Spent most of a day at the O’Reilly Emerging Telephony conference. I found several sessions very cool, and like the way the trends seem to be pointing. Generally these tech conferences result in more education and interesting ideas than actual investment opportunities, which is still a good longer term investment of my time. I thought the coolest hack was playing Zork by voice – I used to love Zork, and recently found a version for my Blackberry.
My main takeaway is that between VoIP infrastructure, and clever ways to do carrier-avoidance, the telephone as a platform is opening up in ways that the incumbents have long tried to prevent. This is producing lots of interesting experimentation. There are many similarities to the Internet in this process, and lots smarter people than me have researched this. I did draw a few conclusions though: like the Internet, identity and security are problems that still beg for solutions. Also interface richness, particularly with handheld devices, is a major problem.
It seems to me that to get to the next level of maturity as a platform, there are a few fundamental ecosystem players that still need to emerge. For example, there’s no good payment system like Paypal, nor is there a commerce platform like Ebay. I’m also looking for the AdSense equivalent, to power some of these experiments. Finally, I’d be interested to see more collaboration tools for remote workers.
We are actively looking at investment opportunities in this area, and have focused on building relationships at carriers, equipment providers, and startups to continue to learn more. We are also helping to create resources for our existing portfolio companies in this space, which include SS8, Azaire, and Borderware.