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Can Ribbit Finally Bring Web & Voice Together?

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For a long time, I had this belief that the worlds of web and voice would converge, unleashing upon us a whole new class of voice-web mashups. Instead all we got were some marginal ideas and rarely-used widgets. Voice, in particular, remained too difficult for web developers. In the end the two turned out to be awkward roommates, never really comfortable with each other.

ribbitlogo.gifLately, VoIP insiders have started talking about taking a platform approach -– a way to add voice to web applications easily while leaving complex tasks such as peering and billing in the background. Ribbit, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, is the latest to join the fray, and it has perhaps the most audacious (and equally risky) strategy for bringing web and voice together.

If you strip away the hype (meaningless blather such as the company’s claim of being Silicon Valley’s first phone company), what they have done is built their own Class 5 softswitch and back-end infrastructure and married it to front-end technologies like Flash and Flex from Adobe Systems (ADBE).

Furthermore, the platform is able to take inputs from different communication tools — XMPP, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, MSN and Flash Media Server –- and make them talk to their “switch.” The platform uses SIP protocol for all voice communication.

Accordingly, Ribbit is offering API (Application Protocol Interface) access to much of our switch today, allowing third party developers to create rich integrated telephony applications without previous knowledge of telephony. Currently, the Ribbit API is optimized for Flash / Flex developers because of the pervasiveness of the technology (Flash is resident on 98% of the world’s computers). This means that Ribbit communication applications written in Flash will run without the need of a client download.

“What we have done is made voice an object that you embed into your workflow (or software),” said Ted Griggs, chief executive officer of the company. “We didn’t want to change how people did things, like communicate via Skype, and wanted to integrate the platform to work with any phone.”


Developers just have to write apps, Griggs said, and worry about the back-end telephony stuff. In exchange, Ribbit will take between 5 percent and 15 percent of the revenues generated by an application.

airphone.gifBriggs showed off a few applications, including one specifically targeting subscribers of Built by an independent developer, it was quite impressive. Another application worth checking out is AIRphone, developed by Joe Johnson of Knoware, that acts like an iPhone on your desktop.

The technological approach the company has taken is sound and has merit. It is the strategy and execution part that raises doubts about Ribbit and its future. For instance, I have on good authority that Adobe will be making a big splash with its VoIP plans sometime next spring, and is working furiously to put finishing touches on its offerings. This would make Adobe Ribbit’s biggest competitor. And there are others, like Lypp, who are following a similar strategy. Meanwhile Google, which owns GrandCentral, could easily roll out its own version of a voice-web platform.

The biggest challenge for Ribbit will be building and nurturing a developer ecosystem. It needs patience and a lot of money. Ribbit claims it already has about 600 developers involved in its platform, but will the $13 million the company has raised from venture capitalists be enough? I don’t know.

Nevertheless, Ribbit seems to be rising to the challenge posed by Daniel Berninger, who in a column here wrote:

The death of the telecom business remains a standard prediction, but telephone bills continue to arrive…aside from price, the telecom business remains largely unchanged by VoIP…although improved performance and falling costs usually combine to produce new applications, this does not seem to be the case for VoIP and the voice business. If the infocom sector can move beyond cheap telephone calls, it might finally represent the threat to the status quo imagined by my AT&T colleagues.

39 Responses to “Can Ribbit Finally Bring Web & Voice Together?”

  1. I appreciated your comments…’If you strip away the hype (meaningless blather such as the company’s claim of being Silicon Valley’s first phone company)’ because while I believe that Ribbit’s timing and messaging is very good, they are hardly first to market in this space. Rather they are first to market with such a powerful PR machine (and some nice marketing work behind the scenes). That is not to discount what they are doing, rather to highlight that there are other companies in the space – Jaduka and Ifbyphone to name a couple. Jaduka is probably closest to the Ribbit’s approach, although their parent actually runs an IP network.

    Ifbyphone on the other hand has built much of what it appears Ribbit has built but has chosen a more packaged approach to the market. A developer network is a nice idea for accessing early adopters but to attract a more mature buyer, a voice to web service needs to be packaged and supported in such a way that the masses will buy it.

  2. techuntangled

    I look forward to the Ribbit app… However, I think this is going to be an also ran to Jaxtr

    Incidentally, this is exactly what I predicted Ribbit would do when I wrote about it in July (Ribbit was in stealth mode then)…

    “Ribbit appears to be a softswitch-based VoIP telephony service that is accessible from a browser via a Flash application. Flash works on both PC environments and on mobile devices, so it would be a good choice for a service that runs on both PCs and mobile devices and offers a great user experience.”

