the only revenue to carriers would be submerged into their data offerings.

One other consideration is the spread of WiFi access points as an alternative to wireless and broadband carriers for an “over-the-top” Internet connection. The end result will largely be determined by user acceptance of the user interface, whether hardware or software. As I overheard at an industry event last week, the legacy phone interface is pretty simple and easy to learn; anything more complicated presents a challenge. The challenge is to provide the most frictionless path to launching and supporting a conversation in the context of what triggered a user’s desire to make a call:

  • How do I make a simple voice call?
  • How can I complement the call with, say, chat messaging?
  • Can I collaborate with friends or colleagues on a multi-party conversation?
  • How do I review and share a document with a colleague, customer or supplier?
  • What is the etiquette for launching a conversation?
  • How do I establish that a friend or colleague is available to accept a call?
  • How do I add a voice or video channel to my Internet game?
  • What hardware device does my friend or colleague use for receiving calls?
  • Can I escalate a conversation from chat to voice to video?
  • Can i complement a conversation with desktop and/or file/photo sharing?

Where does Skype play a role going forward?

Beyond its inherent calling features within Skype clients, Skype definitely provides the infrastructure for free chat, voice and video conversations. In one sense we have seen that through their relationship with Facebook. Besides its ongoing development and innovation on mobile devices, Skype will introduce opportunities for experience sharing into several Microsoft products. Skype is incrementally improving its mobile offerings every few months on multiple vendors’ devices. Its primary focus will remain on real time communications; the question is where does one want to launch and receive a “sharing experience” in the course of our ongoing social networking activities?

The challenge is to make it easy to launch and carry on a conversation from the user’s choice of hardware; the communication activity must be clear, reliable, sustainable and robust. However, much like we’ve gone from a 10 to 15 channel selection of black and white TV programming on a 13- to 20-inch rounded screen when Neil  Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969 to hundreds of color channels to select via cable or satellite and view on a 27- to 80-inch flat panel screen, there will be many options for launching conversations in the context of the user’s needs for a sharing experience.

If the appropriate user interfaces become available, one option that has the potential to disappear is to purchase voice and messaging offerings from a carrier. With the arrival of LTE at speeds approaching that of landline connections and the speed increases of cable and other landline Internet services “over-the-top” offerings have the potential to disintermediate the need for an Internet service provider to offer more than a high speed Internet connection (often euphemistically called “the pipe”). With its protocols and unique voice and video technology, Skype is demonstrating how this scenario can play out.

On the other hand users need to adopt socially to new opportunities and scenarios for communications as they become available. Michael Graves has questioned the acceptance of making and receiving calls via TV sets. As has been mentioned on posts about Skype for TVon this blog, TV sets have a different social role from that of calling from “personal” hardware, such as PC’s and smartphones.

…. the social issue revolving around the use of Skype for TV is that, unlike a “personal” computer used by an individual, a TV set is usually shared in a family room, living room or a business meeting room where consensus must build around what programming or application the set is being used to view.

Bottom line: Skype certainly has a head start with its current infrastructure, forthcoming Microsoft integration and mobile device opportunities. The entire real time communications industry is still passing through a revolution in both how and when we want to share experiences.

But Skype needs to continue to innovate and to support the evolution of multiple hardware platforms to remain a leading player. As these scenarios evolve, never lose sight of the fact that Microsoft needs to justify and recover its $8.5B investment in Skype within the next few years; this will definitely impact Skype’s future offerings and business models.

Update: Dan York makes several interesting points in his post Skype Celebrates 9 Years of Disrupting Telecom, But What Comes Next? covering issues such as the impact of this fall’s ITU conference, incorporating calling into the “fabric of the web”, the Microsoft effect and the social impact where he concludes

Skype’s challenge is to figure out how they fit into the social ecosystem. Do they attempt to become the real-time communications infrastructure for social networks? So that when you do want to move your interaction to a voice or video call you can do so over Skype? Do they try to open up their massive platform to be a social infrastructure? Do they join the rest of the players in trying to be “the place” where you read your social status updates?

Two more updates:

1 Recall that Skype for Windows and Skype for Mac allow a user to chat with Facebook friends; their Facebook friends could be on any device that supports Facebook chat, even the BlackBerry Playbook!

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Skype Photo Sharing: A Conversation Feature – Not an App Wed, 22 Aug 2012 14:04:49 +0000 skype-logo-placeholder.narrowYesterday Skype announced the availability of Skype for iOS 4.1, an upgrade that introduces photo sharing as well as longer iPhone/iPad battery life when running Skype. This of course triggered some “deep thinking” as to why Skype took so long to include photo sharing as well as why it was not available on Skype for Windows/Mac previously.

Dan York has gone into detail on how this photo sharing works as well as commentary on whether it impacts other applications that include photo sharing such as Instagram, Facebook and Google+. Another concern is the legacy user experience with the battery life impact of leaving Skype running.

That, to me, will be the key for the usage and adoption of this photo sharing. I need to be comfortable leaving Skype running on my iOS devices – and so do my recipients. If we all get to the point where Skype is just “always on” on our iOS (and Android) devices… then yes, we might start using this as a way to share photos.

Bottom line is that he sees this feature being of more use provided battery life is not impacted while Skype is open, especially on the iPhone. During an initial overnight period my iPad battery dropped from 56% to 51% with Skype running in the background.

However, when I first learned of this announcement and saw some commentary, it reminded me of an old saying about web browsers being included in Windows – it’s a feature! (as opposed to an application). In practice Skype for iOS 4.1 finally brings an initial implementation of file sharing to Skype for iOS – a feature that has been available since last winter on Skype for Android. But there are some significant differences.

When you go to a Contact on Skype for Android and select “Send File” you receive a menu with a choice of applications that are essentially some form of file manager:


While the first two are self-explanatory, ES File Explorer is one of the most popular file managers on Android while Gallery is Android’s native photo viewing application. Skype has essentially made accessing a file for sharing somewhat easier by accessing both native-device and cloud-based file manager applications. And, most importantly, the ability to share a file is simply as a feature that complements a Skype conversation, whether chat, voice or video.

In the same manner, Skype for iOS 4.1’s photo sharing is simply a complement to a conversation that involves an iPad or iPhone. Dan shows how to access photo sharing on an iPhone. On the iPad one simply selects the “+” icon with the following sequence:


For iOS devices with a camera, there are initially two choices, as Dan shows: Choose Existing or Take Photo (using the camera on the device). Note that Skype for Android does not offer a choice to “Take Photos” under its “Send File” feature. But amongst the “Existing” photos are those that come from iPhoto on my MacBook.

Also worth noting is that it’s a feature that allows photo sharing independent of file size. This is a feature that overcomes limitations of email and messaging services.

Share photos can be received on Skype for Windows and Skype for Mac:


In this example I sent Phil a photo from my iPad but of course, as indicated above, it is not on my PC; on the other hand I was able to receive, on my Windows PC, the photo that Phil sent to me from his iPad.

I also noticed that not only does Skype load faster but when you access a previous conversation that needs updating on a new login, these updates come up much more rapidly, even with large Group Chat sessions containing over 100 “new” messages. This was previously a significant user experience issue.

Bottom line: Photo sharing on iOS devices is simply bringing an initial implementation of a legacy feature on Skype for Windows/Mac, namely, file sharing. Photo sharing is a social feature of many social networking applications, such as Facebook. Twitter, Four Square and Google+. On Skype for iOS 4.1 it is simply a conversation enhancement to real time social networking. In a similar vein, recall that voice and video calling on Facebook are simply real time social networking features within Facebook.

When looking at an announcement from Skype I am always asking: “How does this enhance real time Skype conversations?”. Should Skype ever lose that focus, then they will start to encounter dysfunctional issues. We are already seeing a similar situation with Facebook’s drifting stock price as they try to figure out how to enhance their social networking activities.

As to who will use this feature: over the past year I have found several acquaintances who take the iPad as their sole “intelligent” device while traveling. And they make heavy use of Skype (usually at WiFi access points to avoid roaming charges) to call back home. Now they can also share photos during those calls, even when the called party is using Skype for Windows/Mac. Let’s face it – exchanging photos is a natural vanity exercise – especially when it comes to grandparents!

