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BT Grabs Ribbit; Meanwhile, What's Up With GrandCentral?

Posted by: Arik Hesseldahl on July 29, 2008

I’m catching up to the news, as reported on TechCrunch that BT has acquired the phone/software startup Ribitt for $105 million. I first ran across Ribbit at the DEMO 2008 conference in Palm Springs, and was fascinated by the potential of what the company is working on.

Imagine being able to take a phone call wherever you are, no matter where you are. Someone dialing your home phone in San Jose would reach you in your hotel room in Shanghai where you’re working away at your notebook and connected to the hotel’s broadband network. You could answer that call via Skype, or via a Widget on your Facebook or MySpace page, or maybe even via GoogleTalk. And if you happened to be sleeping or just missed the call, the voicemail message would be waiting for you, retrieved as easily as an email. See the video of Ribbit’s presentation at DEMO — which makes the whole concept much clearer — after the jump.

Ribbit has been working on a service called Amphibian, which is still in Beta testing, and I've been really eager to try it. In addition to that, Ribbit built an application that integrates with, and is working on a development platform for third parties to build applications around its technology, and had supposedly attracted some 5,000 developers.

I've found this whole idea of getting phones -- cell phones, land line phones, VOIP phones -- all unified via the Internet profoundly interesting for awhile. About a year ago I reviewed -- and still use GrandCentral, which has since that time been acquired by Google and been utterly quiet about its future plans ever since, and when last I checked, it wasn't accepting sign-ups for new customers. Even its blog hasn't been updated since April. (I've embedded GrandCentral's presentation from DEMOfall 2006 below.)

I use it, but I haven't given my GrandCentral number out as widely as I would like to, mainly because I feel a little uncertain as to how long I may actually have that number. GrandCentral has been all but silent for most of this year. The one notable event, a brief service interruption in April, doesn't make me all that confident.

Ribbit's Amphibian has widely been seen as a rival to GrandCentral, and from what I understand, thoroughly trounces it in terms of features and flexibility (I can't say for sure as I have yet to try Amphibian; I'm still patiently waiting on that Beta code). It all makes me wonder what Google's plans are for GrandCentral, or if Ribbit, now that it has a new owner, is going to going be the one to truly integrate the phone and Web?

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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