The traditional business phone line may be dying a slow death but Canadian start-up Hookflash is looking to speed up its demise. The Calgary-based company is launching an iPad app (s aapl) by the same name Thursday that integrates LinkedIn’s directory (s lnkd), giving business users a free over-the-top alternative for voice, HD video and messaging. It’s the first communications app to build upon LinkedIn’s social graph and demonstrates some of the latent potential in the network of 160 million people.
Hookflash users will sign-in with a LinkedIn account and will be able to communicate with other LinkedIn users in their contact list, which is populated from their LinkedIn directory. Users will be able to see the profile of who they’re talking to and will see their latest updates from their activity feed, so there’s helpful context for each call. If a recipient is not available to receive a call or message, they will get a push notification that takes them into the app.
The iPad app will be joined soon by an iPhone app and then a version for Android (s goog) later this year. The service will also get calendaring, scheduling and other productivity tools as it evolves. Multi-party video calling is also on tap later this year, though the service is not meant to take on WebEx (s csco) and other conferencing systems.
Co-founder Erik Lagerway told me that the goal is to become a next generation business phone, replacing traditional handsets from Cisco or Polycom(s plcm). That should put Hookflash in competition with Skype (s msft) and other enterprise VoIP services. He said the integration of LinkedIn is a smart way to utilize the network and appeal to business users, who increasingly turn to LinkedIn as their tool for staying in touch with business associates.
“Most of the people I communicate with from a business perspective are all on LinkedIn; it’s my business Rolodex,” said Lagerway. “We want to make sure we use that directory in a way that’s absolutely seamless.”
IT managers might not embrace Hookflash out of the gate, admits Lagerway, but he said that as bring-your-own-device policies becomes the standard, it opens up opportunities for services like Hookflash in corporate settings. He said business users also long for more communications choices, which are not as plentiful as consumer services.
Hookflash was supposed to hit the market earlier this spring, but got held up as the company completed the P2P technology underlying the app. Hookflash has developed its own P2P protocol called Open Peer that will enable additional services, such as file sharing. Hookflash is opening up the spec to other developers who will be able to build services off the same technology. Open Peer, for example, could be dropped into customer relationship management or other enterprise applications, enabling simple communications and other uses.
Hookflash, which debuted at the DEMO conference last fall, has raised a little more than $2 million to date and is close to finishing up a $3 million round. The company is hoping to make money through a freemium model, with added premium features layered over the free service in the future. There’s also an opportunity to license its P2P technology to carriers and other communications companies, said Lagerway.
I think Hookflash is an intriguing service, making LinkedIn potentially more powerful for business users. My LinkedIn directory is often an afterthought, but it’s still a big network of people that I continue to add to. I might be tempted to utilize it more now with Hookflash. Airtime showed how a consumer video application can ride atop Facebook’s graph. But I think Hookflash could have more of an impact because there aren’t other communications services that are building on top of LinkedIn. I don’t think it’s ready to kill the traditional business phone overnight, but this could really be helpful for certain kinds of use cases in which business colleagues want to reach out to each other quickly and casually.
I think it would make sense for LinkedIn to eventually try to incorporate Hookflash into its own mobile apps and website, making it even more of a daily destination and utility for users. An acquisition by LinkedIn might be a logical next step if the technology proves durable. That might be the future for Hookflash though Lagerway said the company is looking at integrating with other social networks in the future.