Startup Ribbit finally comes out

ribbit_logo.jpgBack in July of last year, I wrote about Silicon Valley startup Ribbit when it was a yet another startup in stealth mode, surmising that Ribbit is a softswitch-based VoIP telephony service that is accessible from a browser via a Flash application. Well, Ribbit has “come out” – and announced that its new platform is expected to go on sale in the first quarter of 2008. And this prediction turns out to be correct, but there’s a little bit more to Ribbit than just a Flash application.

The technology is designed to work through virtually any Flash-enabled browser and from any mobile phone or fixed location with an Internet connection, meaning that Ribbit is not limited to a particular device. For example, calls placed on mobile phones can be answered via a Flash widget on a Web browser, on a regular phone, on a VoIP client, or through a desktop widget. Ribbit’s platform will even transcribe user voice mail into text messages (another also ran). And it will offer support for existing Web-based voice services, such as Google Talk, MSN, and Skype.

Basically, Ribbit is trying to make voice easy-to-use by untangling voice from the regular (POTS) phone and alleviating the need to download a client. However, this is not new because Jaxtr, Skype, and others are also trying to achieve that.

What’s interesting is that Ribbit is integrating with other applications – One example is the Ribbit for Sales force workflow integration application, which will enable mobile calls, voice messages, and text transcriptions to flow right into Salesforce.com’s CRM environment on the Web. Ribbit will provide third-party partners and application developers tools for integrating voice into their applications using Adobe’s Flash and Flex tools.

Overall, Ribbit is taking the right approach of integrating with other applications – but this is nothing new. For example, Microsoft is also building voice and ‘Unified Communications’ into applications such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, although Microsoft OCS (Office Communication Server) is mostly geared towards business customers

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Ribbit claims to be “Silicon Valley’s First Phone Company”, but there are others such as Ooma, which are also phone companies because they provide call switching. Most importantly, Ribbit is trying to package this as something new – this is nothing but a marketing tactic and smart people will recognize that Ribbit is just one of many in this space.

Web Collaboration becomes Hot

All of a sudden, Web Collaboration has become hot – very hot. What is Web Collaboration? it is web technology that allows users to work on projects simultaneously with colleagues and partners and share information regardless of their location or device.

First, Cisco shook-up the landscape with the acquisition of WebEx for $2.9 billion in March 2007. WebEx was the leading web conferencing platform with more than 2 million registered users and more than 27,000 business customers. Next, Google snapped up Web conferencing technology owned by Marratech in April 2007.

Soon afterwards in August 2007, IBM purchased WebDialogs, an on-demand (hosted) Web and audio conferencing software maker and communications services provider with more than 500,000 users worldwide. WebDialogs adds a missing software-as-a-service element to the Lotus Sametime family and gives IBM a web conferencing offering for small and mid-sized businesses and for departments within larger organizations. IBM will integrate the WebDialogs Unyte service with its collaboration portfolio, including Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime.

Then on October 1, AT&T, the largest telephone company in the U.S., announced plans to acquire privately held Web-conferencing provider Interwise for about $121 million.

With this deal, AT&T gets IP-based conferencing systems to its range of enterprise solutions, and can speed up development of collaboration products. Interwise offers VOIP (voice over IP), Web and videoconferencing services for on-premises, hosted, and for hybrid on-site and hosted services deployment. The deal strengthens AT&T’s enterprise business, which has strong hosted audio conferencing but lacks on-premises services.

This is a crowded market – Cisco’s WebEx leads the market, followed by Microsoft with LiveMeeting. Citrix Online ranks third. Then there’s IBM, Google, and AT&T. Beyond the big names, there are dozens of smaller, independent players such as Centra and Adobe.

The real reason for this acquisition spree in conferencing is that companies are looking to:

  1. Fill the gaps in their Unified Communications portfolio. Unified Communications links business processes with presence information, e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, and conferencing to facilitate efficient communications.
  2. Unified Communications vendors are clearly recognizing the need to offer software as a service delivery mechanism.

Unified Communications is the ‘big thing’ for this year and next. Look for more and more news in this space, particularly as Microsoft enters the on-premise voice environment (i.e. IP-PBX)