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September 15, 2007

FWD on Facebook Because No Network Should Be An Island

FWD, (formerly FreeWorldDialup) which I am an investor in and board member of, has released the first version of VoiceMail for Facebook. Think of this as the first footings for a bridge that will connect users regardless of what social network they use rather than as an application only for Facebook users (although that’s what it is today).

If you’re a Facebook user, give it a try.

In the very near future, all of the many FWD members will be able to exchange VM with each other as well as with Facebook members who install this app. Soon after that the FWD team, headed by CEO Dan Berninger, will begin interconnecting users of other social networks with each other and with the many SIP-based VoIP networks which already peer with (connect to) FWD. APIs will be open, of course, so that any social or other kind of network that wants can connect itself.

VoiceMail itself is just an interesting opening wedge for FWD on social networks. Ever since Chairman Jeff Pulver founded the service in 1995, it has been providing Internet-based connectivity. FWD is about real-time communication between people and supports both voice and instant messaging and was an early showcase for features like presence management which don’t exist on the PSTN (the legacy phone network).

When physical phone service started over one hundred years ago, each community was an island. Gradually – more gradually than you would think – these islands were interconnected by “long distance” service. When email began, it was on closed networks like MCI Mail and CompuServe or within enterprises. Then there were special purpose gateways from one network to another. Finally, the Internet, SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol), and DNS (Domain Name Service), made it possible to connect all users of email regardless of their mailhost – without any intermediary service provider in the middle or charging tolls.

At FWD we believe that real-time Internet-based communication including voice is ready to move from islands of service – think of Skype and Facebook as big islands – to universal connectivity. We think that off-island service will be as free of incremental costs as on-island service is today. This Internet-based communication – unlike today’s islands of VoIP service – is a much more capable replacement for, not an evolution of, the current tolled phone service.

FWD’s role is to be the service ENABLER for this communication, not the service PROVIDER. We don’t think of FWD as a network (although it technically is) but as a bridge between networks, social and otherwise. Stay tuned.

Jeff posted about FWD VoiceMail here.

Dan York posted an excellent detailed description of the service here.

Andy Abramson mistook our first landfall for island-forming. We’ll have to communicate better.

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