Two weeks ago, it was announced that PamFax, with its ability not only to fax a document but also work through the Skype Extras Publishing Platform to collect revenues, was the winner of the European Mashup competition as well as the worldwide winner.
Thursday afternoon at a Skype Developer Event in San Jose, a mashup that I had been using during my trip to locate WiFi hotspots in the south Bay Area, JiWire Hotspot Finder for Skype, was the recipient of the North American Mashup Cup. After receiving the cup JiWire COO Nidhad Hafiz (right) gave a brief demonstration and I had an opportunity to discuss its development with Nihad and CEO Kevin McKenzie (left). Not only does the JiWire Hotspot Finder locate nearby locations with WiFi access but it also provides local information of interest to the road warrior such as driving directions, weather, road conditions and several catagories of nearby retail, lodging and services locations. From the Skype Press Release:
The JiWire Hotspot Finder for Skype allows users to search for and to find WiFi hotspots anywhere in the world through Skype. It allows one to view surrounding access points and then connect to them in just one click. The JiWire Hotspot Finder for Skype includes easy keyword search capability; just type in “café” or “hotel” or the name of a specific location to find a nearby hotspot. You can also get local weather or traffic reports, news and directions by simply clicking on the map.
The download of the JiWire Hotspot Finder adds a contact to your Skype Contacts; typing “?” provides a complete set of instructions for using its Natural Language search engine. But not only does entering “restaurants in Sunnyvale, CA” into the chat window bring up a list of five “closest” WiFi-enabled restaurants (with a “next” command to bring up additional restaurants), it also brings up the JiWire WiFi companion that provides the meat of this mashup.
Initially the map will show interactive buttons indicating the locations of the hotspots found in the search; running your cursor over individual hotspots provides more details about the location.. The Location Tools tab includes five left sidebar buttons starting with a “Find Near By” button from which you can ask for, say, any Starbucks or Marriott Hotels, located within the map. Need the local weather forecast for the next five days? Click on Weather. Driving Directions and Local Traffic Conditions are also available via their interactive map. A local newswire runs across the bottom of the window. Run your cursor over identified locations for any of the services and a detail window pops up with more information, such as phone number, for the particular retailer or service or traffic condition.
The WiFi Tools tab provides details about your current WiFi connection and access to a tool which will check the security of your WiFi connection. Note that JiWire considers WEP keys as insecure whereas it defines WPA keys as secure. You also have the ability to register new Hotspots; JiWire will find the technical information; you only need to load the address and name for the location. It does also promote JiWire’s Hotspot Helper (which I had subscribed to at some point prior to availability of the JiWire Hotspot Finder for Skype). The JiWire WiFi Hotspot Helper does enhanced the security of your WiFi connection, if necessary (for instance changes WEP to WPA) and also provides a “SMTP” facility to send out your email, should the WiFi connection be blocked from your regular email SMTP server.
For the technical details: JiWire is written in C# and of course uses the Skype API’s along with API’s from Microsoft Virtual Earth, Microsoft Live Search, Weather Channel, Yahoo (Directions, Traffic, News) and additional geocoding information from MapQuest, Yahoo and Google. Nihad mentioned also that the Windows API itself along with .Net framework were also key elements in making this product happen. While the full utility runs under Windows, adding it to your Skype Contacts on a Mac or Linux platform will only bring up the search results but there is no WiFi companion window available at this time.
In my discussion with Nihad he not only mentioned how easily he had developed this application using the Skype API’s but he also drew particular attention to how the Skype API documentation provided sufficient information to execute the development project much more effectively and efficiently.
Speaking with Kevin he mentioned that, while there is no business model associated with JiWire Hotspot Finder for Skype, he does see it as providing awareness generation for their services that may lead to both purchase of their WiFi security tool and to use of their ad-supported desktop services. Kevin also mentioned that Nihad had developed the JiWire Hotspot Finder for Skype as a “work of passion” outside his normal responsibilities at JiWire. And that passion certainly came through in my discussion with Nihad.
WiFi access is a key infrastructure requirement for road warriors using Skype. Over the past week I found WiFi access to be of varying reliability with the easiest ease-of-access to be a friend’s (secured) home WiFi networks. I found this tool useful in locating WiFi hotspots; however, the biggest issue is for the WiFi service providers and Internet security software publishers to make a determined effort to make connecting to these WiFi hotspots a simple process. (I could not even get the registration web browser to come up at Starbucks on the T-Mobile service yet it worked beautifully at one hotel location over lunch.)
Congratulations again to Nihad, Kevin and the JiWire developer team.
Tags: Skype, Skype Mashup Competition, JiWire, JiWire Hotspot Finder for Skype, Skype Developer Program, Skype API, PamFax, Nihad Hafiz, Kevin McKenzie