140 Years of The Phone System

By Thomas Howe

As we launched TEN DIGIT, we noticed two obvious facts seemed inconsistent

First, messaging was becoming preferred to voice, and failing to use it was quickly becoming impolite.  We called this phenomena the modern call model: people message each other before they call, in order to avoid unnecessary interruptions for the other party.  There’s no easier way to see if someone is available.

Second, you could walk into any business and ask to view the phone system. It was either in the closet or in the cloud, yet no business had a messaging system. The original infrastructure was built assuming that voice was how businesses should communicate. More recently, the evidence pointed at messaging as a more appropriate mode.  

In a way, it felt as if communications engineers had made 140 years of missteps. We asked ourselves: What did the engineers miss? What was it that we wished we had known back then?  If we had a blank slate, what would we take as our guidance?

TEN DIGIT was designed to be what should have been for business communications, based on our answers to what we wished we knew:



  • Today’s conversations begin with thumbs, and only sometimes precede a call.
  • People dislike all forms of waiting, such as being placed on hold.
  • People dislike repeating themselves, as it feels like you weren’t heard the first time.
  • Happy employees make happier customers , and angry customers make angry employees.
  • Your customers choose their own technology, they don’t care about your business’s technology.
  • The unification of communications might not be an important problem to solve, and it still does not actually solve any problem of your customer.
  • Your cell phone number is globally unique, even though your name is not.
  • All businesses lean towards software, and all that remains must be important enough to be expensive.
  • The common language of humans and computers is ASCII, and all other language options require translation.
  • Voice is rarely discreet, but messaging always is.


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