Folks came to this 2006 NTC session because they were interested in telephony cost savings, networking distributed organizations, and reduced operating costs. The presenters (organized by Duncan Drury of the London Advice Services Alliance) presented some great case studies and context:
VoIP on the desktop includes applications such as Skype, Gizmo, Wengo, Google Talk, and Zoep. John Lorrance from CompuMentor broke out the desktop options for the newbies in the room:
- Proprietary, or closed networks: Skype, DialPad, Yahoo! Chat.
- SIP networks, which are standards-based: Google Talk, Gizmo, Wengo, and Zoep. There are typically hosted service providers that can support these systems.
- Open source desktops: Gizmo, Wengo, and Zfone.
David Taylor of Radical Designs then walked through the server-side features of Asterisk, an open source PBX:
- Voice mail
- Call connecting
- Hunt groups
- Conference calling/conference rooms
- Interactive menus and database prompts
- Text to speech
- Audio streaming playback and recording
One of the reasons to use an IP phone is the theory is that your phone will work anywhere. This is where Lorrance gets excited about VoIP: it delivers telephony to communities that didn't have it before. This not only means rural areas in the US, but also immigrant communities and migrant workers.
Steve Albertson shared his own experience with Community Voice Mail (CVM), which provides 46,000 "phoneless" people with a local phone number that can be used for job search, housing search, or safe communications for women and children at risk. CVM currently has an aging voicemail server and local analog lines in nearly every city. This isn't just hard to support and manage, it has no redundancy for emergency situations such as Hurricane Katrina.
CVM is now in the process of moving to Cisco's Unity platform (which is SIP-compatible), and setting up a centralized, private IP network. They didn't want to use a public IP network, so they are using a national VoIP vendor that charges them a flat rate per number, rather than per-minute toll charges.
"VoIPcasting" allows users to stream their conference calls out to an entire membership. Companies in this space include Airfoil and Nicecast, both intended for streaming audio from Macs. I'm guessing that these could provide capabilities similar to YackPack's asynchronous streaming audio, but the parallel wasn't drawn in this forum. (Disclosure note: Omidyar Network is an investor in YackPack.)
Taylor's case study was his experience setting up a protest information line on the Republican National Committee (RNC). There's more information on this project, as well as the 2004 election call blaster, in my previous advocacy post written from O'Reilly Etel. Some of Taylor's interesting use cases for phone advocacy:
- coordinated actions and advocacy
- interactive info lines
- survey the membership or the public
- meeting reminders
- international and/or interactive conference calls
- distributed call centers
- virtual ad-hoc offices
Anderson's lessons learned reveal the challenges for nonprofits deploying VoIP:
- Telecom (IP) jargon is ridiculously complex
- It's tough to find vendors that support VoIP well
- VoIP deployment is not always cheaper, but it can be better
- When moving people from one system to another, making time to retrain, reconfigure, and transfer data
- In emergencies, getting the phone numbers and access information distributed (CVM set up 100,000 voicemail accounts for victims of Hurricane Katrina)
No one walked in aware of (or at least, asking about) the advocacy applications that were highlighted at O'Reilly Etel earlier this year, but it seemed that all walked out with outreach on their minds.