I was catching up on my blog reading and came across a post by Tom Evslin that's especially appropriate on the eve of the VON conference here in Boston. He recalls that at an earlier VON he opined how VoIP would occur in three stages: (1) Cheap long distance; (2) Converged networks; (3) really cool new services. The first two came about, but we're pretty much still using the phone the same way we always did. Sure, we can launch calls from our mobile contact list instead of punching in numbers, but otherwise the need for compatibility with POTS and the need to pay termination charges to POTS carriers has meant change has come at the speed of the slowest component.
Evslin concludes that the next stage will not be incremental improvement over traditional telephony, but wholesale replacement, with live voice and voice mail becoming just two choices in a continuum of communications modes. I agree with him that these will be based on social networks, which are the phone books of the future. This approach will allow a more natural form of communication Instead of starting with a phone number and the hope that the associated device is near the intended recipient, conversations in the future will start from the identity of the recipient and the nature of the task to be performed. From that point, one can initiate a communication in the mode most suited to the problem at hand and the needs of both parties, whether that be an synchronous email, and almost-synchronous SMS or Instant Message, or a real-time voice or video conversation.