The Pebble and the Avalanche

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Current Revolutions in Business and Technology

by Dr. Moshe Yudkowsky,

author of The Pebble and The Avalanche: How Taking Things Apart Creates Revolutions


Fri, 2009-May-01, 14:01

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Putting It Back Together Again: "Recombinant Telephony"

One thing I stress in my book is that after you take things apart — after disaggregation releases the creativity — people find interesting new uses for the various pieces. The first step, usually, is to put the pieces back together again in a way that re-creates the old configuration; as example, even after AT&T broke up, we could still make long-distance phone calls. Later people begin to create new ideas and new combinations, and as time goes on the ideas begin to stray further and further from the original norm as people free themselves from the previous conceptual framework.

An article by Dan Miller of Opus Research coins the term "recombinant telephony" to describe this process in the world of telephony. He mentions me and my book, for which I thank him; he then goes on to explain how the world of telephony continues to generate new services based on the disaggregated pieces of the old telephony and new pieces from the technology of the Internet and elsewhere.

I like his term "recombinant" because it captures the flavor of the almost biological, ever-shifting, ever-scrounging nature of disaggregation. The distance between the telephony services available twenty years ago and today is startling; the distance between where we are just last year and today is even more startling as change continues to accelerate.

Mon, 2009-Feb-23, 12:47

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CORRECTION: Article in SpeechTek Magazine

An article I published in SpeechTek Magazine has an error in it; the online version of "Submitted for Your Approval" has been updated with next text. Here's three corrected paragraphs, with emphasis of where the errors occurred:

VoiceObjects is an Eclipse-based GUI tool that lets developers create applications using two dozen built-in building blocks (menu, capture, etc.), as well as building blocks they can define on their own. VUI designers can use an ordinary spreadsheet to define call flows, which can then be imported and implemented by developers. The output is Java servlets that provide VoiceXML 2.1 scripts compatible with a wide range of platforms. In addition to good online documentation, it lets developers create documentation of their own projects.

Voxeo Designer is a browser-based tool with wizards to solicit input. The intended audience is less-experienced developers. It generates XML, which a Java servlet uses to generate VoiceXML. The VoiceXML can be used with non-Voxeo platforms. One very nice feature is the analytics engine, which uses a database tied to the runtime to produce very detailed usage reports. We could not find context-sensitive help, and could not access the generated code from within the tool.

In summary, we liked the tools from Avaya, Cisco, and Envox for their good graphical interfaces. Avaya earns a special mention for its CCXML output, and Envox for its database and email integration and simulator. Loquendo's tool helps developers work with its rich set of TTS markup. VoiceObjects also has a good developer interface, and we appreciated its integrated documentation tool and the built-in detailed reports. Voxeo Designer also includes extensive reports and offers simplicity to less-experienced developers. Ajax Weaver's VoiceXML Orchestrator has the fewest features and least sophisticated visual design of the products in this group.

As for what the errors were, let me specifically address them. Notes from the show itself show the term "open sourced" as applied to Voxeo Designer; that's an error, but I don't know how who made that error. More serious was an error that I introduced into the final edits of the review. My notes and scores clearly showed that VoiceObjects supported a wide range of platforms, but for some reason I adopted the notion that VoiceObjects required a special runtime package to support each target platform.

I want to set the record straight, which I've done in the new online version of the article. I'm working with the SpeechTek editors to determine what's to be done about the print version.

Mon, 2008-Mar-17, 12:52

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Video Blog

Dan York interviewed me to discuss my Phone 2 Directions idea; here's the video.

Mon, 2008-Feb-25, 12:05

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Turning Phone Numbers into Directions

As much as I'd like to attend the eComm conference, I can't be there in person because of a schedule conflict; if you can, try to make it to the conference, which promises to be very interesting. To help you find the way... here's something new. Call +1 312 252 1758 to get directions to the conference location. And you don't have to enter an starting address — instead, you enter a phone number.

If you've been wondering why the blog hasn't been updated lately, I've been quite busy working on this little invention. I call it "Phone 2 Directions," and it's based on a very simple principle: if I know a phone number, there's a good possibility I know the location of that phone number.

Here's a simple example. I'm driving along in an unfamiliar city on my way from the airport to a meeting. I get a bit lost. I don't really know what street I'm on, and often I might not even be certain what town I'm actually in. As a result, most conventional map services won't help me — I need to enter an address for them to work. Besides, map services require keyboards and that's not useful (or safe) when I am trying to drive.

A GPS system would work, but I'd still have to enter my destination, which isn't fun while driving. The same for cell phones that locate (approximately) where you are based on proximity to cell phone towers. Even worse, that requires that I download the cell-phone-tower-finding software to my cell phone in advance. And what if I'm using a plain old telephone inside a gas station to get the directions?

The easiest way to find a location is to do something the telphone is designed to do: enter a telephone number. Telephone numbers are everywhere: on doors of businesses, on signs, in people's homes, at the desks of hotel lobbies. If you're driving along and you see a telephone number, you can use the "Phone 2 Directions" service to get directions.

The basic idea is quite simple. By performing reverse directory lookup, Phone 2 Directions finds the starting location and the destination; it gets the route from a driving-directions service; it reads the results back. It's a great solution for this problem> I call this idea "Telephone Accessible Geotags," using telephone numbers as a way to find and mark physical locations, and there are many more services that quickly come to mind.

A few words about Ifbyphone. The demonstration is hosted at Ifbyphone, which provides the telephony, speech recognition, and text-to-speech services. The interface to Ifbyphone uses the familiar web services pattern, and Phone 2 Directions is one of the first "phone mashups" available. Ifbyphone gives away one million minutes (yes — that's 1,000,000 minutes) of phone connection time to developers each month. If you want an account with them to try your own phone mashup, just sign up.

The source code for a demonstration version of this software is available in open-source.

Or, of course, you can just contact me if you'd like to use a hosted version of this software.

Fri, 2006-Sep-29, 15:11

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New Project

I've been busy again. I've just released some open-source softare, the Disposable Phone Numbers™ project.

I've written an article that explains my motivation for the project. The project has its own web site.

Thu, 2006-Sep-21, 10:31

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Disposable Telephone Numbers

I've started blogging at O'Reilly, one of the premier sites for technology. My initial article is about an invention I came up with the other day: Disposable Phone Numbers to help guard your privacy. Internet telephony disaggregates the authority to create telephone numbers and puts it in my hands, not the hands of the local phone company, and with a little tinkering it becomes possible to have (effectively) as many telephone numbers as you like.