One final question; As with Skype for Android, can we expect to see file sharing on iOS devices expanded to include, say, Dropbox? According to a Skype spokesperson, Apple does not allow an app publisher to have different apps interact with each other on iOS whereas Android does. However, Dropbox does have its own iOS SDKPamFax for iOS provides access to Dropbox (via the SDK, not via the Dropbox application) for two purposes: to select a Dropbox file for faxing and to receive faxes in a Dropbox folder. Once I had tested this feature I dropped my dedicated Bell Canada fax line. Can Skype take advantage of this SDK?

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It’s Time for an eBook about Skype! Wed, 01 Aug 2012 12:34:08 +0000 SKYPE Final Art Work_CMYK Color.256px

Introducing Experience Skype to the Max – a comprehensive guide to enriching your Skype experience.

I’ve been covering Skype via Skype Journal and Voice On The Web for over six years. I first experienced IP-based communications back in 1995-96 when I watched engineers at my employer of the day struggle to make voice calls work on 50MHz Pentium PC’s over a 43 kbps dialup modem. (Yes, it did eventually work; in fact at one point I participated in a demonstration for an analyst conference in London, U.K. from my home near Toronto.)

In the subsequent years I followed several attempts at using the underlying technology to develop a voice calling offering. One of my clients in the early 2000’s actually had it working as a feature within a desktop sharing collaboration tool. I signed up for an early subscription to 8×8’s initial service. But these offerings had no directory arrangements and calls had to be pre-arranged by email. Voice quality and robustness were not the best and the infrastructure required hosting on a server.

However in 2005 I learned about Skype and started using it with a Toronto-based medical software client who often traveled to Europe and California. I recall once making a Skype call from my PC in a Santa Barbara, CA medical office to my client in Oslo, Norway. Nobody in the customer’s office knew I had done this; no need to ask about using a phone or set up a long distance arrangement or otherwise bothering the customer’s personnel. No calling card was required. Then we started finding how useful Skype chat was as an effective and complementary conversation tool. I stopped billing my clients for long distance charges. To summarize, significant communications overhead for my consulting business evaporated!

In the spring of 2006 I attended a Voice over Net conference in Toronto and was asked to report for Skype Journal. Over the subsequent years I was exposed to the evolution of Skype and other IP-based communications offerings as well as the transition of mobile phones into smartphones. The Skype experience grew from voice calling and IM on PC’s to “Skype Everywhere” with voice, video, chat and collaboration on a wide range of devices and hardware platforms.

The book is complete, easy to navigate, clear, and straightforward. Useful, too. Phil Wolff, Editor, Skype Journal

Skype introduced its SILK codec providing crystal clear audio. Skype evolved video from postage stamp 320 x240 images to “amazing” HD video where the other party appears “live” across your desk on today’s larger flat panel monitors. Video calling arrived on mobile smartphones and tablets. Video conversations came to the family room with Skype for TV. As social networking grew, there appeared integration with Facebook. Skype Shop evolved into a fully featured e-commerce platform with a wide range of Skype-certified hardware peripherals.

When I completed a project for a Skype partner in the spring of 2011 I realized I had over 700 blog posts and lots of exposure to using  Skype. That exposure included not only Skype software but also Skype hardware. (I have somewhere near 100 pieces of hardware around my office.) Questions and stories from Skype users indicated a need for one comprehensive resource covering all the information needed to  get the most out of the Skype experience.

In April 2011 I wrote up an outline and started writing. Sixteen months and a few Skype revisions later (as well as the launch of Skype for iPad and evolution of Skype for TV) I am today launching a Kindle eBook: Experience Skype to the Max – the essential guide to the world’s leading Internet communications platform.

To expand on that theme it’s:

A guide to real time social networking for building and sustaining everyday personal and business relationships, whether geographically dispersed “friends and family”, road warriors, special interest groups, business teams, the wanderlust world traveler and anyone who wants to get more out of their Skype experience.

You can learn more about Experience Skype to the Max at the book’s website. It talks about the author, the content and the target audience. And it has the big “Available on Amazon Kindle” button that will take you to the eBook’s page on Amazon where you can buy in one click. (If you’re already sold click on the image to the right.) It’s also available via the U.S. and U.K. Skype Shops.

As for being a Kindle eBook you can read it not only on Kindle devices (Kindle Fire preferred; however, it’s only available in the U.S.) but also using Kindle Reader apps for iPad, Android tablets, Windows PC’s and Mac PC’s. (I did the proof reading on an Android tablet.)  The great features about Kindle include navigation, bookmarking, highlighting and even note making. If you have multiple devices registered to your Amazon Kindle account you can read it on any of them. Especially useful is the ability to click on a link, go to a web browser and, in one click, return to your place in the eBook.

One other reason for using Kindle: I can update the book periodically and easily have it distributed to all buyers via Amazon’s services. But Skype is a very dynamic, evolving platform, especially with integration into Microsoft products over the next year; to keep up to date and current on new features and developments as they occur register for email updates.

I look forward to your comments and feedback. At some point soon I will add a forum to the book website to engage readers in more conversation about the book.

One other comment: I’ll keep on reporting on not only Skype but other IP-based communications offerings; such a broad perspective is necessary to fully comprehend the entire Internet communications picture. I will continue to be critical – for instance I would like to see the return of separate chat windows and the addition of the Call Quality Info tool to Skype for Mac. But, at the same time, over 250 million are already benefiting from their Skype experiences. This is a reference resource for them to get the most out of Skype and for potential users to learn about Skype.

Disclaimer: This book and its contents have not been endorsed or reviewed by Skype. Any views or opinions expressed are entirely views of the author or the cited source only. The Skype name, associated trademarks and logos and the “S” logo are trademarks of Skype. More

Bottom line: for more information check out Experience Skype to the Max!

Finally, I need the acknowledge Dr. Christiane Werneck and her cardiovascular surgery team at Trillium Hospital in Mississauga. Without their efforts in April 2012, this eBook may never have been completed. I am still blown away by what they did and how far medical technology has progressed.

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Rogers One Number: Marketing FAIL for a Widely Acclaimed Service Fri, 16 Mar 2012 20:04:48 +0000 Full disclosure: I was a beta tester of the Rogers One Number service, on behalf of one of the software vendors behind the service. I also use it regularly, mostly to answer calls to my mobile smartphone on one of my PC’s but sometimes for outbound calls. Yet I continue to use Skype for its many other features beyond simply making a voice call.

About a month ago Rogers launched the Rogers One Number service to much acclaim from several analysts and players in the the IP-based communications space – worldwide, not just in Canada. Their acclaim arises from the perspective of using IP-based communications to provide a service that takes full advantage of the negligible incremental cost of such a service while offering a free differentiating feature to Rogers’s customers.

Rogers1Number.HashtagHowever, today Rogers marketing attempted to allure prospective customers via the promoted Twitter hashtag #Rogers1Number. But the outcome has turned into a public relations nightmare for Rogers. Instead of building awareness for this unique free service for its wireless customers and its features, it has generated a flood of complaints (to put it mildly) from frustrated Rogers customers who are having service issues with their various Rogers services. There’s a marketing psychology lesson there – if you’ve been having customer service issues, customers will take any social networking avenue to vent, especially if you are trying to entice new customers, even for a free service.

When I look in retrospect over the entire beta and launch period, this has to be a classic case of marketing FAIL. And, in particular, failure to build appropriate brand awareness. From a technology deployment perspective, Rogers One Number is a major breakthrough in offering customers a unique service built around today’s IP-based communications technology. Renowned telecom analysts such as Dean Bubley and Jon Arnold praised it as a “disruptive” service in recent posts. Kevin Fitchard at GigaOm asks “Is it the future of telco voice?”.

Let’s step back and take a look at the offering and, then, how it was marketed.

What does Rogers One Number offer?

Feature Benefit
Make and receive calls to/from your PC in addition to your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android phone) using the same number. Convenience: User can answer on either the PC or smartphone, depending on which is most convenient at the time call is received.
Hands free calling, if you use a headset on the PC
Make free calls to any landline or wireless number in Canada from your PC. Place calls to any landline or wireless number in Canada from any internet-connected PC worldwide at no cost.
Make video calls between two PC’s using Rogers One Number. Free video calling worldwide, including support for HD video webcams
Switch calls between your PC and smartphone Move from outside, say, office or home without dropping the call.
Set up a conference call from the PC Free conference calls with up to five participants

Great benefits, and they’re free, so where did Rogers fail?

Rogers1Number.GripeFestThe disconnect comes because Rogers has failed to go on the offensive to build true brand awareness about Rogers One Number and its benefits prior to promoting it through a Twitter hashtag. On the other hand their customers associate Rogers with wireless phone services, triggering a response from anyone who has encountered issues with their Rogers wireless account. It would not have mattered if Rogers had promoted as hashtags #RogersWireless, #RogersSmartphone or similar, they would have received the same set of responses.

