Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saving the Global Economy

By: Alon Cohen

At the end of 2005, we started a journey with few partners and investors to create a nice web site to help people in the community, which are in need of human advice, and financially reward those who are willing to provide the advice.

The concept was simple but challenging in many ways. We set a directory of advisors arranged by ranking. We provided a solution to facilitate payment while evading fraud. We included a mechanism by which the advisor can chat, talk over the phone or do a video session with the client, while we measure the duration of the call and at the end, charge one user, and pay the other.

It was all good until we hit a speed bump. We found that it was hard to explain to the advisors that placing a page on a site is only the start of creating a business. It was hard to explain that an online virtual business is not much different from a physical business. I use to tell advisors that if you hang up a shiny plate on your bedroom door stating, “I am a certified consultant”, you will not get much action going. As in any other business, you have to go out and find ways to bring clients. To solve the problem, we gathered some online resources and communicated those to the advisors so they can use those tools to bring clients.

Our ranking system was a topic by itself, and the company is still perfecting it. It takes into consideration the positive and negative comments an advisor receives, but also the amount of money that the advisor made over time. We took the finical gains of the advisor as an indication that this advisor is providing a service valued by the community.

Moving few years forward and passing through a rough patch in the global economy, we noticed that the people that kept on moving up the ranks are not the Lawyers, not the Registered Dietitians, not the Travel Advisors, not the Doctors or Computer Support people. What we saw is that the most productive people are those who provide an online psychic reading. We also noticed that the bigger spenders are those who are not afraid, and that is most open to learning about the future.

Maybe Wall Street should learn from that, and use some of the advisors on the BitWine site to figure out where the things are going, and use that valuable insight to save the economy.
We did our part already and change the BitWine home page to point to our most productive people the Psychics.

Check this out you may discover something you already know.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 the Best Home & Office Phone Service I have Ever Used

By: Alon Cohen

If this post smells to you like an ad it probably is. I work for and proud about what we offer. But I am also very satisfied with how I use the services every day. People who know me as a technologist know that I do not jump every time a new service comes alive. I do however likely to try new technologies more than the average person, and jump only when I know I get the best bang for the buck, and when I know that I get functionality that help me do more with less in order to feed my basic laziness.

In the past year and half I have been using, Vonage, Cablevision triple play, Skype, Jajah, 1Voice, Google Voice and more. I ended up canceling or not using all of them (besides Skype which gives me free Video). At that time frame, I have created a monster phone system for my home based solely on Virtual Office. I did not have to install anything just click my way on the web.

Why? Well I started small, moved my home phone number and fax numbers, than added menus to make sure my family members get their calls directly to their cell phones, instead of me answering the home phone with calls that are not for me. Then I added support for my wife when she fly overseas so I can save on roaming, then I added a Global Number in Israel so my parents can call me as if the call a local call, then I added a soft phone so my college kid can call anywhere from his dorm using his MAC and save the cell phone plan minutes, then I added IP Phone, so business calls become simpler and so on and on. All the above is done by carving what I needed for my day to day, out of the ultra flexible Virtual Office service.

None of the above is doable with a any single service from one company, and delivers the goods in a single easy to use service. It is that simple! is in my mind the most flexible, most innovative VoIP service with the best Customer Support - bar none. And if you want to challenge that statement, just call, they are there 24*7, and very responsive.

If I think something is not clear on the web feature description, I call the support as any other customer would. I use them to figure out how to best use some of the features we have or give them advice on the same topic. When I learn something new, I make sure it is added to the company’s web site so others can enjoy that knowledge as well.

Since I have joined, the company had created three new services: Home Phone Plus, Virtual Number and Chat Calls, added tons of features as per customer’s requests, improved reliability and much more. At that same timeframe Cablevision for instance (my internet provider) created very nice new commercials, and raised the price twice. I am asking you, does a new commercial help me if I was a customer? No! With I know that I keep moving forward and improve my utility and as a result, improve my lifestyle.

From what I am seeing, none of the VoiP / Triple-play companies have the same level of drive to improve and innovate that poses.

