Web Phone Development Platform Takes Flight
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NEW YORK -- Silicon Valley start-up Ribbit Corp has unveiled a technology platform that will let developers put Web telephony in everything from business software to popular social network sites such as Facebook.
As well as planning to sell its own services directly to consumers in the first quarter, Ribbit said it is working with more than 600 outside developers who are using its technology to create their own voice applications.
Ribbit software serves as an interface between anything from Web sites, e-mail and instant messaging to mobile or regular phones. Developers do not need to be telephony experts to build services with Adobe's Flash software, which works on most computers.
"A developer can take telephony out of our sandbox and bring it to where you live," said Crick Waters, Ribbit's vice president for strategy and business development.
For example, he said that about four developers are using Ribbit to build services that consumers could incorporate into their personal pages on Facebook, a popular online hangout. These services could let members make and log calls and check their voicemail in transcript form without leaving Facebook.
Ribbit has already built an application that businesses will be able use within Salesforce.com Inc's customer relationship management software. This lets workers dial clients via the Internet from within the application and automatically stores a log of client calls and voicemail transcripts alongside the rest of that client's information.
About 30 corporations are testing the service, which will cost $25 a month per person and be available to Salesforce.com users in the first quarter. Ribbit did not disclose financial terms of its agreement with Salesforce.com.
For other applications that Ribbit is not directly involved in the third-party developer would also pay Ribbit a subscription based on the number of users of their service.
ANDROID FOR WEB TELEPHONY
Services such as Vonage and Skype, owned by eBay, already offer Web calling. But Ovum analyst Brett Azuma said Ribbit's openness to outside developers and its plan to offer new types of services could help it stand out.
"We're talking about a new type of phone company," Azuma said. "The other Web telephone companies such as Vonage are offering the same old stuff with a different technology."
However Azuma said it was less clear that consumers would pay extra to make calls from locations such as Facebook.
"I think the business applications will be the ones that are most attractive" because this will save time for users, Azuma said. "The consumer applications are a little less clear. I don't know what consumers are willing to pay for yet."
Ribbit's announcement comes as the idea of opening up phone networks -- which have long been tightly controlled by network operators such as AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications -- for the wider developer community gains momentum.
Verizon Wireless, the mobile unit of Verizon and Vodafone Group Plc, promised to open its network next year to any device and software that works on its network. Web Search leader Google Inc is creating an open source mobile phone platform "Android" with support from multiple companies.
Ted Griggs, Ribbit Chief Executive and co-founder, described his company as the "Android of Web telephony." He expects Ribbit to be cash-flow positive in the second quarter of 2009.
Ribbit raised $13 million funding from investors including Alsop-Louie Partners, Allegis Capital and KPG Ventures.
Ribbit did not give full details of its own retail service beyond saying it may include voice recording and "goofy" offers like call logs in the form of a picture of the world with red lines crossing between call origin and destination locations.
Ribbit expects in-house services to initially generate the bulk of revenue but marketing executive Don Thorson said the company is expecting enough outside developers will use the service that they will surpass Ribbit brand business.
"Over time we think the business model will change and the developers will overtake us," he said.