The number one reason for this disconnect is the need to educate their customers that Rogers One Number is about the ability to use a PC as a voice (and video) communications platform that is complementary to their smartphone wireless service. While those of us “in the industry” are well aware of the use of PC’s for making calls, there is still a huge audience out there who need to be educated about using a PC for text, voice and video conversations and the ability to handle calls concurrently on more than one device or platform.

Rogers1Number.execleadershipThis is where Rogers marketing has made its major fail. Too much rush to push a service where the target market needs to learn about the underlying user experience rather than simply making calls from a smartphone. This is verified by the fact that none of the responding Tweets ask what Rogers1Number is or mention anything about the service itself. “Knowing how your customers REALLY feel about your services” includes ensuring they are aware of what the service really offers and how to go about taking advantage of it. If anything, this scenario proves that there is a significant portion of the target market who are not even aware of using PC’s for making and receiving calls. Or the ability to make and receive calls concurrently on a PC and smartphone. It’s not a “familiar” or “no brainer” user experience. Here we have an example of putting the cart before the horse.

In over six years of following Skype, a key difference from the normal user calling experience is that Skype calls are usually made from PC’s, and more recently, smartphones – not a telephone handset, whether desktop, wall phone, cordless phone or plain mobile phone (voice and text only). A Skype account can be used concurrently on both platforms; Skype users are well aware of the experience of making calls on a PC or mobile smartphone. Grandparents only learn about Skype when they learn they can see their grandchildren grow up, even if they live a continent or oceans away. Parents learn about it when their children head off to college in another town. Small businesses learn about it when they learn they can deal worldwide at little or low cost.

Rogers needs to work on educating their consumer market, through their advertising and promotions, not just “pushing” the brand name. A more appropriate promoted Tweet would have been “With #Rogers1Number, make voice and video calls from your smartphone or PC. Learn more about this free service here:”. (<140 characters).

I meet several of their social networking team at a monthly event that Rogers, amongst others, sponsors. These a real humans who want to flag problems and get assistance. Even today I see Mary @ Rogers  and Melanie @ Rogers, amongst others, attempting to establish a dialogue with some of the responders.

In the Toronto Star, Keith McArthur, Rogers Vice-President of Social Marketing has responded with:

“There’s a risk, but the benefit is also that we do get feedback that we can action, that we can pass on to different parts of the business and make our products and services better,” he said. “Some people are choosing to use this as an opportunity to talk about things they like or don’t like about the brand. That not new to us: we’ve been listening and responding to that kind of thing before most other brands, so, we’re okay with it.”

Update: as I was drafting this, via TechVibes, I learned about this response – another promoted Tweet from Rogers:


Bottom line: The challenge of social marketing is to blend it into an overall marketing campaign. In this case social marketing was used to push a service but the response has been an outpouring of grief. Meanwhile the target market base needs to be educated about a new user experience and its benefits. However, can this be turned into cleaning up customer experiences? Only time will tell.

Update Friday evening: Rogers VP Social Media, Keith McArthur responds on Rogers Redboard: Our take on today’s Twitter trend.

Update March 20: Mark Orlan, in Mark’s Musings … through the Lens of the Customer, has articulated the overall issue surrounding hashtag fails in Backfiring Twitter Tactics Are Symptomatic of a  Much Larger Problem:

Twitter “bashtags” are often symptomatic of problems at the very core of an organization – the brand promise and strategy do not align with the customer, but rather with the products that the company sells.  For these organizations, it’s all about pushing more product and selling higher margin goods and services. …..  As companies realize that the only way to differentiate in this commoditized, digitized world is by creating unique, wonderful experiences for their customers (stories and memories that can be shared, by putting their customers at the centre of their businesses), and by creating a culture where employees are empowered and proud to wear the brand on their sleeves, will we see a reduction in the number and frequency of Twitter promotions that backfire.

Rogers needs to move from a product-centric focus to a customer-centric one; such a change requires direction and leadership from the C-level executives.

Full disclosure: I have been a Rogers customer for all their services since 1986 (when Bell had a terrible cell phone service). Over time there have been glitches but more often than not I’ll learn about new cost savings and enhanced services through customer service calls that were initiated to solve a problem. Last week I went to a Rogers store to upgrade my Internet modem and learned that I could save 10% of my combined cable TV and Internet bill by signing up for their new Rogers Netbox service. I now have a much better overall cable TV service and get to keep my Rogers Ultimate Internet service. Again it was a matter of educating me as a customer rather than pushing something I may not need. My other secret – I treat all Rogers personnel as if they are “my” customer, not a foe; they are humans also. Often they volunteer helpful information in addition to resolving my issue.

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Skype Users Online Acceleration: Is this a Microsoft effect? Sun, 11 Mar 2012 19:26:57 +0000 36MillionOnlineAround 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time today (March 11, 2012), Skype Users Online went over 36 million for the first time. It’s not simply a matter of crossing this line but more a question of why the rapid growth of Users Online over the past two weeks.

37MillionOnlineUpdate Monday, Mar. 12: At approximately 12:45 EDT (GMT-4) Skype users online crossed 37 million. Has Microsoft developed a new formula to measure users online? Skype users online peaked out today at 2:15 p.m. EDT at 37, 549,152.

Over the past several years Hudson Barton has tracked the number of Skype users online every fifteen minutes and graphs it out for us. Usually we would see weeks or even months between crossing successive “million” users online increments. But, since the launch of Windows Phone Mobile, which coincided with the opening of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where Skype WiFi access was free during the conference, we have seen rapid growth past 32 million (Feb. 24), 34 million (Feb. 28), 35 million (Mar. 5) and 36 million (today Mar. 11) in a matter of days. These are numbers that have crept up to, and now surpass, the population of Canada.


There continues to be the daily cycles as various regions of the world come online during the day but it’s the overall peaks (usually around noon to 2 p.m. Eastern time) that interest us here. Another first: the number of users online peaked out on a Sunday; normally there is a decline in users online over the weekends.


What’s driving this? We don’t really know (and I don’t think Skype is going to tell us) but here are some recent events:

Phil Wolff at Skype Journal speculates: Skype’s 2012 Streak Continues: New High of 36 Million Concurrent Users Sunday

Why is 36 an important number? Well, according to Wikipedia:

  • 36 is both the square of 6 and a triangular number, making it a square triangular number. It is the smallest square triangular number other than 1, and it is also the only triangular number other than 1 whose square root is also a triangular number.
  • It is the smallest number n with exactly 8 solutions to the equation ?(x) = n. Being the smallest number with exactly 9 divisors, 36 is a highly composite number. Adding up some subsets of its divisors (e.g., 6, 12 and 18) gives 36, hence 36 is a semiperfect number.
  • 36 is the number of degrees in the interior angle of each tip of a regular pentagram.
  • The thirty-six officers problem is a mathematical puzzle.
  • The number of possible outcomes (not summed) in the roll of two distinct dice.
  • 36 is the largest numeric base that some computer systems support because it exhausts the numerals, 0-9, and the letters, A-Z. See Base 36.
  • In base 10, it is a Harshad number.
  • Since it is possible to find sequences of 36 consecutive integers such that each inner member shares a factor with either the first or the last member, 36 is an Erd?s–Woods number.
    • Does this have something to do with Tiger Woods golf score?
  • Because 362 + 1 = 1297, a prime, which is obviously more than 2 × 36, 36 is a Størmer number.
    The sum of the integers from 1 to 36 is 666 (see number of the beast).
  • Measurements
    • The number of inches in a yard.
    • And most importantly: In the UK, a standard beer barrel is 36 UK gallons, about 163.7 litres.
  • And, finally, it’s about 4% more than the population of Canada.

Bottom line: ??? Feel free to speculate in the Comments below. But the real bottom line is that Skype usage growth has gone somewhat viral again. Maybe someone at Skype could open the kimono a bit?

