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SXSW: Phone Calls as Web Widgets

Posted by: Douglas Macmillan on March 15, 2009


These days, developers of Web applications can choose from a wide variety of widgets – pieces of code they pop into their site to trick it out with nifty features like live stock tickers or instant messaging. The latest twist on this type of plug-and-play technology comes from Mountain View-based Ribbit, a company that’s making phone calls interoperable with different types of Web apps.

Here at South by Southwest in Austin, the company announced an interesting new use of its technology in conjunction with Best Buy. On a new site called Consumers Price, shoppers can find prices and information on all the products carried by the big box retailer, and share their opinions on those products with other shoppers. But rather than simply typing in their comments, visitors to the site can tap a button and talk into their headset or computer microphone, and a recording of their review (think: “THIS PRODUCT IS DRIVING ME INSANE!”) will be saved for anyone to listen to.

Ribbit charges third-party developers for use of its patented technology. The tool can be used to dial up a land line or mobile phone, much like VOIP services like Skype. But unlike Skype, it can be molded to perform neat little tricks like transcribing phone calls and instantly analyzing what’s being said. One of Ribbit’s most popular third-party developers is, which now lets workers dial up clients straight from the web-based CRM software – creating a call log for their boss to monitor.

Are phone companies worried about more voice transactions being done through the Internet? British Telecom has certainly taken note of the trend – it acquired Ribbit for $105 million last July.

Here’s a video interview I conducted with Ray Lee and Chuck Freedman of Ribbit.

Chuck Freedman and Ray Lee, Ribbit from Doug MacMillan on Vimeo.

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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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