I am 100% sold. If you want to become a customer just like me, click the banner just above this blog and start your journey to telephony wonderland. Do not even worry about it, the first month is always free.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Canceling a Vonage Account

By: Alon Cohen

As someone who works for a somewhat competing phone company I would probably not think about publishing my own horror story of getting disconnected from Vonage on the company’s blog. However, since I do like Vonage I hope they take some hints from this blog post. After all Vonage have created a huge service from scratch and lead the fight to de-regulation of VoIP, sometimes they win and we all win and sometimes they loose and we all pay the price, consumers and VoIP phone companies as one.

Since I have encountered a somewhat similar story to mine about canceling a Vonage account on a respectable site I have decided to share some of it, by reference, on my personal blog and offer a potential solution for a tormented customer.

Just as an FYI, knowing about the cancelation situation, (which I work for) was established on the principals of providing the best customer support possible, best service possible at the most affordable price, while providing customers a simple way to move in and out from the service. Apparently it pays off. People come to us just because they heard we provide the best customer support.

So if you are leaving Vonage to any carrier here is a small advice:

First go to the winning company’s site, register, and start the process of number porting.

(You will normally need to have the last bill from the loosing company sent over)

Once the number was ported and only after it was ported, call the loosing company to disconnect.

If you do not call, you may keep paying the loosing company even if the number was ported!

If you happen to like and choose them (us), simply press the banner above to start the process. The banner will take you to the Virtual Office page which is designed for small businesses, but you can move around the site and select Home Phone Plus which is a direct replacement to Vonage.

Check it out.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Looking for Programming Power

By: Alon Cohen

From time to time I come up with an interesting idea that needs either a proof of concept to get funding or some developers who are willing to shell some free time to be part of a dream.

When Lior Haramaty & I started VocalTec 1989, the company who created the VoIP industry by launching the first Internet Phone in Feb 1995, it was nothing but a dream. We couldn’t have imagined how the future will unfold. We invested our free, and not so free, time at VocalTec in hope that we can make something out of it. And we did, with the help of a very dedicated team that joined over time we managed to go public by 1996.

Today’s internet is much faster, and results show up much quicker.

As I often do with new Ideas, I run them by my close friends to see if they hold water. Not every idea is a go. This time it seems to hit a soft spot. The idea has the potential to solve a big Internet security problem for each one of us.

If you are a web programmer / thinker / technologist / social network animal, that can take an idea and make it work by starting simple and thinking big, I have an idea that I am willing to make you part of. There are no rewards besides bragging rights until we actually make money.

Contact me if you think you are that person .

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Nanites are here

By: Alon Cohen

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has organized the second “soccer under glass” event at the RoboCup games at the international competition in Graz, Austria, from June 29 to July 5, 2009.

NIST, the federal agency that advances U.S. innovation and competitiveness, partnered with industry, universities and other organizations to move the world closer to the future where robots smaller than the eye can see are put to work in a variety of ways.

In the Nanosoccer event, computer-driven “Nanites” the size of dust mites challenge one another on fields the size of a grain of rice. Everything is happening under a microscope, while the nanobots are operated by remote control and move in response to changing magnetic fields or electrical signals transmitted across the arena.

The mass of the “Nanites” is just a few nanograms. They are manufactured from materials such as aluminum, nickel, gold, silicon and chromium.

The future application range from cleaning water reservoirs in third world countries to medical application fixing defects in our bodies on the cellular level.

You may have seen the potential use and potential risks associated with using such technologies in the science fiction world:

“In 2366 Wesley Crusher experimented with Nanites aboard the USS Enterprise-D to see if he could enhance their capabilities, by letting them work together. When these Nanites escaped they entered the Enterprise computer core were they multiplied and interfered with almost all ship operations. When Doctor Paul Stubbs tried to kill them, the Nanites retaliated by taking over control of the Enterprise life support systems and even tried to kill him. At that point the escaped Nanites were considered "alive." The destruction of the Enterprise was prevented by Data who was able to talk to the Nanites and as their spokesman was able to come to an agreement with Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The enhanced Nanites were eventually transferred to the Kavis Alpha IV where they founded their own civilization. []”

We are not there yet, but the good thing is that etiquette and protocols of handling such nano technology particles and devices, are also evolving along side the technology itself to ensure the safety and constructive interactions with the technology as it matures.