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TelyHD: Taking HD Skype Video Calling to any HDTV set Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:53:30 +0000 TelyHD not only sets a new low price point for implementing Skype for TV; it offers excellent quality call performance and, with its Android foundation, has the potential to become a major platform for other TV-appropriate applications.

telyHD_logo.192pxAs mentioned in my review of Skype for TV at CES 2012, Tely Labs was giving the first demonstrations of its TelyHD platform for Skype video calling in both the Skype and NVIDIA booths. Last week I received an evaluation unit and have been able to test it out under various conditions. Suffice it to say that while it delivers an excellent video calling experience, there are also social issues that arise when making Skype calls from the family room or living room.

telyHD_Hero_frontWcontrollerAng.300pxvertTo review the platform, the TelyHD:

  • embeds a wide-angle HD webcam supporting 720p resolution @ 30 frames per second (“fps”), with a privacy shutter
  • includes four noise cancelling microphones that take advantage of Skype’s “beam forming” audio feature
  • requires an HDTV set with an HDMI input
  • incorporates a remote control for managing the Skype calling experience from across the room
  • make calls to Skype contacts on PC’s, iOS/Android devices, Skype for TV and other TelyHD’s
    • shares photos on calls to other TelyHD contacts
  • runs on firmware built on the Android operating system
    • opens up opportunities to take it from simply a Skype application to becoming a “tablet” for the TV screen
    • firmware is automatically checked daily for an upgrade at a preset time
  • includes an onboard H.264 processor to reduce the video codec processing load on the main Tegra 2 Dual-Core ARM A9 processor from NVIDIA
  • connects to the Internet via either WiFi or an Ethernet cable
  • includes a USB port for a wired/wireless keyboard and/or USB memory stick for photosharing
  • has a SD card reader for photo sharing

TelyHD Platform Hardware

TelyHD Front Panel

TelyHD Front Panel

TelyHD Rear Connections

TelyHD Rear Connections

In this VodBurner Skype video call recording Chris Loeper, Tely Labs’ Vice-President for Worldwide Sales and Business Development, gives a tour of the platform and its features:



TelyHD.Mount.SonyBraviaOf course the first step is to have it grip firmly onto the top frame of a HDTV panel. The TelyHD has a rather unique patent-pending mount mechanism that allows its holder to adjust to any width of the panel and to any angle required to deal with protrusions of the back panel from the frame – as was my case shown here. It will hold firmly with any top frame/back panel configuration. (As an alternative placement, independent of the TV set, the base also includes a tripod mount.)

TelyHD.SpeedTest.600px.75Moving on to my experience with the TelyHD in conjunction with a six-year-old Sony Bravia HDTV and a Pioneer Audio/Video Receiver, once mounted I simply plugged the HDMI port to an HDMI input port on the receiver, connected the power adapter and turned on the TV and Receiver. I have an Internet connection with 2 Mbps upload specification that performs at 1.6 to 1.9 Mbps using Tely Labs’ speed test, well above the 1.0 Mbps minimum upload speed required for 720p video; I elected to connect to the Internet via WiFi.

Very quickly it launched the start-up wizard that walks through the webcam setup and picture size adjustment, network connection (with WiFi logon, if desired) and time zone setting. At that point the Sign In screen comes up where you can sign into a Skype account (or set up  new Skype account). I was logged in within the seven minutes mentioned on the start-up wizard page on the Tely Labs website; family members in the room at the time commented on how quickly and easily it was set up.

TelyHD.ToolTipsTelyHD.ControllerAll the activity is controlled through a seven button remote control – five-way for navigation and a Menu and End Call button. While there is an on-screen keyboard when necessary, I found a $25 Logitech k360 wireless keyboard that makes text entry much easier. When you use set up and make calls you can optionally turn on Tool Tips which show how the remote can be used in various screens, including video call displays.

Once logged in, operation starts from the Contacts Screen (see below). Pressing the menu button gives you access to six actions as shown below. Hitting the menu button again removes the menu to select a Contact for a call.


Select a contact and launch a call from the centre button of the control; the call will ring. On answering you will see the other party’s video along with a message “improving image” at the left of the status bar across the screen bottom while a connection of appropriate resolution (corresponding to the capabilities of the other party’s webcam and Internet connection) is negotiated. Pressing the menu button brings up several options for managing the call as shown below:


There are three screen layout options; press the Screen Layout icon three times to cycle through them. During a call you can zoom, pan and tilt the webcam image via the remote control.

Below are a few images representative of my calling experience – click on an image for a larger view:

TelyHD.RemoteOperation TelyHD.Operation
Operating the Remote
(option: works with user acquired wireless or wired USB keyboard)
Typical Room Scenario
TelyHD.ContactsScreen.CallSomeone TelyHD.ContactsScreen.ToolTips.Menu
Contacts Screen
(click the up arrow on remote to see a Contact’s Skype profile)
Contacts Screen with Menu
Tool Tips on Left to assist with remote control operation
TelyHD.ZoomPanTile TelyHD.FullScreen.Skype4Windows
Using Zoom/Pan/Tile during call
Screen Layout 2
Full Screen Display (1680 x 1050)
of TelyHD 720p image
as received on Skype for Windows
TelyHD.Skype4Windows.CallTechInfo TelyHD.CallTechnicalDetails
Call Technical Info
Call between TelyHD (remote) and
Skype 5.8 for Windows (local)
Call Technical Info
as shown on TelyHD
(press up arrow during call)

The Calling Experience

I have made several calls – a 25 minute call to a relative on an Acer notebook with built-in webcam; several 15 to 45 minute calls to Tely Labs where I also had a demonstration of the photo sharing that requires TelyHD on both ends of the call.  A call with Skype for iPhone worked but was limited to Skype for iPhone’s inherent 160 x 120 resolution. And, of course, doing a VodBurner video recording between a TelyHD and a Skype for Windows client, as shown above, confirms the ability of the TelyHD to make calls to a Skype client on any platform supported by Skype as well as its 720p HD performance. All calls invoke Skype’s SILK technology that delivers crystal clear audio.

If both parties have Tely HD

  • TelyHD.PhotoShare.360pxAs the first indication of how they leverage the Android platform, the initial firmware allows you to share photos on an SD card or USB stick provided both parties have a TelyHD. In fact, if the receiving party has plugged in one of these memory cards, they can download the photo at their end. But, according to my discussions with Chris Loeper, Tely Labs’ Vice-President Worldwide Sales and Business Development, (who is shown in a couple of the images above), we can expect to see many additional applications, based on both their own intuition and user feedback. The major issue determining the applications invoked will be its appropriateness for use on a TV display in a multi-person environment.
  • TelyHD Video Mail - Tely Labs websiteYou can always leave a voice mail with any Skype contact for an unanswered call. However, if the other party has TelyHD you can leave a video mail. If a call is not answered you are given an opportunity to leave a message. Or you can “flip” a contact card where you will find a menu across the bottom’ click on the right most message icon and you get the message on the right (Chris has a TelyHD so the caller gets both the video and voice option).

In order to facilitate switching between normal TV broadcast viewing and Skype calling I have programmed my Harmony remote control to make switching a single click operation. While the Harmony currently does not support emulation of the TelyHD remote, Tely Labs is working with Logitech’s Harmony division to address this. Simply having the ability to switch between the two with a single click, however, is a significant convenience.

As hinted above, the social issue revolving around the use of Skype for TV is that, unlike a “personal” computer used by an individual, a TV set is usually shared in a family room, living room or a business meeting room where consensus must build around what programming or application the set is being used to view. At some point Tely Labs hopes to introduce a feature to allow television program viewing during a Skype call. In addition there will be the usual “how-do-I-appear” self-conscious considerations and whether one wants to be seen in a larger room environment with whatever condition of the room there may be. The privacy shutter over the webcam’s lens or “Video On/Off” button in the call management menu can address these issues while maintaining a voice connection.

However, Tely Labs is not simply targeting the consumer market; they are also targeting business sectors that can take advantage of making Skype calls in, say, a conference room, without the need for a PC. Recently they signed a partnership with TVR Communications to add in-room video calling to its patient interactive services across their hospital customer base. From the press release:

Designed to allow consumers to experience free Skype video calling with the bonus of big-screen impact and high-definition clarity, telyHD brings the experience of how people connect and communicate to a new level. Unlike traditional computer-based web cameras, telyHD is designed to accommodate entire rooms, with a wide-angle camera that zooms, pans and tilts to capture a room and all its participants. In hospital rooms, telyHD gives patients the ability to connect face-to-face with family and friends worldwide — in an easy, natural and more social way. Anyone on Skype can receive the telyHD video call, whether using Skype on a computer, tablet or smartphone, and can enjoy the improved telyHD video regardless of whether they have their own telyHD system.

Currently TelyHD does not participate in Skype Group Video calls; this is a capability that will eventually be added through a future firmware upgrade.

