I’ve been dropping hints about our latest project (StyroFone) for the past few months. This week I had the chance to speak at ClueCon 2010 in Chicago to show it off a bit. We got a great response, both during and after the event, so I thought I would take a few minutes to post something here for those who are interested. Thanks to the great folks at FreeSWITCH for putting it on – wonderful event!
What is StyroFone?
StyroFone (henceforth referred to as simply “SF”) is a mashable, SIP compatible soft phone distributed as a browser plugin. It isn’t a Flash phone, or anything like that. We decided to distribute it as a browser plugin to provide persistence of voice connectivity from page to page, as well as to provide a better platform for mashups.
@zlu had a pretty good summary: @zlu #styrofone, takes the guts out of skype and puts in the browser!
At StarPound, we love our beer, and why not? Let’s face it – when most people think about IP telephony and converged applications, they immediately think of beer. We are no different. So, one afternoon, Wei Wang (CTO) and I were at our local watering hole near the office discussing this and that. Short version – a few beers later, we had conceived the idea behind SF, and started working on the prototype.
The phone app itself is fully SIP compliant, with full codec support (G.711, G.729, et al), echo cancellation, and can be used with any SIP service provider or switch.
We have a few major goals in the design of the phone.
First and foremost, we wanted it to be seamlessly integrated into the browser. By this, I mean that it should not disrupt or deter from the surfing experience. It should augment it. The phone should not be “intrusive”, but “supportive”. Don’t want to see the phone? It minimizes and resizes like Firebug. We’ve also implemented things like customizable click-to-call capabilities (phone links on web pages are turned into links which popup the phone and start dialing the number for you).
Right now, we’re targeting Firefox/PC for the initial launch, but we’re going to expand that as quickly as possible to IE, and for Macs. And yes, we’re looking at the iPad as well.
The second goal was to ensure that the phone was “mashable”. See the screenshot below for an idea of what we’re talking about:
So, a call comes in, and all of a sudden, you get to see cool things about that person, like CRM data, Twitter feeds, blog feeds, their Flickr feed, remote weather, etc. You get the idea.
There is a full API as well, for controlling the phone (making calls, call control for conferencing, etc.). This is extended into the widget area as well. The widgets are all driven by what we call an “event bus”, so they can send and receive standard SF events, as well as their own custom events. Widgets can communicate not only with the phone itself, but also other widgets.
The widget API can also be used to fully integrate into your PBX for voicemail management, user directories, etc:
We’re also incorporating browser sharing, so while you’re talking with someone, you can collaborate over the web together. If you want to bring another colleague into the collaboration conference (or even just a voice conference), you can just drag them into the phone. :)
StyroFone also has a TON of applicability within vertical markets. Consider customer service and call centers. How about your customers conversing with a customer service agent over voice/video/collab at the same time? Yeah, it looks cool – can’t do a screenshot of that just yet, but trust me … it’s cool as hell.
We use SF for calls all the time internally at StarPound. I even had a conference call at a local cafe over SF and local WiFi. It pairs nicely with USB Bluetooth headsets as well. :)
We think this is all pretty cool stuff. However, what is probably even cooler than the phone, is the business model we are refining for it. The phone itself will be freely available, so you’ll be able to download it and use it for personal use. But our business model, we think, will allow us to offer a completely free phone service for subscribers. When we say free, we don’t just mean SF-to-SF. I’m talking about SF to PSTN, cell, etc. A free global communications network. This is our goal, although this will not be a day-one service.
There’s a LOT more to StyroFone than I have time (or authority) to discuss right now. However, I will no doubt write more about SF as we move closer to the next beta cycle. If you are interested, you can head to styrofone.com and apply for it.