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Communications Solutions 1999 Product Of The Year

January , 2000

As voice and data converge, overlapping ever more broadly, commingling ever more intimately, they give rise to a teeming array of hybirds. and these hybirds have grown so numerous, and demonstrate such mutability, that they pose a challenge to anyone who would divine their relationships to each other, much less hazard a guess as to which were destined to dominate any particular niche.

And yet it is exactly this challenge we have taken on in this awards feature. From the start, we were dissatisfied which merely recalling the year's most memorable releases. Instead, we resolved to go a step further, and impose a sense of order over the swarm of new products and emerging technologies.

In yielding to this impulses towards order, we did what people confronted with novelty and seeming chaos often do: we applied names. For giving things names is a tried-and-true way of establishing control. The technique is even described in Genesis, which shows God bringing every living thing before Adam to be named.

Applying names is especially powerful when the names themselves are subordinated to a taxonomy - a taxonomy, moreover, designed to correspond with a particular ecology. The ecology with which we're interested is the ecology of convergence. And our taxonomy, like any taxonomy fits any one organism (or product) into an overall scheme, laying bare otherwise obscure relationships and hidden hierarchies.

For the uppermost layer of our taxonomy, we chose the same divisions that we use throughout our publication. These divisions, as a review of our Products Of The Year table will reveal, include enabling technologies, corporate solutions, customer contact, next-gen networks, and next-gen services.

Within this broad framework, we devised finer divisions, fine enough to accommodate f fairly large number of notable new products. And yet, for all the products we include in this feature, we present but a small subset of the releases announced over the past year. We contented ourselves, in effect, with selecting a few outstanding products before moving on to another category, ultimately cutting a narrow (if lengthy) swath as we explored a succession of categories.

Another limitation of our awards feature is a limitation common to all taxonomies. That is, many products defy easy categorization; some even chafe at the confines which we've placed them. All the same. we've discovered that many products were more easily classified than we might have guessed.

Often, vendors are so reluctant to be pigeon-holed that they demonstrate no small talent in marketing speak, creating names and categories of their own, as though a unique name - one ignoring any generally understood taxonomy- would somehow elevate a product beyond classification. Unprecedented names we see too often for us to remain long in their thrall.

We do acknowledge, however, that in the ecology of convergence, technology does move so quickly that any classification scheme is soon obsolete. Those of us grappling, with convergence already deal with the sorts of problems that are bound to vex biologists as genetic research brings forth its more peculiar cross-breeds.

Hence, our classification is both imperfect and provisional. It should, however, suffice for the moment, and offer some guidance, suggesting something approaching a comprehensive view. So, without further preliminaries, we present our 1999 Products Of The Year, which together constitute a kind of monument - a monument as solid as nay that would commemorate the face of voice/data convergence.

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