Requirements: HD TV set with HDMI input; Internet upload speed minimum 512Kbps for VGA resolution, 1Mbps for 720p HD resolution. Optional: wireless or wired USB keyboard; USB memory stick or SD card for photo sharing (with other TelyHD users).

Bottom line: TelyHD certainly delivers excellent quality HD video and takes advantage of Skype’s SILK and multi-microphone beam forming technology to incorporate crystal clear audio. It’s a prime example of using SkypeKit to develop third party offerings. At $250 It sets a new baseline cost for using Skype for TV – with any HDTV using a HDMI connection.

However, Skype and photo sharing are only the first of several Android-based applications that will be offered through firmware upgrades. Better to think of TelyHD’s potential as an Android tablet using HDTV’s for the display. If Apple’s rumored iTV ever comes out as an iOS-powered tablet for HDTV’s, TelyHD has the video and audio foundation to provide the Android alternative.

TelyHD is available through the Skype Store in 55 countries, Amazon (U.S., U.K. and, soon, Canada) and the Tely Labs website (U.S. and Canada).

Check out the video at Walt Mossberg’s review on All Things D: Real Bonding With Family Around the TV Via Skype.

Update: Check Out the third product reviewed in this New York Times article: Digital Devices for Luddites.

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Skype 5.8 for Windows Released Mon, 06 Feb 2012 17:46:09 +0000 Earlier this week Skype released Skype 5.8 for Windows as a gold release. It brings to all users features that have been creeping into recent beta versions including:

  • Full HD video calling (720p and 1080p @ 30 fps) provided you have an appropriate webcam and sufficient Internet upload speed
  • Group Screen sharing – where a participant in a Group Video call can share either a window or the full desktop with up to ten participants; this requires that the host of the call have a Skype Premium subscription
  • Hiding offline Facebook contacts (Contacts | Hide Contacts Who | Are offline); in addition to hiding Offline Skype contacts
  • Push-to-Talk – for multiplayer gamers – allows users to set a hotkey to toggle microphone muting on a Skype call
  • Bing Bar integration (is this the first sign of a Microsoft integration?)

It’s a two screen upgrade process – in my case it took about five minutes as I have over three years of Skype chat conversations stored on my local PC; they still come in very handy using the search feature (Ctrl-F).

Video calling to Facebook users (independent from whether they have a Skype account) is still in beta but included with this release. What does beta mean? While it works quite well, there are still some issues to work through and still needs to address more feedback from user experiences:

  • Need to be able to select speakers in FB window in addition to webcam and microphone
  • Call from Skype to Facebook contact: when sending 720p 16:9 aspect ratio from Logitech C920 on Skype side; image on FB side is distorted to 4:3 aspect ratio – recipient on FB side should be able to see 16:9 aspect ratio

You can download this latest release by going to “Help | Check for Updates” in your Skype for Windows client or downloading here.

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Skype Goes to Facebook for User Engagement Tue, 06 Dec 2011 22:25:00 +0000 Skype.Facebook.MenuBar2Recently Skype has participated in several technology sharing activities with Facebook: Facebook Video Calls, Facebook Chat sessions through the Skype client, a Facebook news feed on the Skype client home page and most recently video calls from the Skype client to your Facebook Friends.

However, until now Skype has been somewhat weak on using Facebook for social networking’s real power – user engagement. Even so over 5,000,000 Facebook users had “Liked” Skype’s Facebook site.

Three weeks ago Skype launched its new Facebook Fan Pages site with a focus on building user engagement. According to Jennifer Caulkin, Skype’s Social Networking Manager,

“We revamped the Skype page on Facebook because its about engagement with our fans.  We want to give them compelling content, access to product information, the latest Skype download, exclusive deals, unique promotions and fun stuff.”

One of Skype’s marketing challenges is to make users more aware of Skype’s broad feature set beyond basic voice and video calling. Skype’s Facebook page is one step in this direction with its focus on allowing users to more readily learn about these activities, experience some Skype features and provide feedback.

Several new tabs have been added (click on”More” to see all tabs). For instance, Skype  and Facebook provides a promotional video about using Facebook from the most recent versions of the Skype for Windows/Mac clients. “Stellar Deals” describes a few “bundle” packages involving hardware and Skype calling plan subscriptions. (However, would be more useful to have these specials offered beyond the U.S.)

Say It With Skype provides a way to experience Skype Group Video calling by using Skype Group Video to send a birthday greeting. More on this in a post to follow.

Much of Skype’s Facebook site is promotional, encouraging use of services, purchases and having fun. However, here’s where the reality hits the fan: the Facebook Support tab is one channel for entering issues with using Skype. When an entry is made onto the Support tab it is immediately also copied over to Skype’s new Community Forum for a response. Replies posted to the item in the Community Forum are then also copied back to the Facebook Support page. Click on the tabs below to see how one entry is mirrored on the two support venues.

Skype Support Channels - An Example Entry



Basically the Community Forum mirrors any entries on the Facebook Support page where Skype personnel and Community Forum members can respond to an issue.

Eventually it will also be possible to post Replies directly onto the Facebook Support page; however, due to a recent change in Facebook’s requirements for Fan Pages, Skype is working on the adjustment required to adhere to Facebook’s new policy re Fan Page security.

Bottom line: many businesses are feeling their way to determine how Facebook’s Fan Pages can be used for user engagement and as a marketing tool. While there is certainly going to be a lot of self-promotion, providing opportunities for customer participation or user feedback is critical to maintaining the integrity and credibility of Facebook Fan Pages and, most importantly, repeat visits. Only time will tell how successful Skype can be with their Facebook presence but at least there is now a concerted focus on engaging users through social networking activities.

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CounterPath Executes On Their Enterprise Strategy Mon, 21 Nov 2011 14:00:00 +0000 CounterPath, publishers of the Bria carrier grade softphone, has recently taken measures both to build their enterprise user base and to enhance the user experience when using Bria. Not only is Bria supported on Windows and Mac PC’s but also on the iPhone, iPad and Android. In other words, Bria provides a business desktop phone replacement with PC and  mobile softphones that you can take with you when out of the office. And it’s targeted as a solution for enterprises upgrading to fully IP-based communications platforms. But these enterprises still rely, in many cases, on the carriers to recommend and install products and services.

Building the enterprise user base: Two weeks ago Counterpath announced an agreement with GENBAND, a major carrier supplier of IP infrastructure and application solutions, to provide unified communications solutions for GENBAND’s Communications Application Server on mobile and tablet devices. Andy Abramson, at VoIP Watch, has given an outline of what this means to Counterpath’s participation in the “new” telecom technology market in his post CounterPath Gets Distribution.

Today, the companies changing the game in getting new telecom technology to the market include Broadsoft, MetaSwitch and GENBAND. They each control the lion’s share of what gets to the telcos so eventually in a transparent way the technology gets to consumers, and to the business markets too. Understanding the channel is key to success of any telecom products or services company, for one reason. It’s called Go To Market (GTM) but really could mean Get to (the) Market, and without channel partners there are just too many carriers, mobile operators and service providers out there today to effectively get to and sell to all of them directly.

Having acquired a bundle of Nortel carrier voice and applications assets with an $870 million revenue stream in early 2010, CounterPath has the potential to see its Bria clients on over 120 million ports and 10 million SIP connections. From the Nortel press release:

Nortel’s CVAS business is the recognized leader in the Carrier VoIP space, having shipped more than 121 million Carrier VoIP and Multimedia ports, including over 10 million SIP lines to leading carriers globally. Nortel has  consistently been ranked as the #1 Global Carrier VoIP and Softswitch leader since 2002. Nortel’s CVAS business has customer deployments in all continents with leading carriers and provides VoIP solutions to 80 percent of IDC’s worldwide listing of top 20 carriers (by revenue).

The bottom line is that Counterpath is providing a window into how the tier 1 to tier 3 telcos are absorbing and implementing IP-based communications technology in a mobile platform world.

On the actual product front Counterpath had two recent announcements that contribute to ensuring that Bria remains feature competitive when it comes to the end user experience:

The SILK codec is free and also performs very well compared to other similar codecs that are royalty bearing. I should point out that because Bria supports SILK does not mean Bria can interoperate with the Skype service directly. Of course Bria users can call Skype users via the PSTN.

