Building Voice Communities

Rich Tehrani : Communications and Technology Blog -
Rich Tehrani
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Building Voice Communities

The concept of voice communities is getting more traction. I am sure we will see these pop up on popular websites. If you haven’t read my past comments on the matter, voice communities are going to be an integral part of the web in the future. It is just that simple. Just like we have message boards where we can type to one another we will have voice message boards and voice conversations. Sometimes there will be heated debates and other times we will reach consensus.

The point is VoIP is going to bring communities closer by allowing people with like-minded interests to communicate more effectively. Andrew Sviridenko the Chairman of Spirit DSP has a similar vision and mentioned to me that in a restaurant you have a lot of people but they are broken into groups of 2-5 people having conversations. The same will happen online. Spirit DSP is perfectly positioned in this space by the way as they make enabling software to allow these communities to more effectively converse.

If I am half right, VoIP will enjoy a surge in interest and growth as all websites of substance scramble to voice enable themselves. I can’t fathom how much more excitement we can have in this market as VoIP is surging already.

The next phase of this transition to voice will be speech recognition that allows search engines to catalogue all of the conversations that take place on the various sites. Podcasting will come into play as well. Imagine being able to subscribe to all podcasts that mention keywords you want to track. If there is a conversation on a website about how Coke is much better than Pepsi, there are a slew of soft drink executives that will want to hear what is being said about their companies.

The catalyst for all of this of course is the eBay acquisition of Skype. Once we see the exiting things these companies do together, others will no doubt follow.

Amazingly, I am the only person I know who thinks the eBay/Skype deal was smart. Others are telling me that eBay has money to burn and isn’t sure of what it’s doing. I have probably spoken with 20 people on this topic so I am really amazed that no one agrees with me.

If you believe that voice communities will one day exist then you can imagine that eBay and Skype together are the right players to allow this web transformation to take place. eBay has a vibrant community and also owns part of craigslist, another vibrant community. They “get it.”

Beyond the above companies, the most obvious community sites that should take advantage of this trend are sports sites because sports brings out the passion in people.

I guarantee that if FIFA, the World Cup organization was to have voice debates on topics like “is Brazil the team that will win the cup this year?,” people will listen and try to get in on the conversation. Will people pay for the privilege? Possibly but I see voice communities as being ad sponsored on sites that don’t already have transact ecommerce.

You see ecommerce sites have two ways to generate revenue from voice communities. The will allow sellers to pay a fee for allowing calls to be placed to them. In addition, some items naturally lend themselves to conferencing and sellers will pay to allow these conferences to happen. Auto sales are a prime example – especially used autos. You will want to have a conversation with multiple parties before buying a used car. Especially a classic car. Potential buyers will want to know if the car has been in any damage and if so, exactly what was the cause of the damage. Were you in a severe accident they may query? Other potential buyers will want to listen in to size up the competition.

It will be a great world as we can now use speech, the most natural interface to communicate online. Sure text is great but speech is a more natural interface and many people prefer to speak instead of typing. I believe this is especially true in e-commerce. Most people can tell if the other person on a phone call is shady. This is not so easy to do with e-mail.

The only problem with my analysis is that there are zero voice communities today. Regardless, I believe in them so much that we will be discussing them at future Internet Telephony Conference & Expos – the show next month in Los Angeles and we will have a full day of education on the topic at the next ITEXPO in Fort Lauderdale.

I am looking forward to a future ladened with voice communities of interest – let’s connect online in one of them.

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