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Lines Blur Between Voice and Social Networking

Siemens Communications will integrate Twitter with its Unified Communications (UC) platform, and PBworks announces plans to offer voice alongside its collaboration and social software services.

Siemens Communications will integrate Twitter with its Unified Communications (UC) platform, and PBworks announces plans to offer voice alongside its collaboration and social software services.The walls between voice services and social networking and collaboration are starting to fall as vendors blend unified communications with wikis, blogs and Twitter.

At VoiceCon 2009, Siemens Communications is launching a demo of a forthcoming integration between OpenScape, its UC platform, and Twitter, the insanely popular micro-blogging network.

The integration will enable OpenScape users to initiate phone conferences from a Twitter post, as well as have the conference service dial Twitter users.

"If you include two people in a tweet and say 'Let's get on a conference call,' it creates a conference call without you having to go and set it up yourself," says Paul Maddison, Operations Manager for Partnerships at Siemens Communications.

Maddison says the other parties on the tweet don't have to be on the OpenScape platform. Instead, OpenScape can check their Twitter profiles for a phone number, or check the contact list of the conference organizer to see if a Twitter identity is associated with a user in the contact profile.

It will also allow OpenScape users to change their presence status and messaging preferences via a tweet. For instance, an employee could tweet about her arrival at an overseas airport, and OpenScape will adjust her presence profile for the appropriate location and time zone.

Siemens expects a production version of the integration to be available in the first quarter of 2010. In the meantime, a demo will be posted on the OpenScape Youtube channel.

In addition Siemens is making an SDK available for developers to experiment with the integration. Siemens is hosting OpenScape software on an Amazon EC2 platform, where developers can use the SDK and run a development instance of OpenScape for a hourly fee.

Meanwhile, earlier this week PBworks announced upgrades to its collaboration service to enable real-time collaboration, including IM, presence, and live editing of content.

The company also announced plans to add voice conferencing to its service portfolio.

PBworks will offer its own IM client, which is built on the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) standard. The client will be available as a standard feature of its eponymous SaaS-based collaboration service.

With live editing, multiple users can view a wiki page and see changes being made in real time. Note that PBworks follows the single-editor model, in which only one person at a time can make changes. Both the IM and live edit features will be available November 17th.

As for voice, this will be an additional paid service, and is expected to launch in 2010. Using the voice service, PBworks will be able to initiate a conference call by clicking on the profiles of other PBworks users, or by entering their phone number into the user interface. The voice service will be based on the SIP protocol and built around Freeswitch, an open-source soft switch telephony platform.

Collaboration And UC Combine UC integrates text-based messaging such as e-mail and IM with VoIP. IM also brings presence into the UC mix--the ability to let followers know where you are, your availability, and what you're up to. By integrating voice with messaging, UC platforms wrap major business communications tools into a single toolbox, and let end users pick the most appropriate tool for the most appropriate job.

Then there are collaboration and social networking. These tend to be text-oriented systems, and focus on making it easier for users to create and share documents and files, create user profiles, build project teams and workspaces, find experts, and build social groups that exist outside traditional organizational divisions, such as business units or departments. Twitter-like microblogs and activity streams also serve a presence-like function because users can update their status for anyone that follows them.

Until now, UC and collaboration/social networking have lived in separate spaces on the Venn diagram of business tools. The announcements from Siemens and PBworks demonstrate the affinity that exists between these platforms. Users are quick to adopt useful tools that help them share information and work with co-workers, business partners and customers, and the distinction between a UC platform and a collaboration platform will cease to be relevant, at least from the perspective of a user.

That said, you probably noticed that neither the OpenScape/Twitter integration nor the PBworks voice service will be available until next year. Integrating these platforms will take significant effort, in part because they introduce new complications for vendors. Case is point is PBworks; the company says the real holdup for its voice offering isn't because it has to figure out how to connect telephones, but because it needs to create a billing system.

But the trend toward integration is clear, and we can expect more vendors to come forward with plans to link UC, collaboration and social networking.

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