Two friends of mine (Michelle and John) recently launched a new service called Outshouts. While it’s early days yet (the site’s only been up a couple of weeks), it shows a lot of interesting potential. Outshouts lets you record a voice message, combine it with a song or some other pre-recorderd content, and send the whole thing out to your friends (or enemies, I imagine, depending on your mood and your choice of message and song). The service is easy and fun to use, and I’m a fan. However, beyond that, Outshouts seems to me a poster child for some of the more interesting aspects of software on the web.
A new example of emerging “big ideas”
I recently used Outshouts to create a series of “Originals: better or worse than the covers?” as a sort of discussion and showcase of original versions of songs that may have been eclipsed by better-known covers, like Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl” for example, or Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.”
My topic and choices may not be original but a few folks commented, and I’ve also enjoyed some of the other member selections and discussions. This seems to me another sign that media will be increasingly personal. I don’t mean in the sense of user-created content. Rather that recommendations from friends and “people who like what I like” will eventually combine into one or more “radio stations” I tune into regularly. As John wrote in a recent email exchange on this topic:
The micro-blogging aspect of sending a single musical mash-up provides a new context for music discovery and recommendation -- when someone you know sends you a song that means something to them, you suddenly hear that song, and maybe even the artist, the band, and/or the genre, in a whole new way. First-generation Web radio was simply traditional radio broadcast over IP – I could listen to KFOG streamed on-line. The next generation of Web radio, pioneered by services like Pandora.com, replaced those general broadcast streams with individual streams of music customized to the taste and interests of an individual listener - KFOG Radio becomes CliffReeves Radio. The next generation? Maybe we disaggregate the streams into individual ‘atoms’ of content, pointcast from one individual to another or to a small group. It's a sort of "rifle shot radio.”
I’m not arguing that one generation will replace another – television didn’t replace radio, and I don't expect Pandora to replace KFOG, or Outshouts to replace Pandora. But innovations like Outshouts do have the potential to experience profoundly different business economics. Web broadcasters are extremely concerned about the magnitude of the fees to be levied by SoundExchange for the streaming of copyright material; broadcasters believe that the proposed rates make Internet radio uneconomic (see, for example, http://www.kurthanson.com/dos/) Outshouts is subject to those same fees, but rather than sending out a continuous stream of songs for background listening, it’s sending out single songs with a personalized cover message that demands attention. Assuming traditional revenue models of advertising and music sales, then that model may give them much more bang for their copyright-fee buck. We shall see.
My phone is the only device I have with me almost all the time, so it’s vital I can receive and send Outshouts from it. Outshouts have done a neat job on this. I can send an outshout to a mobile phone; it’s delivered as an SMS and played over the phone. No PC – or even SmartPhone – required. I can even send an Outshout from my mobile phone – a simple voice menu lets me select the song, record my message, and send it along.
This lets Outshouts leverage the same back-end systems, marketing, and alliances for both the Web and the phone – with all of the device ubiquity that delivers.
A realistic Perspective on Community
Outshouts is based on the premise of sharing with friends and developing communities of shared interest, but it work well with other communities than its own. I belong to a number of communities and I have several web personas (all, by the way under may own name and my real age and gender J). Outshouts has their own simple community functionality which works fine, but more importantly, in my view, they make it easy to embed my Outshout into my blog or community site. You can add a standalone widget to your Facebook profile, or a number of other popular sites, or just copy and paste the script in a blog or other personal site. They're using Gigya for that – a nice, simple, and outsourced approach to the problem:
Rapid, Outsourced, Component-based development
Just as interesting as the service itself is how it was developed. The concept was Michelle’s and she did much of the basic functional and user design.
Most of the development, though was done by a team of professionals from all over the U.S., communicating by the Web, phone, etc. A truly virtual team. There's a lot of specialization required for high-end graphics design, Flash, PHP and Java; rather than building a small local team of generalists, Michelle has built a virtual team of specialists. Michelle has worked in traditional development teams before, but this is her first experience with this kind of structure. Her view: it’s made a dramatic difference to the speed and the quality of the product. A structure like this depends on powerful, well-understood development frameworks and interfaces; as you'd expect, Outshouts makes extensive use of open source components and existing web services, including Asterisk for IVR, VoicePulse SIP gateway, ClickaTel’s SMS gateway..
Quite apart from Outshouts itself, the big message for me is how much the software development landscape has changed: there’s the web of course, but the attendant services, components and communities have subordinated traditional development challenges to the “big idea.” This brings to mind another example I read in the Seattle PI in October
This is a signal all of us in the existing software industry need to heed.