Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dialing To Get Things Done: Dial2Do.

I have been following with interest Irish company Dial2Do and I thought I'd extend the invitation to Sean O'Sullivan to tell us what they do, and why it might be important.

1) For those that don't know what Dial2Do do (sic) can you give us a brief overview?

Dial2Do is a phone service that's designed to help you get things done, hands-free. It's a regular phone number that you call, and you speak to get stuff done. So you say "text" to send a text message, say "email" to send an email, and so on. It doesn't require you to download or install anything on your phone - it's just a local number that you dial with any regular phone (fixed or mobile). We have about 50 things you can do - from texts, emails (both listen and send), twitter, reminders, and so on. We've put quite a bit of work in to stitch the popular "web" services in to Dial2Do, so you can use Google Calendar, or Gmail, or RememberTheMilk, or a range of other popular web tools and services, all by dialling a number and speaking.

(2) You guys seem to connect to a lot of Social Media services such as Twitter. What kind of thinking lies behind this focus?

There are a few reasons for this. One is that we're trying to "add voice" to the services that people already use. So if they use Gmail, well let's try and let people listen to their Gmail, and send their Gmail emails by speaking. Same thing with twitter, and with other services like Evernote (for saving things you want to remember) or RememberTheMilk (to do lists) and so on. Really our goal is to "add voice" in as simple and intuitive a way as possible for services people already use and love.

Another reason is that we have a partner-driven approach to building our business. So our business goal is not really to get people coming to and using the service - it's to enable partners with millions of users to add voice to their service using the Dial2Do platform. The Social Media services are some of the key partners for us here, and they're very interested in new ways for their existing users to stay connected and engaged with their services. Dial2Do can help them do that.

And lastly - many of these social media services are viral. When an update goes to twitter via Dial2Do, you'll notice it says "...from Dial2Do" at the end of the update. This helps promote the service among other twitter users, who then try it out, and in turn expose it to their followers on twitter. Email, texting, twitter and many other social media services are great for building awareness for Dial2Do.

(3) Have you learned any lessons about developing for a "social phone" that are any different than other 2.0 services?

I'm afraid so :-) When you're developing a "purely web" service, everything is about the web site itself, and making that web experience the best it can be for users. And when you "open" your site, it's open, world-wide, the instant you push the button. It's inherently global.

With services that work from the phone, even ones like Dial2Do that don't require anything to be installed on the phone, things get more interesting. For example: we're open in 24 countries (meaning, we have local access numbers for calling Dial2Do in 24 countries) - it turns out that not all networks pass caller ID through to Dial2Do in the same way, so the system needs to be aware of the vagaries of how caller id might be managed in different places. Or take text messaging: it's a little tricky to reliably deliver a text message (and to ensure it has been delivered) in all the countries in which Dial2Do operates.

As a result, we've tried to put a lot of thought in to making the experience via the phone as consistent and usable as possible, in every country where we have a presence.

I think the other big think with respect to the "social phone" is how to successfully merge your phone contacts with your online contacts (from social networks, or Gmail, or Outlook). No one has really cracked this yet, and whoever does will be on to something big.

(4) In one of your recent blog entries you say that remindering is a popular application on Dial2Do. Are there particular use cases that are driving this (birthdays, just regular to-do's etc.).

That's right - reminders are really popular. I think there are two reasons.

One of the reasons is simplicity: it's one of the simplest services to use - just call the number, say "reminder" and then say your piece. People find it's very habit-forming - every time they think "oh - must remember such and such" they hit the Dial2Do number and do a quick reminder. It's easy and you're done in 20-30 seconds.

I think the second reason is that we've had a focus on the driver. One of our things has been to position the Dial2Do services as a great set of services to use while driving, if you have a Bluetooth headset or a hands-free carkit. And it turns out that people do quite a bit of, well, thinking, while they drive. On the way to work they think about their day ahead, and as they process what's in store, they start triggering little reminders - "must tell Ted about this" or "better not forget to mail that". I guess intuitively we all know that, but we see it in action with how some drivers use Dial2Do. During their morning commute, they create reminders, send texts, add things to their calendars and fire off emails - all en route to the office!

(5) Given the wealth of Interconnecting API's Dial2Do what kind of role do you see for API's in your companies future?

Well there's two parts to answering that. One is, we're obviously big consumers of APIs from other services. So for a start, we're trying to be good citizens in terms of using emerging standards like OAuth and the like, and offering people additional protection for their Dial2Do accounts (like the optional PIN protection we added last week).

Dial2Do of course, is really a value-add voice platform, to enable other players to "add voice" to their own services. And so, we're working on our own API which we'll make available in a future release. Today we work with one or two key partners to trial the API and ensure we strike the right balance between simplicity and functionality, as befits a service like Dial2Do.

(6) How are you going to deal with the body blow loss that Leinster will suffer at the hands of Muster?

I'm in good shape for that game, as both my parents hail from Cork city centre. So it's clear which team I'll be supporting on the day :-) I've lived in Dublin most of my life, but the Cork roots go deep. On a serious note, it should be a fantastic occasion, and in fairness to Leinster, the tag of underdog will suit them to the ground - I'd expect a ferocious battle with both teams at full tilt before a packed Croke Park. Can't wait!

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