    See more at

  3. OM – “rarely used widgets?” I’ll have your smart ass know that my app [Jangl Me] which just launched on bebo has had like 9000 SMS messages sent in the past 24 hours. Not a bad start for an app only 72 hours old. Find me any VoIP based service with that kind of early usage. Go ahead. If you do, I won’t say anything about your rarely viewed TV show;)

    Now, to the point of Ribbit, I met Ted way back when he was at Syndeo (Softswitch company). Great guy and well accomplished. But, the Silicon Valley’s first phone company? You mean he’s not connecting to a VoIP network provider on the back end? Like, he’s putting his softswitch in every MSA? Don’t think so.

    The concept is good, but it’s true he’d be up against Adobe which would keep me up at night. Perhaps more importantly, he’s shifting the business model onus on developers. If I were creating a developer program, I’d prefer to fill in that blank. Developers should be able to do what they do best. Besides the pricing is way steep for any of the mashup guys I know… Their investors will love that cap on exposure, but it ain’t gonna fly on consumer stuff. Now, enterprise focus is another story all together, but seems the enterprise has lots of VoIP solutions already, from vendors that have been around longer. Enterprise IT guys tend to prefer buying from brands they don’t get fired for.

    I’ve got a good seat to watch it play out in any case, and really do wish Ted the best on this (and Om the best on his TV career).

  4. jon kennedy

    Very interesting insights from the readers, unfortunately blogger couldn’t flag them early-on.

    Irrespective the service provider (ribbit, vonage, att) web can be enhanced with voice capabilities. Which e-tailer would pay 5-10% revenue for a phone call made from their web-site, why can’t use existing widget provider or future google service. I wouldn’t have paid attention to this article if it was not on the top.

    Great marketing spin on opensource soft-switch, good job by ribbit.

  5. How difficult would it be to have Google deploy a Softswitch at each of their major Data Centers, or at minimum multiple sites, and offer a similar VoiceIP (Browser based) service to all Wired and wireless susbcribers accessing their Cloud Computing Network-paid for by Ad Revenues ahred with AP developers??

  6. Anonymous

    Not related to this article.
    Just an user feedback on the new page format for gigaOm.
    It has become very difficult to find articles in new page format. Its hard to tell which is old, which is new article. Too few articles displayed on the front page. Articles arent seperated clearly.
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  7. I do not understand how they are going to make money.

    Serious enterprises would not want to leave all their communications to a start-up and depend on them.

    Normal users are already flooded with Skype, GoogleTalk, Yahoo and lots of softphones. The platform may be great. But, other than a softphone, there are no other applications at present. Unless there is a business case, except for curious individuals, there won’t be many using this.

    It is good to depend on the developers to come up with innovative applications. But, in the mean time ribbit needs to provide some applications or else it will be burning its cash.

  8. Ribbit’s innovation lies in the mobile phone, not on the desktop.

    Adobe (Macromedia) has spent years tweaking their mobile Flash software with mobile operators in Japan. With Ribbit, a mobile device running a light-weight OS and FLASH as the middleware/interface would be able to offer all traditional mobile telecom services and non-telecom services that have typically been embedded within the web (desktop) but now are accessible via Ribbit.

    This simple mobile device would be all interface, similar to the iPhone which too is all interface. The difference being that the class 5 voice switch’s functionality now lies between the fingers tips of the mobile subscriber.

    This enablement of the mobile subscriber combined with their new found social freedom from using Facebook, MySpace, etc. would finally morph the traditional web and the mobile device into one another without anyone carrying why, just that it did.

    Ribbit and Adobe’s Flash based VoIP application (no matter what it does) will further increase the innovation that VoIP could not do on its own.

  9. Vipin, I am guessing (since your comment is truncated) that you are suggesting that the revenue sharing is not stated in the EULA. But my point stands even if it is plainly stated and clearly understood. If any VoIP offering is a service and not a product, I have an issue with it. More importantly, the Bell Labbers alluded by Berninger have nothing to worry.

  10. Aswath,

    wouldn’t it be a better to put these fugures in end user license instead of keeping it open ended? Also the 5%-15% figure is really on revenue or on profit that an application makes? I believe in most of the cases people develop applications based on the business case and open ended financial contract makes it really hard (at least in my view).

  11. “…Ribbit will take between 5 percent and 15 percent of the revenues generated by an application.”

    Just imagine what Ma Bell missed out by treating voice as a commodity and charging just based on the distance and time. They should have charged the call by the revenue generated by the call. Bellheads can always learn new things from the Netheads, I guess.

    Is Mr.Berninger OK with this?

  12. I admire Google because of their openness. If you see the end user license of Ribbit It says “Ribbit reserves the right to charge fees for future use of or access to the Ribbit Software”. So if someone tries to build an innovative services/product on top of Ribbit platform he may have to pay for that in future(and not clear how much). So its not easy to use platform for real commercial use unless all commercial issues are settled before you start using the platform.

    I would rather prefer to have strategy whereby Ribbit make money with their platform popularity (may Ad supported somehow) and let the user build the application free.