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July 19, 2011

Jeff Pulver, now exploring the world of Social Media and Communications.Jeff Pulver on Today’s Social Media


Jeff Pulver is one of the legendary figures in Internet/IP communications. Co-founder of the famous Voice-over-IP service provider Vonage, as well as the Free World Dialup, Vivox (creators of Bobsled for Facebook), the VON Coalition, PrimeTimeRewind.TV, and The Pulver Report, he continues to be a world-renowned thought leader, author and entrepreneur.

As it happens Yours Truly used to work for Jeff, as founding editor-in-chief of VON (Voice on the Net) magazine that supported his VON conferences held in the U.S. and various countries around the globe. During my three years with VON Publishing and Pulvermedia, I personally experienced Pulver the Futurist and Visionary-at-Work. He also did a terrific job testifying before the U.S. Congress in his efforts to guard net neutrality and defend the general openness of IP communications. For example, on February 12, 2004, Jeff’s petition for clarification declaring Free World Dialup as an unregulated information service was granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This landmark FCC ruling, now referred to as "the Pulver Order", provided important clarification that computer-to-computer VoIP service were not a telecommunications service. Thus, the great telecom trusts of the time were “Pulverized,” so to speak.

Jeff has also testified before the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United States Congress, the National Association of Regulatory and Utility Commissioners (NARUC) as well as a host of other federal and state agencies that have a rising interest in IP communications.

Moreover, Jeff has been profiled in the following: The Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Business Week (where he was named as one of their 2003 Tech Gurus), Boston Globe, National Post, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and a boatload of other publications.

In June 2009, Jeff Pulver launched the first of his #140conf events around the U.S. to provide a platform for the worldwide twitter community, “to listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business.” There’s also a #140conf event devoted to looking into the effects of the real-time web on Education. Called #140edu and done in partnership with Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann), Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, it’s a remarkable forum for educators, parents, students, administrators, school boards, and other interested parties to scrutinize the current state of education, be heard and share ideas.

In July 2011, Jeff was kind of enough to grant Yours Truly an interview to share his thoughts on social media.

Richard Grigonis: Jeff, I see you’re making as big an impact exploring the world of Social Media as you did with Voice and Video on the Net. These days social media is the scintillating term that has enraptured investors like no other. There's literally millions of dollars flying around that’s been poured into any startup that has the right buzzwords.

Jeff Pulver: The reason there’s such interest is because almost a billion people are increasingly immersing themselves in social media. Think about how the advent of social media has changed the way people communicate. It’s become part of our lifestyle.

I produced the first major conference on this, SocComm back in February 2009. SocComm was a very well-received event. It brought out people to comment on the new ecosystem. These were people who I never dreamed would speak at any of my events. SocComm was ahead of its time.

Richard Grigonis: At first it looked like social media and communications was a very simple affair a one-trick pony, almost. But now I see that social media is a lot more complicated. There should perhaps be "multiple points of entry" for various strata of people, since society itself is going to be using this all the time.

Jeff Pulver: Social media and communication can’t be monolithic and top-down. It’s got to be flexible and ‘bottom-up’ in nature. Not everybody conceptualizes and works with social media in the same way. You have your own groups, which is what Google+ prides itself on, and privacy concerns. The flexibility of what you can do with the technology can be utilized by consumers, marketers, corporate masterminds, community activists, you name it. The all have different ideas, interests and  pocketbooks and are looking for different things, but part of the fun of all this is when they discover something about social media they never anticipated and have an "Aha!" moment.

Richard Grigonis: The question is, does social media meld well with business?

Jeff Pulver: Whether it’s the number of stars on an Amazon product listing, or comments on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, social communications affects not the just the way people interact with each other, but the way people view businesses, their products and services, as well as the way businesses interact internally and interrelate with other businesses—B2B if you will. The latter aspects of social media are relatively virgin territory. Now, obviously, many companies are clueless about how to use social media to their advantage. Any company would love to develop certain key strategies to leverage their market position using new ideas in social media and advanced communication. And, indeed, most people in telecom think social media is how they communicate to their customers or how they are supposed to be promoting a product or service. But these same companies forget about the way the same core technology innovation changes the very nature of the way their customers communicate with each other, and even how these companies’ own employees collaborate with each other when working.

Richard Grigonis: You know, the Gartner Group has a term that has become popular, Communications-Enabled Business Processes, or CEBP. Until now, however, the term has focused on business process automation combined with ideas from the communications world. Take Interactive Intelligence, Inc., for example. They are contact center experts. They have a great, super-advanced contact center product called the Customer Interaction Center. At some point they realized they could take the technology that deals with customer-agent interactions in a contact center and apply those tools to automate business processes. Their idea gelled in the form of a concept they call IPA (Interaction Process Automation), which uses contact center-style queuing and routing to streamline work processes. For example, IPA uses Presence, just like unified communications does, to figure out who is available to help with a work assignment, and it has real-time supervisory monitoring so supervisors can see into each step of each work process.

But during all of this, supervisors and workers all collaborate with each other. There’s an internal communications process going on. Communication and collaboration in the business world is simply the flip side of social media in the consumer world.

Jeff Pulver: Yes, precisely. As time goes on, the line between these two worlds will become fascinatingly blurred, just as, in a purely hardware sense, one's cell phone tends to be used for both business and pleasure. Voice-over-IP and now video is being used so that workers can be anywhere and can communicate in real time with their fellow workers. Now, as you look at the internal communications aspects of all this, you begin to see something other than simply communications and business process automation: the much-touted business collaboration capabilities of these products take on more and more of a "social media" favor, particularly when you consider that unified communications has already helped to make the entire company a contact center to deal with customers. The infusion of social media itself into this scenario can only magnify the process further, knocking down the barrier between “outside” and “inside” any organization. It leads to hyperfast customer service and hyper-adjusting markets.

Richard Grigonis: Yes, the new social technologies that businesses are attempting to use to reach their customers is in fact changing the way their customers communicate and thus is changing the market. The "thermometer" is changing the temperature of the water it is measuring, in probably many unpredictable ways.

The addition of mobility and presence to unified communications appears to have expanded traditional linear, hierarchical, "gatekeeper" communications to a more expansive, multidimensional, dynamic system. If he were still around, Marshall McLuhan would have a ball with all this.

Of course, this also increases the "distraction factor" for those who can't cope. It also accelerates the movement of "memes" through culture, magnifies gossip and can create information "storms". A lot of cheap, accessible-anywhere anytime bandwidth for multimedia leads to a lot of communication, and a lot of chaotic "strange attractor" effects in society.

Jeff Pulver: Yes, yes and yes. So, taken together, what we have here is a new economic entity, a sort of “Soconomics” that overlays and modifies the traditional currents of communications, public opinion and commerce.

Richard Grigonis: Of course, thinking "wild" for a moment, what this leads to is defining a new form of social reality driven by advanced mobile communications.... A sort of techno-heaven where we're all avatar "angels" interacting from our private "clouds"...?

Jeff Pulver: Well, I’m not sure if I’d use a metaphor that’s quite so far-out, but certainly the evolution of all these channels will change forever how things work and how we behave.

Richard Grigonis: Thanks for the great interview, Jeff. •

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