Jeff Pray of Starcom in front of a water tower on the VoodooVox roof, just outside their offices (which belonged to Amp'd Mobile, before they went bankrupt and left in a hurry.)
These days folks excited about mobile technologies and media are usually thinking of visuals and cool apps -- video, photos, Twitter, ads, widgets, text links and so on. All of us caught up in 3G, iPhone, click-to-pay, bar-code-ism sometimes forget that cellphones and Blackberries and smartphones are, well, phones. They’re used to talk, have, y’know , the linear human form of communication known as a conversation. That’s often their primary function.
Some startups have not forgotten, though, and there appears to be a small if vibrant community of them trying to tap in to the new/old telephony. VoodooVox, which I wrote about this week, convened an “in-call media summit” yesterday that for some of the day filled a room of about 200 people in a Manhattan penthouse. The presenters included companies like SayNow (which I gather is a phone-to-music recording service), Starcom (which buys “in-call” media, ads that play while you’re on the phone , say, calling into a favorite radio station), and FreeConferenceCall.com, which claims to have five percent of the conference call market, if I understood correctly.
Investors, including Alan Patricof (who invested through a company he was with before Greycroft) and David Min of Steamboat Ventures and Eric Hippeau of Softbank were there, showing that the space is attracting money from the same kinds of folk who fund sexy Web 2.0 ventures. And we learned about revenue models as easy-to-understand as in-call advertising and as complex as FreeConferenceCall’s typical telecom technique of taking a cut of the money you spend to call into their service via a telecom revenue trade mechanism that’s been in place for decades. (When they, say, route a call through Nebraska, that Nebraska phone switching system gets money for the call from your provider, and the Nebraska company shares that with FreeConfCall.)
Perhaps the biggest eye-opener, though -- in addition to a roomful of folks in a swank Manhattan building excited about telephone calls, and the amazing VoodooVox offices -- was some AT&T ads (YouTube montage here) about the “future” that the company made in 1993. They said that some day “you will” do things like: borrow a book from thousands of miles away, send a fax from the beach, drive across country without asking directions (pictures of a GPS-like device on the dash), pay a toll without stopping, buy concert tickets from an ATM, call into a business call with your shoes off, carry your medical history "in your wallet", watched movies on-demand, distance-learned on a screen. I don’t remember whether the ads seemed futuristic then.
What would be the ads for “some day” from now that will actually come true 15 years from now? Bio-chip implants to help us connect without devices? Computers the size and thickness and flexibility of a placemat, or the size of pens we can stick in our pocket and project onto a table? Ads that know us so well we never get something we’re not interested in? Add your guesses to the comments.