I know that various people have private arrangements to phone somebody to put up a spot or alert. I’ve been wondering how one might provide a more generic facility without unduly imposing on the goodwill of an individual. I have an idea.
Most of you will be aware of VOIP facilities such as Skype. Less well known are non-proprietary VOIP systems based on SIP. In particular there is a provider sipgate.co.uk, whose service has some useful properties.
First of all, registration with a public number for incoming calls is free. Calls to such numbers are charged as standard landline calls. Second, you can have multiple clients registered with the service at the same time. When a call comes in, all of the registered phones will ring, and the first one to answer gets the call (at which point the others stop ringing).
So, if we had a band of volunteers willing to answer calls, they could come and go as they please, picking up calls when convenient. The load can be shared without any particular timetable or coordination. The requirement to be online doesn’t add anything new, as you would need that to do the spot or alert anyway.
A SIP client can either be a physical IP phone (the expensive option) or a soft phone (basic ones are free). The latter can use a cheap USB headset, or even the host machine’s existing sound card.
There are a few hazards. Setting up SIP is sometimes a bit tricky. It isn’t always compatible with home routers, and you can sometimes get calls which are silent in one direction if things aren’t set up right. So a bit of care will be needed to test out each volunteer’s setup (most easily done if they get a personal sipgate account as well).
What is not clear to me is whether sipgate would see such shared use as being an abuse of their service.
Is this idea worth pursuing further? Are there enough people willing to make the effort to do the initial set up and man the line when they can?