The Nanosoccer contests drives innovation in this new field and is designed to inspire young scientists and engineers to get involved.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Future of Social Networking

Contributed By: the Editors of

Twitter is currently having its 15 minutes of fame, thanks in large part to Ashton Kutcher. Known in Internet circles as “aplusk,” Kutcher transformed the social networking website into an overnight sensation when he challenged CNN to see who could be the first to attract 1 Million followers.

Kutcher won the bet, and Twitter now joins Facebook and Wordpress as the media darlings of the social networking revolution, aka Web 2.0. These sites let you interact with friends, family and colleagues in ways previously unimaginable. Ten years ago, people flocked to the Internet for information. Nowadays, they use the web as a platform to broadcasting their opinions—and their very identity—to the world.

I Tweet, Therefore I Am

Those who’ve already hopped aboard the Twitter bandwagon know the drill: sign up for an account, and you’re given the opportunity to express what you’re doing at any given moment. The catch? You have to do so in 140 character or less. Celebrities like Kutcher use the site to keep in touch with fans. But the majority of Twitter users are regular Joes, using the service to update their family and friends about the humdrum routines of their daily life. And tech-savvy job hunters are using their posts to brand themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

News organizations and journalists are also “tweeting” about breaking stories. And protesters in Iran are using it to update the world about their dissatisfaction over election results.

When a site like Twitter pushes past the tipping point to become a cultural phenomenon, it’s only natural to wonder what lies ahead on the horizon. Which trends will emerge in the next ten years, and will they put social networking to rest?

Web 3.0

Look to the next generation of web sites to enable enhanced video searching capabilities. Not only will you be able to watch your favorite shows and films online, but you’ll be able to search for key frames and audio cues within programs.

You can also expect live video and social media to merge in coming years. Glimmers of this phenomenon have already been seen, most notably during President Obama’s inauguration when news sites hosted live chats for visitors. Imagine being able to invite your Facebook friends to watch an event together online, all the while posting comments to each other throughout the experience.

Advertisers are also on the lookout for new ways to integrate their products into social networking and video sites. Many brands are already hip to Twitter and Facebook, using the services in unexpected and creative ways to communicate with customers. New technologies are being developed to insert brands beyond traditional ad banners and sponsorships.

Next-Gen Web Hosting

The future of web hosting is also likely to evolve. Game changers like Google are already pushing us towards “cloud computing,” a system in which an individual’s documents and software are hosted remotely and accessed via the Internet. With less need for storage, personal computers will become lighter and more streamlined—a significant advantage for business travelers.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Multi Tenant Portable Devices

By: Alon Cohen

Here is something I did not see at CES 2009, well, I should say did not see yet. As I was watching Star Trek over the years it became clear to me that those programs can provide a glimpse to the future if not even forge the future by igniting creativity among other creative people.


We know that scientists are working on teleportation, (“beam me up Scotty”) they even made progress in the past years and managed to show that it is theoretically possible. But why go that far, we all use cell phones, they started big, morphed to mimic the shape of Captain Kirk’s communicator (the flip phone) and they are now becoming smaller and smaller almost like those of Star trek voyager comm badges.


All we have to do to find new ideas is look closer and permutate some of the visuals and gadgets used at those shows. And there are plenty of them.


What caught my attention was how Star Trek people were using their “iPhones” (well not really iPhones more like their “iPod touch”. The key difference between what we have today as iPod iPhone, Android or Palm Pre and what they have used on the show is the fact that theirs was not really owned by anyone specific. They were tossing them around as if they were yellow pads.


This is how I came to the conclusion that given the correct method as depicted later in this post one can build what I call a Multi Tenant Portable Device. I started working on the concept way back, and finally decide to file it as a patent on December 4th 2008.


