The sad state of Voice Communication

If you really stop to think about it, voice communications is – by comparison with all of the other communication mechanisms available to us – hopelessly rudimentary.

The reality is – even with the advent of VoIP and services like Vonage, Skype and Gizmo – the basic phone call hasn’t changed very much Alexander Grahm Bell placed the first call in 1876. We have a few more basic features (voicemail, caller id) but still lack many of the basic functions that have made email and instant messaging so valuable.

More after the jump…

The simple reality is that if I were to bring you a communication service today and tell you that:

  1. It allows you to communicate with someone – but only if you have a dedicated device.
  2. You can only communicate with them in real time – so if they are not available you’ll have to leave them a message.
    1. Of course their only option to reply to the message is to attempt to communicate with you in real time – but if you are not available they can leave you a message.
  3. You’ll have no record of these communications.

That is essentially the state of even advanced voice communications today. An email solution with that same feature set would be laughable – as would any communication system except a voice communication system.

This is exactly the state of affairs that precipitated the launch of cosinity – my Social Telephony company. The reality is that voice communication has a wide chasm to cross to even begin to address the needs of the average business person or consumer. The current state is inflexible, lacks critical value generating functions and implements a single use case – point to point real time voice communication.

To understand what the market demands, take a look at your email client. To make things interesting let’s not discuss Outlook/Exchange, but just a simple email client like Mozilla Thunderbird. Here is a quick list of things I can do with Thunderbird I can not do with voice:

  1. Connect to multiple mail services (any one I choose).
  2. Address by name (imagine having to memorize an IP address to send an email)
  3. Save a record of all communications.
  4. Organize my communication records.
  5. “Share” a communication (forward an email).

I’m sure you can come up with a few more.

Someone asked me this question the other day

Ok, I get it… voice is lacking some “must have” features found in every other communication mechanism. That doesn’t mean people want those features when they communicate by voice. How can you be sure they want these features?

On it’s face this question sounds perfectly reasonable. Maybe when people talk they do not want the same features as when they email, IM, wiki or blog…

However, on further examination this question falls flat.

  • Why does every other communication product have these features? Simple – the market place demanded them.
  • Why doesn’t voice? Simple – the market place (until very recently) was not driving voice functionality – it was the realm of the service provider. A single service provider was your only means to obtain these services – where was the stimulus for innovation?
  • Why would we assume voice is different? Simple – because it always has been. However, the reality is, whatever brings value in one communication medium is directly applicable to all communication mediums.

The good news is today you have choice – which means “service providers” are again required to compete based on the fundamental laws of supply and demand.

The good news is today you are seeing services – jaxter, GrandCentral, cosinity, Odeo, etc – begin to level the feature playing field. We’re seeing the market begin to demand feature parity across communication mechanisms.

As for me – I could not be more excited… it is a great time to be in voice communications and Social Telephony. I look forward to engaging the market place and bringing feature parity to voice – and beyond that, enabling entirely new utility based on voice communications.

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