The return of WebPhone
When I first started to really use the Internet, I was involved with a group of friends in lookin at what was possible. We played with a lot of software – including WebPhone and CUSeeMe.

WebPhone was an application that looked like a little phone on your desktop, and it allowed you to use Voice over IP (VoIP) to talk with other WebPhone users over the Internet. The other day I found a list, that I was keeping, of all of the places around the world that I spoke to using WebPhone. I remember one day when we talked to a professor and his class at Kent University. They joked about us having Internet in Utah, and we joked back that we just heard they had a shooting on the campus.

CUSeeMe was a Video Conferencing package that we used at the same time. It was really impressive to set-up a “reflector” on one of our servers, and then to connect to the server using the CUSeeMe client. You were able to see who was connected in a list, open a video display of one or more of the participants, and then type back and forth. Audio was possible, however not well implemented.

What was interesting is that we were doing this with 14.4kbps modems, and then 56kbps modems. It seemed that as the bandwidth increased, the use of these applications dropped off. I just spent some time to go and find some of the “remains” of CUSeeMe … I’m going to see if I can get a reflector going again.

In the mean time … it was interesting to read about this new application catching attention … a decade later! Skype is almost exactly what WebPhone was …

OK, Skype has 240,000 downloads in just half a month. It took ICQ 60 days to get that many back in 1996. What’s different? Well, for one it was an established company that released Skype. ICQ was released to 40 users and no one knew anything about ICQ. But, remember, back in 1996 no one had weblogs. In fact, I had one of the first five public pages up about ICQ, while Skype has been talked about everywhere.

Anyway, Skype is now my new bar of release excellence for a small-company software product.

Hey, during that Sun keynote this morning the IP telephone from Vodaphone failed on stage. They shoulda used Skype. Hasn’t failed for me yet and the audio quality is unbelieveable.

People are asking me “you were the NetMeeting bigot, why you so excited about software that just does audio?” (NetMeeting was Microsoft’s audio/video/collaboration product that was released in 1995). For one, it works. For two, its user interface is clean and uncluttered. Don Norman would love it. For three, it makes you feel good using it, and makes you want to use it with your friends and family. (Translation: the audio quality rocks and is better than NetMeeting, or even MSN Messenger 6.0).

[Robert Scoble: Scobleizer Weblog]

Leave a Reply