The Objective

The objective is to enable multiple users some temporary users to use any portable device nearby with full access to all personal data as if it was your own device, and without compromising your own privacy or the privacy of other users (I call tenants) on the device.


Imagine that you can get full access to all your personal data such as e-mail address book, phone numbers, calendar and messages using someone else’s phone or portable device when your own device is not nearby or not operational from some reason like luck of battery juice, reception or any other reason.


Imagine sitting in front of a TV and reading your e-mails, using your kid’s iPhone or even your smart universal TV remote.


As portable devices become pervasive they could be thrown in the house everywhere much like our old cordless phones. Today, as oppose, to my home cordless phone which is everywhere, when I hear my cell phone I need to find my own cell phone first in order to accept the call. With this invention you could be using any available cell phone around you to pick up your call.


Imagine a world or a corporate environment where people exchange PDA-like devices as if they were writing pads or a printed document, and then leave that device around for others to use, without losing any privacy of personal data.


Using this invention, all the above can become a reality. To say the truth it is not even complicated which in my mind makes it a perfect idea, simply simple and powerful.


Here is how

Today, cell phones have a SIM card that defines the phone personality, kind of a serial number that provides the network ID to which the network can assign your phone number and attach billing information. Today, it is not simple to replace the SIM card, and on iPhone almost impossible. The address book, email settings and other data objects are usually stored locally on the phone’s flash memory. As it stands the experience of using someone else’s phone or PDA is a not a pleasant thought and often feared by the phone owner from privacy reasons. It is sufficient to see my College kid objections to his teenage brother using his iPhone, to understand that privacy is a real issue on those portable devices.


Now what if we could make that SIM card or SIM card analogy well seamless? In much the same way that my mail is not on my PC but rather on a networked mail like g-mail, so can my address book be, my calendar be, my YouTube movies be, my browser preferences be and so on. All I need is to point the Phone (or the Device) to the correct well encrypted on-line setting storage, and the device is temporarily mine.


Some of the above settings’ data is already on-line or replicated for backup or as a synchronization point, but it is not made available on-line to any device I desire, it is for my own devices to use, my own Google account, own address book and so on.


In many cases local storage is not a dirty word, think of it as cash memory for personal data. The problem is that it is not segregated & encrypted per user. So a temporary user can easily get access to personal information stored on the device, while pretending to use that for something else.


Once I have my settings available on-line and from my segregated local storage I can see how iPhones or PDA or iPod Touch or Plam Pre or any iPhone-like smart devices would use a password, or a finger print reader, or even an RFID reader with a tag that a user would carry in his/her pocket to be able to re-define the phone current tenant and all of those tenants relevant settings.


To use such a device I would enter my ID, or place my finger on the device, or just touch it and retrieve all my settings (from the network or local storage on the device), and gain access to my address book, my preferences, My Music, My Movies, my phone calls and even my device desktop and wall paper. In fact as soon as I touch the phone or device I should not be able to distinguish between that phone or device and my own device or phone (operationally speaking, taken in consideration form factors and UI capabilities).


As soon as I “let go”, (if I am not on an active phone call), and the phone goes to sleep mode, the device, using some defined policy, revert back to its original “owner” (or default user) settings.


Different “let go” policies may be used like a tenant registering on another device, or a tenant proactively logging out from the device, or just not touching it, or simple timeout. When this happens the device can forget the tenant personal data, or store it encrypted in a local storage in case the same tenant needs it again quickly, all according to what the tenant defined in the tenant’s personal profile.


As a user of such device, I can now prepare a document on my way to work, assign it to the destination user, by say e-mailing it or potentially storing it locally encrypted for a specific user. As I come to work I just hand the device to the other user to read without risking unauthorized access to my personal data on the Device. All that the next user will see is his own data his own e-mails and nothing else. Could he use his own device to read it? Probably yes if I mailed it, but he just gave his own device to someone else. One can envision that there will be no more “owning” of devices, in much the same way that there is no owning of a document I just handed to you, it’s yours if you like it. Or owning will exist but sharing of and collaboration by using those multi tenant mobile devices will be more apparent.


