People already segment their lives with various communications. For example, people I talk to on a regular basis have my mobile #, tons of people have my e-mail address(es), people I choose to talk to a bit less have my home office #, very few have my Skype ID, very few have my IM handle, and basically just family members have my home #. Among all of these, my mobile # is most sacred and then my home #. If someone has my mobile #, they can cause my phone to ring or vibrate anytime they want. (Do you ever notice when someone asks for your mobile # you kind of internally hesitate?) They can also send an SMS whenver they want. With my home #, people can cause that to ring whenever they want, and even figure out where I live. There should easily be a number I create that in essence is a proxy to all my #s. A number I can turn on and off, open or close, or easily get rid of. A number I can fill in on forms (like mortgage docs!), put in ads, give to dates or people I meet for the first time, or simply to people I don't want to have ultimate access to me at all times. I want...privacy and anonymity like I have with a chat handle or e-mail address-something phone communications lacks today.
The answer to my last musing about why we can't have purpose driven phone numbers, with the same utility as having a purpose driven e-mail address is... Well, we can... meaning it's possible as long as we converge the phone world with the Internet world. Carriers focus on networks, minutes and ARPU whereas Internet companies focus on content services, subscription and eyeball$. These are two different animals today. To Buzzage it's about bringing tomorrow's utility which would be found in an all IP world, into today's world where mobility trumps cheap or free talking. And doing so being agnostic to the brand and type of phone access a consumer has. Think of how profoundly the Internet has impacted our communications lives online. We're talking about porting that level of impact out to the phone, and evolving the way people communicate. We met with our friend Jeremy (who used to run the voice division of a huge Internet provider) the other day who proclaimed "it's about saving time and wasting time"...a household phrase around Buzzage these days-thanks Jeremy. In order to prep those reading for what we'll eventually come out and launch, we'll begin to socialize the 'why' around purpose driven phone numbers.
Many of us have multiple e-mail addresses (and IM handles) for multiple purposes. Consider your personal e-mail address vs. your work e-mail address vs. your gmail address vs. your hotmail address. These each have a specific purpose and level of utility. The ability to represent ourselves as having various identities online (anonymous or not) is quite common. Well given 1) we spend more time with our phones in our pockets than we do at our computers and 2) since many of our lives have begun to migrate from e-mail and IM to SMS, the question begs...why can't we have purpose driven phone numbers the same way we have purpose driven e-mail addresses and IM handles?
A new inflection point in lifestyle communications?
In the web 1.0 era, Geocities offered task driven wizards to guide consumers toward building a website.There are lots of companies emerging in this web 2.0 era, which allow consumers the ability to publish additional content. Filmloop provides a service for consumers to tell a story with photos. Odeo provides a service for consumers to podcast. Six Apart provides a service for consumers to pubish blogs (I'm using it right now). Ning provides a service for anyone to build a social web application. Squidoo appears to be planning a service that allows any expert on anything, the ability to publish content. All of these companies have three things in common:
1. They are guiding the consumer through the process.
2. They are empowering consumers as authors, enabling peer produced content.
3. They are all web based (hence web 2.0).
Meanwhile #1: the explosive VoIP space hasn't been very explosive lately. Sure Skype selling to eBay was huge news, but from a consumer's perspective all the VoIP services are still focused and driven by free to cheap long distance calling. The promise of VoIP really does go beyond talking for free/cheap, although you wouldn't know it by the looks of the landscape. Everyone knows there's a huge revolution enabled by VoIP, but the cool stuff just hasn't made it to the scene yet.
Meanwhile #2: consumers carry their mobile phones everywhere, all the time. Phones are the most ubiquitous devices in the world. Mobile messaging, ringtones and ringback tones have been hugely adopted. The mobile industry, while still primarily driven by dial tone, seems to have begun cracking the code by enabling these lifestyle services.
It seems as though there is an opportunity to impose a lifestyle communication services inflection with some parts web 2.0, some parts VoIP and some parts mobile phone... This is the basis for a start up called Buzzage. More to come when I can say more. -MC