In the late 90’s, I was a director at one of the coolest companies on the planet. Wildfire Communications, Inc in Lexington, MA. During my 2 and a half years there, I saw the system grow from a single-host local database server into a clustered ‘network-centric’ system, and finally deployed to some fairly large customers.
After my son was born, I determined that I could not function as a reasonably high level manager for a growing tech company -and- help care for a newborn the way I wanted to, so in a very amicable process, Wildfire and I parted ways. To this day, I still wonder if this was the right decision for me personally. Wildfire was a company I enjoyed working for more than anything else I’ve done. I worked with talented engineers and management, who gave me the resources to do what needed to be done, while maintaining a connection with me and my department. However, within 18 months, Wildfire was purchased by Orange UK, and operations began to be trimmed. The DotCom bust was upon the industry, and the once 200-person Wildfire Communications was rapidly being whittled down to a shadow of its former self.
Every once in a while I look around to see what’s up with the company, and today I found this announcement. Although it’s a year old, it still makes me said to see it:
31 May 2005
Orange can confirm that the withdrawal of Wildfire, the voice activated answer phone service, has been postponed until 1st July 2005. This move comes in response to customer feedback and a desire to allow disabled customers sufficient time to take up additional support and advice on alternative products.
I still believe Wildfire had something magical, and I would give a lot to be able to run my own local server. Having full voice communication with the computer handling my phone switching, in a friendly interactive form was an experience I’ll always treasure. Wildfire was a decade ahead of it’s time, and to this day I wish some VOIP company would offer the service. I’d sign up in a heartbeat.
For those whom have never heard Wildfire, here’s a brief sample from a very old demo. This is actually an ancient version of Wildfire, but the voice and inflection are the same. The female voice is ‘Wildfire’ herself. The ‘beep’ is the system basically saying “I’m ready for input”. This is the type of conversation you would have with the system on an ongoing basis. You could place calls, receive calls, send messages, work through voicemail, even reroute calls without ever touching the phone. The voice recognition was EXCELLENT, and rarely would I have to repeat or ‘shortcut’ a command. For driving, you would simply hit the speeddial on your phone to log into Wildfire, and from there on, just carry on conversations using your handsfree system.