  • Incorporation of social networking into the Bria client allowing Bria users to follow their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Counterpath calls it “social blurring” of the unified communications interface. From an example provided by CounterPath’s Todd Carrothers, Senior Vice-President, Marketing and Products:


Basically Facebook (on the left) and Twitter (on the right) are setup as additional “accounts’ on Bria, connecting via an XMPP feed as a peer to SIP accounts supporting voice, instant messaging and video. Bria becomes one more user interface option for accessing the user’s Facebook news feed and Twitter stream.

Bottom line: CounterPath is making extensive progress as a vendor to the enterprise market through their partnerships with, and support of, market leading carrier vendors in the IP-communications solutions space. And they represent a market leading proxy for following the enterprise market adoption of IP-based communication solutions.

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Skype for Windows 5.7 beta–Skype for Mac 5.4 beta: Bringing Feature Equality Thu, 17 Nov 2011 19:04:55 +0000 Today Skype announced the availability for user testing two upgrade clients: Skype for Windows 5.7 beta and Skype for Mac 5.4 beta. Most importantly this brings major feature equality, including one major new feature, to both:

  • Both expand their ability to combine real time communications with asynchronous social networking. The major feature introduction is the launch of one-to-one video calling from the Skype client to your Facebook Friends. In addition there are updates to the delivery of Facebook presence information to/from your Skype client.  Combined with the previous Facebook news feed and Facebook chat, the Skype client is also becoming a unique Facebook client/user interface.


  • Skype 5.7 for Windows beta now supports screen sharing in Skype Group Video Calls – a feature available on the previous release of Skype for Mac.
  • Skype for Windows has also added a “Push-to-Talk” microphone toggle in its hot-keys menu (Tools | Advanced | Hotkeys). (OK, this feature, addressing a request from gamers, is missing from Skype for Mac).

Bottom line: For the first time it would seem that both Skype for Windows and Skype for Mac have feature equality for all their major features. The challenge remains to make the user interface, including navigation, consistent between the two. At the moment they require two different learning experiences. And Skype for Mac is still missing the Call Quality Information bar.

More to follow once there has been a chance to try out the new features. Keep in mind this is beta software and may still have bugs. From one of the announcement posts:

Please post your comments and suggestions on our Support Network and in case you see the odd bug then please report it to us on our public issue tracker, so that we can make the next release an even better one.

Update: Dan York confuses feature equality with porcine aviation: OMG! Skype Simultaneously Releases (Almost) The Same Version on Windows and Mac OS X

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SkypeKit in Action: Trillian 5.1 for Windows Thu, 03 Nov 2011 17:39:42 +0000 Last week Skype announced some changes to their developer program. In that post I mentioned that the only application to date where one could experience SkypeKit Desktop in action was a beta version of Trillian for Windows. Earlier this week Trillian released version 5.1 to the Skype Apps Directory.

Trillian aspires to become a single client for all your conversation, messaging and social networking activity, whether on Skype, Google, Facebook, Live Messenger, Four Square, several email services and many others. And there are versions for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and the Web. Ideally it would replace several individual clients and be accessible across multiple platforms.

Having set up an account that has been active for about a week here are some observations:

  • While it allows you to track and converse with several applications and services, each one remains siloed with respect to exchanging communications. In other words, Facebook converses with Facebook on any device but not with, say, a Google application. Skype conversations are established with other Skype contacts only.
  • It is the first application that demonstrates the use of SkypeKit in a desktop application; as a result it not only supports chat conversations and voice calls but also provides support for Skype’s SILK codec providing crystal clear voice quality, file transfer and access to select audio devices.
  • At the moment it does not support video calling but that is simply because Skype only released the appropriate Skype video API’s last week; there is no technical reason that video calling should not appear in a future release of Trillian.
  • Voice call quality experience reflected the crispness and clarity expected of the SILK codec. On a Trillian to Skype for Windows call, the Call Technical Info confirmed use of the SILK codec.
  • Trillian offers a “Pro” service where all your activity is stored in the cloud on their servers; cost is almost a “nobrainer” at $12 per year.

Trillian is well along the path of providing a single client for multiple applications and services. It runs on not only PC’s but also iOS5 and Android devices. Its Pro service allows you to track all your conversations on any of these devices. However, Trillian for Mac does not yet have any Skype support (even in a beta version) yet the SkypeKit API’s are available. One cannot expect Skype support any time soon on iOS5 and Android devices as Skype has yet to release any API’s for working with these devices.

Some screen shots:

Trillian for Windows 5.1 Preferences | Accounts screen provides an overview of how it may be set up:


The main Trillian menu showing all the applications and services to which I have logged in along with an example of my Twitter feed:


All the “Contacts” menus were compressed to demonstrate the various options available for messaging. Double clicking on any of the social networking accounts brings up the relevant feed in a separate window as shown.

T4W5_1.BosFilterAs shown in the menu at the right Trillian is a good way to find a Contact’s “current” status on all their social networking and messaging applications. Simply filter down with a (partial) name and you get this. In this example Boston is online in Skype, GTalk and GMail and Facebook while Alex is offline in both.

Note that, while logged in, a Contact appears under the appropriate messaging application but once logged out the Contacts are all relegated to the Offline Contacts category. Also note the icon beside each Contact name to identify the relevant messaging application.

With Google applications, logging in and out can result is some strange identification such as “gmail.51AC27DE”. It simply indicates, in this case, that the contact can be accessed via GTalk or GMail simply when s/he is logged into either. In fact, this also happened with someone who contacted me through the new Google+ chat feature where the identification under Google Talk starts with “TalkGadetC85….”.

With Trillian open or running in background you also have the option to receive small notification windows at a designated corner of your desktop as a feed is updated or an IM message is received. This can be annoying and distracting; it requires some discipline to ignore it. There are options in the preferences for turning these notifications off.

During a Skype voice call the user interface contains all the features associated with Skype calls:


One final observation: when you go to Task Manager | Processes you see this when SkypeKit is being used:


Small footprint relative to Skype (which was also open when this screen capture happened). As a matter of interest trillian.exe is using about 29,000K of memory. But this is without any video support; it will be interesting to see any change once Skype video can be accessed via Trillian.

Bottom line: Trillian is certainly well down the road to becoming a universal messaging and social networking client. And it gives an initial feel for how SkypeKit can be deployed in a desktop application. For those who use multiple applications it can become the default IM/social networking client; in fact, “Boston” in the example above has done so as he follows both Skype and Facebook for chat. Currently he still needs to open Skype for video calls.

Check out the Skype App Directory to download.

The Big Brother feel: And if you were wondering where Dan York is active as I write this (he had Google+ open in two browser windows):


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CheckPoint: Personal Engagement within Enterprise Internet Security Tue, 20 Sep 2011 13:59:37 +0000 CheckPoint.LogoOver the past couple of years I have attended quarterly briefings given by CheckPoint Canada that give me some perspective on Internet security issues from a third party (relative to Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Skype, etc.) who understands not only the issues that challenge a business’s Internet security but also how they are changing over time. I’m more interested in the security issues overview and what business issues need to be considered and addressed, not the technology details. (I’ll trust CheckPoint’s sales results to be the guide as to their credibility.) CheckPoint Canada’s presentations are quite educational in this respect, in part due to the knowledge and passion of their lead technical resource for Canada.

At the most recent presentation two weeks ago I learned (i) about the evolution of CheckPoint’s new approach to addressing security at the enterprise level and (ii) about an experience that demonstrated one simple example of CheckPoint’s thoroughness at identifying and addressing Internet security issues at a personal engagement level.

In taking a new approach there are several changes in the business environment that challenge the ability of simple solutions such as firewalls and IP address identification to manage security, including intrusions such as malware and business data loss.

  • Users have more than one device: a PC, a smartphone, maybe even a tablet.
  • Employees need to be able to carry on personal activities, such as banking, from their place of employment
    • this creates data privacy issues
  • IP address-based policies no longer work – users no longer belong to one network.
  • The emerging IPv6 standard means that it will become very difficult to track activity via a “single” IP address; also the IPv6 protocol is not a simple extension of IPv4’s nnn.nnn.nnn.nnn format.
  • Security policies need to synchronize with a customer’s internal business processes as the priority.
  • Use of collaboration tools and services is on the rise; not everyone is at one “secure” location.
  • Security needs to address permission issues involving both websites and applications
    • 189 new websites were created every minute in 2010
  • The rise of video use for, say, marketing and support create bandwidth issues

Yet businesses obviously continue to seek protection against security breaches and data loss at minimal overhead and costs to the operation.

