Ribbit, the Mountain View, Calif.-based startup aiming to help developers unite voice with web applications, is scheduled to announce its own voice-web entry Monday, a service called Amphibian that will give users the ability to blend traditional telephony services with a wide range of web-based options.
Due out in the second quarter of 2008, Amphibian is slated to be shown live at the Demo conference Tuesday morning, according to the Ribbit folks who gave us a quick heads-up before preparing for their moment in the startup sun. Amphibian’s promised features — which include the ability to redirect a cell call into Skype, Google Talk, MSN or into a web-based voice mail application — may not seem particularly groundbreaking to anyone familiar with other VoIP-based web services. But viewed as a loss leader for Ribbit’s API, Amphibian might be the first product evangelist who actually made the company some money to boot.
Though the basic Amphibian service will be free, Ribbit plans to charge fees for services like its voice mail transcription ($5 for 15 messages, $29.95 for unlimited messages) and outbound calls ($5 for four hours, or $15 for 2,000 minutes a month). According to Ribbit, users simply forward their mobile-phone number to the Ribbit system to use the Amphibian service.
The real question that Ribbit needs to answer — for both Amphibian as well as its API plan, under which developers kick a percentage of income back to Ribbit — is whether or not consumers are ready to embrace an additional cost as well as some configuration leaps and jumps to merge their telephone services with their online world. While there is clearly a case to be made for having the flexibility to transfer a cell call to a Skype headset — or to view your voicemail as email — do people really need or want to start talking into their Facebook page?
“I’m not sure,” said Crick Waters, Ribbit’s vice president of strategy and business development, in a phone briefing last week. “But [with the Ribbit API] a hundred thousand people can try.” Ribbit’s technology allows developers to merge front-end applications with traditional telephony features, without having to worry about the plumbing. According to Ribbit, there have been 2,500 downloads so far of its developer platform.
As Om noted before, execution and strategy will be the key to Ribbit’s success, since competition in the space seems to be increasing daily. In addition to traditional VoIP services like Vonage, which already offer a wide range of web-based services, there are web-voice mashups like Lypp’s conference calling plan and Jaduka’s enterprise-focused web services API. Also appearing in the same competitive sphere is Microsoft’s already-announced plans to blend together web communications and voice, as well as expected web-voice projects from Google’s Grand Central and Adobe.
While Ribbit has a few examples of Ribbit-based apps on its web page — including an integrated Salesforce.com app as well as a software model of an iPhone — it hopes to include a wide variety in a bigger online marketplace aimed at consumers and social networks, a segment Ribbit calls “the big soft middle” of the web-voice market. With any luck for Ribbit, Amphibian won’t be the only one in the pond.
“What we want is for our developers to make money, to create value and get paid,” said Ribbit CEO Ted Griggs. “Then we get paid too.”
Paul Kapustka, former managing editor for GigaOM, now has his own blog at Sidecut Reports.