Thursday, January 27, 2005

Google Voice - The Extended Conversation

The problem with the extended conversation it that it happens in so many places that sometimes, it's hard to consolidate, even in your own mind.

January 17:
First, there were rumors of Google getting into the voice business.
Then, John Battelle posted a piece on the rumor.
Where I wrote a comment.

For a week, it was all quiet on the Western Front.

January 24:
And then the whole world went absolutely apeshit.

And, incidentally (or not?) some guy from Bulgaria named Dimitar Vesselinov posted a comment on Battelle, nailing the issue:
It makes sense. Why? Do you want to search for your voice data? What about
transcripts? People want this kind of information and I suppose they will get
it. It’s about the data, stupid!

Throughout this all, I somehow had an image in my mind that I'd written a pithy post about all this and put it up here, but somehow, I never did so. This is now that (non-pithy) post.

Ahem. Let me discuss the Extended Conversation.

Oh, hell, let me just demonstrate it by linking to a photo on Flickr of a slide that I've made which introduces the "why" for both the Extended Conversation, justifies Google's move, and agrees with Dimitar, all in one go.

See? Wasn't that cool? It comprised multiple forms of media, hyperlinking, tagging, user-created content, diary --> conversation --> publication fuzziness, and about twelve other principles of What's Going On here in this new new world.

We used to have "conversations" on the telephone. Some of us had "correspondence" via letters, but not since the days of Voltaire could letters be considered "conversations". (Incidentally, did you know that in London, the Post Office delivered mail four times a day before the advent of telephony?) Then we added email, and IM, and suddenly the web went broadband and storage got cheap, and somewhere in there search engines actually started to work, and then a bunch of crazies went and invented the whole blogging paradigm, and there were digital cameras everywhere, and social networks had their moment of glory but left a lasting impression, and then (finally, in the US!) cellphones started getting smart instead of dumb (if only mobile operators would follow, the dummies!) and we are starting to see the emergence of this big gnarly thing called the extended conversation that is going to encompass everything in exactly the same way that the phone system used to touch on everything, except this time we aren't just stuck in voice, and we can tie it all together in a pretty package with a bright red ribbon.

Some people call this Web 2.0. I call it the Extended Conversation.

So let's look at Google. I think they get all, or most of this, already. Firstly, they recognize that search changes how you use information, most especially when you've got a lot of info to manage. Do you even look at the call record on your phone bill? Probably too much information. Do you search back through your email inbox to find stuff you wrote a month ago? Of course you do, because you can, especially with Lookout or Google Desktop or one of the really useful personal search engines.

They get user-created content, too. They have blogger, they have Picasa, they have GMail. They just launched Desktop. They get that user-created content equals communication... I think. When you look at the SIMS study, it's clear that the vast majority of "the world's information" which Google is determined to search is user-created content (see the Hal Varian "How Much Information" SIMS Berkeley study) or read the fantastic article "What's Next for Google" that Charles Ferguson wrote for MIT's Technology Review a few months ago, you can't help but think (if you are a Googler) OK, what are we gonna search/own/monetize next? And the big flaming answer is voice, voice, voice.

So yeah, they're gonna do Google Voice. But maybe not yet.

Why are they gonna do it?

Because all the content in the world comes from people, and most of it is voice.

How are they gonna do it?

Well, if I were a Googler told to do this tommow, I'd turn some of those 250K Linux servers they have into POTS NAPs around the United States and Canada, and I'd run Asterix on them (or a highly robust Googlized version of Asterix) and I'd throw the UI to it in with GMail (or keep it separate, but hold hands with GMail behind the scenes) and make a great inbox and outbox and CDR function, and record every call (allowing the user to delete, etc., just like email) and allow calls to be annotated and hyperlinked and blogged and so forth... and maybe even think about real-time linking of points within the call and what I am doing in the browser, for instance while I am talking (via Google Voice) I do a Google search, and that search is tagged and linked to that moment of the conversation. Whammo, you have a really compelling application-level extension to voice, and another knee in the groin of the dumb transport companies.

Oh, my. This is gonna be a fun decade.

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