CheckPoint addresses these issues with a focus on the business’s policies, people (employees and contractors who need access) and enforcement as opposed to the underlying technology infrastructure. This is reflected in their unique ability to configure their installations to meet a business’s needs. In its infrastructure CheckPoint maintains a dynamically updated database of critical data.

In part CheckPoint addresses these issues through engagement of users as they attempt to visit a website or use an application:

  • CheckPoint.FBnotificationFor instance, when accessing Facebook, a notification comes to the user advising of company policy and a warning about the information that cannot be shared on Facebook.
  • Exceptions can be established to permit access to, say, an online banking site without inspecting data.
  • All traffic is inspected to ensure SSL certification where appropriate.

One issue CheckPoint addresses is data loss prevention, both internally and externally. Here is one example of how CheckPoint has a significantly complete offering that provides a warning to the individual employee’s activity.

CheckPoint Canada’s Regional Security Engineering Manager was recently checking out one of Checkpoint’s new data loss prevention (“DLP”) tools on his home network (no, they do not have a home product, yet). He attempted to check into an Air Canada flight via the Air Canada application on his iPhone. But the DLP software identified an issue:


His personal information data – including his Aeroplan number – was going across the Internet to Air Canada as unencrypted clear text. Apparently doing an Air Canada check-in via their website is encrypted; however, until Air Canada addresses this issue for their iPhone application (they have been notified), Kellman will not be doing check-ins via his iPhone (and probably the same applies to their BlackBerry application).

Bottom Line: What I can say from the presentation is that CheckPoint has developed not only the technology expertise but also the business experience that addresses they dynamic nature of the Internet, its growth, its usage and its security threats while ensuring that individual users can be comfortable with their work and personal activities. As with business use of social media, engagement of the individual user is a key to their ongoing success. (And their recent sales growth is the best indicator of that success.)

One final comment: CheckPoint employees are heavy users of Skype and, in fact, CheckPoint has no qualms about allowing usage; in the case below, the CheckPoint customer is giving permission for its sales department to use Skype. I’ll have more to say in another post about Kellman’s use of Skype to keep in touch with his young family while having a heavy travel schedule across Canada and to CheckPoint’s headquarters in Israel.


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Twitter: Changing Lives–One Twitter Feed at a Time Fri, 16 Sep 2011 18:54:57 +0000 140CharConf.logoJeff Pulver has been operating 140 Characters Conferences over the past two years at many U.S. locations where attendees hear stories about how Twitter has played a role in both personal lives and business activities. About six months ago an ambitious group of social media enthusiasts in the Kitchener-Waterloo region approached Jeff about about holding a session in Kitchener, Ontario – twin city to Waterloo about an hour’s drive west of Toronto. Jeff, who has had many reasons to visit the Toronto area over the past several years, suggested that it be billed as the 140 Characters Conference: Ontario to give it a regional perspective.

A historical perspective

During his keynote Jeff mentioned that his origins with real time worldwide communications go back to his early exploration of amateur radio – the only way to communicate socially with individuals worldwide prior to the Internet other than to make expensive international telephone calls. I recall several friends who immersed themselves in amateur radio due to the intrigue of finding new friends in far off locations. (Full disclosure: the author used the Radio Amateur Handbook to build magnetic resonance spectrometers at an early stage in his career.)

One of the applications that drove the adoption of Quarterdeck’s DESQview multi-tasking environment for DOS was community bulletin boards that used DOS PC’s with modems and dial-up connections to allow individuals to communicate via text messages. One of the more interesting applications of bulletin boards was managed by an child oncology doctor at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital. She had set up a bulletin board service whereby her patients could continue to communicate with each other once they had left a hospital and returned home. The key learning here was that an otherwise geographically dispersed community with a common interest could come together and share their experiences in dealing with their disease as they carried on their day-to-day lives at home. One of the key observations made by the doctor was that the kids could communicate without the need for others to see any physical impact of their cancers – “kids without faces” she called it; as a result it helped to keep discussions focused on the issues they faced in living their lives and gave them the confidence to raise their concerns.

So there was some early evidence that with the appropriate communications tools available, one can establish common interest groups and communities that engage in conversations sharing experiences and information that are otherwise “below the radar” of mainstream media. And they could do this across an electronic bridge that broke down geographical barriers.

So where are we today?

In the past fifteen years we have seen the evolution of many tools for engaging conversations with others through the Internet: email, web post comments, Skype chat sessions, Facebook and, of course, Twitter. For most of them, one is dealing with a closed or gated” community where you, say, accept Friends on Facebook, approve Skype contacts and put up anti-spam filters for email, etc.

However, what became apparent with yesterday’s presentations were:

  • Be authentic, remember you are always presenting your “personal brand”, not only building relationships but also establishing legitimacy and credibility even if that is not your intention
  • As a “broadcast” tool where anyone can see your Tweets if they have the right tools and filters, you can recruit a community to help you with your common interest.
  • Whereas physically close family and friends may not see the nature of your issue, someone out there in Twitterland will be willing to share their experiences and information resources via 140 character messages. Yes, there are pluses and minuses but let’s focus on the positive outcomes here.

We heard stories about helping a single parent with no support resources, alleviating depression, losing your job and becoming an entrepreneur starting your own business, watching out for the “little things” to reward small but important achievements at a small business, growing a “new age” fitness business where the actual activity is secondary to the socialization and building community morale and enthusiasm in a town that has lost most of its “conventional” manufacturing industry. Taylor Jones describes it more completely here.

It was obvious from yesterday’s presentations that each presenter had built a community of interest but most interesting was to note that Twitter was not simply a tool for social networking but also a seed for changing lives. But, as AmberMac stated in her presentation, keep in mind as you tweet – with influence comes responsibility.

The Take Away

A couple of years ago, in conjunction with a CES show, I attended one of Jeff’s initial sessions where he was trying to identify a market to address built around this 140 character communications tool. At that session we listened to Twitter experiences but the presenters largely were achieving commercial success.

What was different yesterday across all the presentations was a common thread of not simply socializing via the Internet to build relationships but then using that socializing for experiencing follow up social change in our lives, whether the Twitter engagement involved dealing with individual personal challenges or driving a “community” to take the initiative to achieve a common goal.

Acknowledgement: Kudos to the K-W area team that organized this conference. Well done, well run. Look forward to hearing about another one in the future.

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Skype 5.5 for Windows: Deeper Facebook, New Emoticons and More Fri, 29 Jul 2011 12:16:59 +0000 Yesterday Skype released the “Gold” or “user” version of Skype 5.5 for Windows. Many of the features, including the Facebook integration, were discussed in Skype for Windows 5.5 beta: First Impressions with Facebook Integration and Skype for Windows 5.5 beta: The Call Bar. In the final release these have been enhanced; at the same time Skype introduced some amusing new emoticons – some in the emoticon table for the chat message; others are “hidden”.

As for the complete new feature set, according to Raul Liive, Skype’s Beta Program Manager, it includes:

  • Skype to Facebook instant messaging (enhanced from beta)
  • New and updated emoticons (new)
  • New login experience
  • Improved call controls (modified from beta)
  • Improved video calling reliability (yes!)
  • Simplified installer flow (only three splash screens)
  • Avatar selection improved
  • Video snapshot capture improvements
  • Changed group conversations profile area:
  • S4W5_5.GroupCallProfiles
  • Plus several bug fixes

S4W5_5.DanYork.FBchatheader.200pxFacebook Enhancements: In the beta there was little to identify whether you were in a chat session with a Contact’s Skype chat or Facebook chat. With this release, the Facebook icon appears at the top of the conversation pane. However, confusion can still arise. In the Contacts pane “Recent” tab there is no way to identify whether one would be communicating with the Skype chat or Facebook chat. Product management is probably conflicted because they also want to show the contact’s presence information … maybe a blue icon for Facebook chat presence would help.

Notice also that if you are in the Contacts Facebook chat conversation, the call bar only allows you to call PSTN numbers (via SkypeOut) but not place a Skype-to-Skype call, as would be expected. You can still set up a conference call and monitor your hardware and network conditions via the call bar.

Finally the Facebook news feed content has been moved to the Skype client Home Page tab (no longer a separate tab) but still continues to show the profile pictures (avatars) for the most contacted Contacts (either through calls or chat sessions).

