What Lync Can Learn From LinkedIn
LinkedIn understands that big companies don't communicate, people do. Lync should take that message.
Along with many of my colleagues, I was at the Lync Conference in Las Vegas last week. It was indeed exciting to see how far the Lync community has come. Not surprisingly, much of the enthusiasm centered on "taking it to the next level" as a real telephony solution and not just IM and presence. As a recent Lync adopter, I now find I have a deeper first-hand appreciation for the product and some definite ideas about where Microsoft has to take this thing.
As just about everyone else has gotten their posts up before me, I've had the opportunity to see what Eric Krapf, Jim Burton, Brent Kelly, and Sheila McGee-Smith had to say. First off, whether we call it "unified communications" or "universal communications" doesn't much matter to me. I never thought "unified communications" was a very descriptive name anyway, and as Brent pointed out in his post, most customers didn't seem to know what it meant either. I was very impressed with how far the UC Interoperability Forum (UCI Forum) has come with UC SDN, and Eric Krapf did a great job of summing it up. Having spent countless hours trying to set up QoS the "old fashioned way," I can see immediately how this could be a major advance for both UC and SDN.
However, my own experience with Lync has been something of an ordeal. I recently moved my email to Office 365, and you essentially get Lync as a free add-on. The trouble is, I currently have only 3 Lync contacts (one of whom, I don't even know where they came from). I am close to giving up hope on ever getting any more. I'm thinking the mindset at Microsoft is focused far too much on large enterprise deployments and missing what could be its biggest opportunity for Lync.
The thing that Microsoft needs to remember is Metcalfe's Law, coined by Robert Metcalfe, the co-inventor of Ethernet. Metcalfe's Law states that "the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system." Expressed another way, unlike most products whose value increases with scarcity, the value of a communications network increases with each new person you can talk to. The problem I'm finding with Lync is that it's just too difficult to find people, and if you do, you're faced with an overly contentious connection process.
Microsoft claims to have tens of millions of Lync users, and I have no reason to doubt that claim. I have about 2,000 entries in my address book, about half of which are business contacts; given the circles I run in, I'm sure a lot of those are Lync users. Why can't I see who's available to connect with through Lync? More than that, why don't they announce themselves automatically in Outlook and ask if I want to connect?
Let's look at a company that does this "networking thing" the right way. Every time I log into LinkedIn, I'm greeted with suggestions to connect with dozens, even hundreds of people I might want to add to my connections. I presume all of those suggestions come from LinkedIn's computers relentlessly combing through its database to see who's connected to whom.
All of my contacts are in Office 365, and what's more, I've gone through the trouble of linking the Facebook or LinkedIn profiles for any of them I'm connected with; it took me 3 hours one Saturday to do that. So, it's all done, and Microsoft has all of it!
In his keynote at the Lync conference, Gurdeep Singh Pall of Microsoft was talking about "analytics" as the next big step in UC. Hey Gurdeep, forget Bayesian inference, we're talking about "connecting the dots!" If you're looking for practical applications for UC analytics, try this one!
The thing is, once I'm actually connected with someone, it's great. I still can't make voice calls to the public network (why that is, I still can't understand), but the broadband voice, video connections, and screen sharing capabilities are great.
I will readily admit that I'm not a patient guy; I think this should have been done not "yesterday", but two years ago. Further, I have great faith in the ability of our technical folks to do amazing things, so long as the parties directing them provide clear objectives and priorities.
Both Lync and Skype have great capabilities, but given the way we have seen consumer apps blow past their enterprise counterparts in the mobile space. I fear Lync could become the "dull second" to Skype. You see, Skype has to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn while Lync is in a powder-puff match with similar lame offerings from the likes of Cisco and Avaya.
Lync is about "networking," and Microsoft could "smother the baby in the cradle" unless it starts looking at "networking" as something that extends beyond a single enterprise. Forget "federation" or the job of connecting one big company--that's small potatoes. Big companies don't communicate, people do.