For very sensitive data that should not hit the network, sharing specific data might be accomplished, as mentioned above, by storing the data locally with an access list for one or a plurality of users so that only the People named in the list can open the data when they have their identity entered to or identified by the phone. The data is stored locally encrypted to that trusted list of readers and does not have to leave the device.


My phone, my PDA device, even my universal remote control are now becoming a much more powerful collaboration devices, with much more diverse set of uses and applications almost like what we saw happening on Star Trek Voyager. It shortens the distance of the users not only from the device but also from their personal data and any other public digital content out there.


If you recall on the Star Trek series the com-badge was not part of the data infrastructure of the ship, it was very personal, like a personal SIM or ID card for a person. But on many occasions, you wished one person could use someone else’s com badge to get out of dire situations. If only they thought of applying the Multi Tenant methods to the communicators they could have probably save the jobs of few actors here and there.


As mentioned the device local storage can hold group access rights and personal settings for say an enterprise, so that local data on the device can not be used outside the list of trusted users without erasing all data that might be stored on the device. The local storage can also store an updated copy of all the local users’ settings for the occasions where the device is not connected to a network.


If the device shared is also a phone and the phone is now used by a temporary user, phone calls to the original device owner or other guests on the device might be accepted in one implementation as call waiting if the phone is used at that instance when another call is directed to the same phone, while the display can show the called person ID as well as the caller ID. When not on a call an incoming call can trigger a vocally “called person ID” so the correct person can know to pick up the phone to answer.


Looking at it from the network side, when a temporary user is logging into a shared device the calls for the temporary user or users will be directed to the shared device. If implemented efficiently this process can take place even when I hear my phone ring from a far and I want to instantly become a tenant on say my wife’s phone or any suitable device in my vicinity to pick that call.

The Personalization Process

Personalization methods are not limited to, but could use an apparatus such as a Finger Print reader, image recognition using a camera on the device, voice print identification, RFID tag or be as simple as a password on a phone that was setup to accept a specific guests, or as simple as a username and password the first time a new guest is introduced to the phone.


Basic Personalization and Personalization Persistence Process


The Personalization data has to be made to fit different devices. It means that the personalization data of a user or guest is stored in some tagged metadata format that can be interpreted and converted differently by every multi-tenant device to match that device’s specific setup and capabilities. If the device supports only e-mail and not phone calls than obviously the phone information and redirection process will not be used and the calls for the new guest tenant will not be directed to that phone. SMS or other push mode notifications for instance might be directed to that device via e-mail if the device supports push e-mail and not SMS and if the user chooses that type of behavior.


Persistence of one or more guests on a device must be handled as well. Persistence is a bit different than what is widely known as presence today. Presence is an indication that I am currently actively using a specific device or software and usually indicate a “non-present” status when the user has not touched the keyboard or has not responded to a call for action for some time. On a phone for instance, the user may not have used the phone functionality for a long period but he/she is still present to accept calls, SMS or/and voicemail indications even when he/she is not able to specifically answer a phone call at a given situation (like in a movie theater) or when he/she has not touched the keyboard for a long period. This means that the fact that a specific user is now guest or a tenant on a device must be persistent, even when normal presence may indicate otherwise.


As mentioned there may be few policies that could be implemented by the device owner or a guest regarding the persistence of a guest instance on a device. For instance a phone can be set to accept a guest phone call as long as the guest did not logout, or as long as the guest did not log in from another device. An automatic log-out can be implemented so the fact that the user is now a tenant on another phone can indicate to the network to automatically log that guest out from any previous devices the user was logged into as a guest.


For this system to work for example for normal calls and SMS, a forwarding action of SMS or calls must be accessible from any remote device even when the device is not on the same network and also from any internet connected device. In the existing cellular networks if you want to forward calls to another phone while traveling, you must remember to do that from your phone before you leave the country, or you will not be able to do that later. VoIP networks today enable that forwarding anytime from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection and a web browser.

A simple personalization process would look like this:


Note: this concept was filed as a patent, and the author is open to discuss licensing.