  • When you enter a Mood Message on the Home Page tab, there is an option to share the message on your Facebook news feed.
  • Running your cursor over any of the Skype profile pictures along the top row or a Facebook message will bring up a Call button which can launch either a Skype-to-Skype call or a SkypeOut call with the Contact.
  • You can “Like” a Facebook message and/or add a Comment


It will be interesting to see how the various calling services evolve in both the Skype client and Facebook itself as Skype’s integration into Facebook deepens beyond the initial Facebook Video Calling introduced three weeks ago. Dan York adds his comments on the implications of the Facebook Chat integration in Skype Opens Its Walls A Bit? Lets You IM Facebook Users Just Like Skype Users.

S4W5_5.NewIconsEmoticons: not something I used a lot but I can see using them more often; when appropriate in the context of a chat session I might use only a few of the emoticons. However, today Skype introduced several new emoticons as shown on the right. Most amusing is the “wfh”, a hidden icon that I can see many users in today’s virtual commuting world having an association with (although more often in their Skype Mood Message).

S4W5_5.HiddenIconsSkype has several hidden icons, as shown on the left – sometimes called “Easter eggs”. I’ll not give the shortcodes but many of them can be implied from the name. “Working from Home” is very dynamic rotating between the two images shown in this graphic. For those who are totally puzzled and frustrated there is a hidden “wtf” button.

Suffice it to say that these icons have created much discussion and amusement today. Skype for Mac’s Chief Whining Officer, Dan York made himself heard arising out of our musings earlier today when the release was first announced. Let’s hope they appear in a forthcoming Skype for Mac release. Actually both sides of the conversation need to have Skype for Windows 5.5 “Gold” release in order to see these emoticons properly.

The Call Control Bar (or Call Navigation Bar) has been modified slightly. Most importantly it continues to offer the Call Quality Info feature – perhaps its most useful feature where you want to monitor and modify conditions during a call. Also very useful is the PopOut window during a video call which allows you to watch the video image while using other applications during a call.

And, talking about Video, over the past two weeks I have done a few Skype Group Video Calls with up to eight parties. Where this group had previously used a service where only the speaker’s video appeared (it was really a “push-to-talk” service) the dynamics of the group call change entirely when you have the many “ad hoc” features of a Skype Group Video call – chat window, identification of who is speaking, monitoring the network conditions .. even the network connection recovery feature has helped a few times. And, as it should, the technology stayed in the background relative to the conversation. (The call resulted in at least one Skype Premium subscription being picked up.)


Oh, and there’s lots of flexibility in sizing and placing the various participants’ images. As Raul noted in his post reference above:

In this version we have made numerous ‘under the hood’ updates to our video engine to improve its reliability. We have reduced the amount of graphic card resources needed for video calls and improved support for older cards, especially for users with SiS graphics cards.

Full disclosure: the Skype Group Chat is being hosted on a quad core PC with a 1.7 Mbps upload speed on the Internet connection.

Bottom line: Skype for Windows 5.5 “user release is a winner, most importantly because the client and technology is almost totally transparent to the conversation. The Facebook integration remains optional as to whether you use it (you simply can either not log into Facebook or log out of it if you find it not satisfactory). It still needs a bit of User Interface work to more readily identify whether you are chatting via Skype or Facebook. The emoticons can add some fun and excitement to the conversation (an picture is worth a thousand words sometimes) and have some amusing new additions. But experiencing the robustness of Skype Group Video Calling is perhaps it most innovative feature in terms of user benefit (even if Skype for Windows is still awaiting inclusion of the screen sharing feature recently introduced in Skype 5.2 for Mac).

S4W5_5.HelpMenuBeing the “Gold” or “ user” release, Skype for Windows will probably auto-update at some point. However, if it does not or you want to try it out now go to Help | Check for Updates or click here to access the download.

By the way notice that the Help Menu now includes a link to Skype’s Heartbeat page – not sure if this is new but worth drawing attention to, as one qick check on the service status. Don’t know if this arose out of the comments re Phil Wolff’s “Heartbeat” suggestion reference by Tony Bates in the Skype Journal interview at CES last January.

Release notes.

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Facebook Video Chat – Powered by Skype: First Impressions Thu, 07 Jul 2011 03:29:42 +0000 Facebook Skype.logoToday Facebook announced three new changes that empower its users with significant real time communications features: Group Chat, a site redesign and Facebook Video Calling powered by Skype.

For Skype it’s a major awareness builder of the power of video calling. As suspected by the inclusion of new Facebook features in Skype 5.5 beta for Windows released last week, Skype is working on a long term partnership with Facebook to integrate Skype technology into the Facebook platform. Facebook chat support in Skype 5.5 beta for Windows followed by today’s Facebook Video Calling announcement is just the beginning to build a real time communications user base beyond the current Skype user base.

From the Facebook viewpoint Facebook Video Calling offers a new real time social networking application built around Facebook’s social networking architecture. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that this is the first of many “applications” where Facebook wants to partner with a provider who has a focus on the relevant area of expertise required to offer a quality service while not having to invest in the development of the particular expertise.

Facebook.Chat.Session.6July11Here’s what I’m observing:

  • Facebook Chat sessions are being mirrored on the Facebook Contacts tab in Skype 5.5 beta for Windows. Entries in either chat window will show up in the other one.
  • There is no “setup” required to launch a video call beyond a one-time initial installation of a plugin (Windows, Mac). On Windows the plugin installs as a Program that can be uninstalled in the usual way. While there are options during the call to change the mic/speakers and webcam, there are no settings for volume or testing the audio/video hardware. And there is no way to see Call Technical Info. It’s a total focus on a simple user experience.
  • Facebook.CallButtonA Facebook Video Chat is launched by going to a Friend’s page on Facebook and clicking on the Call button.
  • If a Friend does not answer a video call you are offered the opportunity to leave a video message. (The first time you will have to approve the use of Adobe’s Flash Video.)
  • If a Facebook user does not have a webcam a voice call is fully supported with your Facebook avatar/profile picture replacing the video image.
  • There are significant issues with navigation and notification within Facebook:
    • While you hear a “ringing” sound when someone calls, it is not obvious where the “answer” window is. On the first call to me I had to minimize three or four other windows to find the “answer” window.
    • When a video message is sent (option if there is no answer to the video call), it is not obvious to the recipient that a new message has been received. To find the message one must go to the Message icon on the left side of the Facebook ribbon bar and select the “Friend” who has sent the message.
    • When someone started a Facebook chat session with me, the only way I knew that this session had started was to see a new message notification in my Skype 5.5 beta for Windows client. There was no notification on my Facebook site.
  • The audio appears to use Skype’s SILK codec according to initial user reports. Also it has been confirmed that the audio and video channel use Skype’s p2p security features. (Chat security level is to be confirmed.)
  • Video is 640 x 480; however, there is no frames-per-second information available.
  • Picture quality, while certainly acceptable, is not up to the quality seen with Skype High Quality or HD Video. There tend to be reddish hues on faces and, in one case, white background walls had a definite bluish hue. (In the example below, Skype video calls using the same webcam and PC were of much higher color quality.)


Two other points that came out during the press conference:

  • This Facebook-Skype partnership had been seeded prior to Tony Bates’ appointment as CEO last October; however, he has certainly endorsed it. Prior to the public announcement of Microsoft’s forthcoming acquisition of Skype, he went with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to inform Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of what would be announced later in the day.
  • Both Facebook and Skype see this as an opportunity to build video calling experiences across the Facebook user base prior to launching paid services such as outbound calling to the PSTN and Group Video calling from Facebook.

Bottom line: Skype was readily adopted when it launched due to the relative simplicity of the setup and user experience. While Facebook Video Chat takes full advantage of Skype’s underlying p2p architecture (which places most of the capital equipment cost on the user in the form of requiring a PC), this is the first real experience where a “third party” user interface is built around Skype’s core audio and video communications engine. While one can launch video chat sessions on an ad hoc basis, there are some user interface issues, such as navigation and notification that require refining. (Maybe I’m not sufficiently into Facebook to understand where to find messages as a routine exercise … after all, Facebook is largely about social networking where real time communications plays a supporting role.)

I’ll continue to use Skype for its higher quality video and its auxiliary services such as group conversations and file transfer. However, if someone wants to communicate via Facebook, it’s a reasonable alternative – provided I get appropriate and timely notification of a conversation request.

The real target user for today’s announcement are all those multi-millions of Facebook users who have never experienced using Skype for their real time communications activity; an easy-to-install, ad hoc offering is more appropriate to them. In the end both Skype, as a service, and Facebook will find there relative niches.

Full disclosure: I received one of those Google+ invitations that Google could not fulfil on, so there is no Google+ experience reflected here.


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