Monday, May 5, 2008

A proposal for worldwide synchronous voice communications via limited-functionality hardware devices and a high-speed data streaming network

I was brainstorming this morning, and I came up with a wonderful idea. I'm going to attached Web 2.0 buzzwords to it to make it palatable. Let me know if you think this idea will fly.

One of the issues with Web 2.0 communications is that they're awful hard to use. Sure, we can design systems that 100,000 people can use, or 1 million people can use, or 10 million people can use.

But I want to design a system that 300 million people can use.

Specifically, I want to design a synchronous voice communication system that will allow me to "chat" with anyone in the world who has a similar device.

The key, however, is ease of use. And ease of use can be achieved via simplicity in the device.

This is why I suggest that these communications take place via a dedicated device. I don't want to add this on to a computer, where you have to worry about logging in or whatever. I want to have a device that just performs voice communications, and doesn't do video or stock quotes or anything like that.

OK, I know this idea is sounding terrible already, but I have a vision. Hear me out on the other part of my vision.

Obviously, for the system to work, person A needs to initiate a function to contact person B. Here again I insist on ease of use. Rather than having to force someone to type in a name - what about literacy issues or duplicate names? - I propose that every person who participates in the system get a unique numeric code. This would require that person A would know the unique numeric code for person B, but in my vision of the device, you wouldn't want to contact all 300 million people in this country anyway.

So since the device only requires numeric input, why bother with a keyboard? Just put some buttons on the device that allow the people to select the numbers - I would like to make this easier to use than even a simple calculator.

In fact, I plan to do away with a "Contact" button. Person A would just punch the appropriate numbers into the device to contact person B, and it would just happen.

Of course, this is just the user interface. We would also need to design an entire system (or perhaps multiple systems) to go along with it to carry the communications. It would require a data streaming protocol that could carry the data between the devices in near-instantaneous time (to allow synchronous communications, rather than sending a voice message then having to wait several minutes for the response).

So, here's a summary of my proposal:

  • A dedicated hardware device to be used for synchronous voice communications.

  • Voice communications to be initiated via the entry of numeric data; no other input required.

  • Each person to be assigned a unique numeric code to facilitate voice communications.
  • Design of a network to stream the data, offering near-instantaneous communications between individuals.
Now I can tell that you have huge doubts about the system that I have proposed. Who would get a dedicated device that does voice communications, and nothing else? Who would consent to getting one of these numeric codes?

So, am I crazy? If you want to discuss this idea, you may want to use the acronym that I have developed - Pervasive One-function Talking System. Or you can use the acronym POTS.

(This idea was inspired by this FriendFeed conversation, specifically the comment by Jason Kaneshiro.)

(I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up writing a followup post.)

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