July 25, 2014

From telephone party lines to social media  


Photo credit: CC-BY, weelakeo, Flickr

The way we communicate is in transition

Target audience: Marketing professionals, SEO specialists, PR pros, analysts, brand managers, businesses, educators, journalists.

Ayelet NoffThere was a time when social media meant a telephone party line. Phones have come a long way since then, especially the introduction of hand-held cellular phones that could be carried in your pocket or purse. Nevertheless, for the most part, the telephone has remained a one-to-one communications device.

That might have been the end of the story – until the Internet and then social media emerged. Over the past 10 years, we’ve all been caught up in the fun and usefulness of being able to share and exchange ideas and information across the globe through social media. Not surprisingly, as our mobile phones got smart, we found ways to bring apps and tools from our computers into them, allowing today’s phones to act as conduits to the mushrooming social world.

Not surprisingly, the telephone industry was forced to sit up and take notice, especially as alternatives to traditional telephone service began to appear that incorporated social media culture and, just as important, cheaper voice services through the Internet.

The first major evidence of this was Skype, which was founded way back in 2003. Today Skype allows conference calls, video chats and screen-sharing between as many as 10 to 25 people. At one time, that sort of service was limited to big businesses that could afford expensive conference calling. Now, families and friends group-call on a regular basis.

The end of land lines?

Does all this signal the end of the land-line phone?

Not quite yet. Skype still has some drawbacks. It does not provide the ability to call emergency numbers in many places (such as 911 in North America). The landline also facilitates a home or business Fax machine. For many business, especially the legal world, a secure fax line (unlike online fax services like eFax) remains an essential tool.

In addition, despite the proliferation of mobile phones, there are still parts of the world transitioning more slowly, as expensive broadband and wireless infrastructure is built up. It will happen. But it will take time.

With so much in transition, consumers have sought a middle-ground: the reliability and functionality of home-based calling (like being able to hook up that fax machine) with the advantages of a digital network. The answer was VoIP, which a number of smaller companies were able to develop and market very effectively.

netTALK is able to offer VoIP phone service through a small device that connects to an Ethernet port on a broadband connected router without the need for a computer (unlike Skype)

A company like netTALK is a great example (disclosure: netTALK is a Blonde 2.0 client). No strangers to communications technology, netTALK’s founder, Takis Kyriakides, invented and patented the LK3000, the first handheld language translation device. The company was able to innovate very quickly and offer consumers a kind of compromise, best-of-all worlds answer.

netTALK is able to offer VoIP phone service through a small device that connects to an Ethernet port on a broadband connected router without the need for a computer (unlike Skype). They’ve also offered free app-to-app calling, an obvious nod to the proliferation of wifi service.

The next-generation, Cloud-based VoIP, offers all sorts of advantages for both home-users and businesses. As a cloud-based service, your business line will have web-based phone system administration, integrated voicemail to email, “find me” capability and much more.

Eventually, we’ll all be mobile and digital. It will be the only way for phone companies to satisfy consumers who want more powerful apps, cloud-based services, and portable management of “the Internet of things.”

Will the landline disappear completely? Will smartphones be replaced by wearables? The future is impossible to predict. But, it’s safe to say, as telecom giants and cable providers slug it out, and consumer groups blast both high rates and lousy service, the companies that are able to offer affordable, adaptable phone service will continue to flourish by providing a stable bridge between the old and new technologies.

Ayelet Noff is a partner in Socialmedia.biz and founder and Co-CEO of Blonde 2.0, an award winning digital PR agency with branches in Boston and Tel Aviv. Contact Ayelet via The Blonde 2.0 website , email, or follow her on Twitter and Google Plus.

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