The “local party line” and modern forms of voice communication are more alike than you might expect.
Party lines – where many people shared the same phone number and only one conversation was possible at a time – acted as the predecessor to Business Phone System features like audio conferencing and individual/group extensions. They each, in their own time periods, have responded to the human need for effective group interaction.
Although the party line mostly died out by the late 1900s, with the literal writing on the wall signaling its final hours as early as 1971, improvements and affordability in communications technologies have made it possible for all individuals to gain personal phone numbers and all businesses to offer extensions throughout their organizations.
Take a look at our blog’s previous discussion of the party line timeline, and stay tuned to this text for a comparison of the past to the present day.
Audio Conferencing / A Single Shared Line
One of the most exciting elements of a local party line (the traditional, early-1900s era version), is that it offered no privacy to its users. A group line was exactly what it sounds like: the whole group had access to the single line at all times.
The whole compliment of VirtualPBX employees, if using a party line, would have to wait in its own queue to dial a single customer. It would be first come, first served for our Sales team when making outbound calls. And only when one Sales representative finished their conversation would anyone else have the chance to begin a new one.
Moreover, anyone with access to that line could pick up their phone and listen to the present call. This would quickly become awkward and annoying for our employees. And imagine the privacy concerns for our customers.
It’s clearly not an ideal situation for any business.
Move Forward to Conferencing
VirtualPBX Phone Plans, of course, are part of a communications system that has moved far beyond that limited reality. The plans excel in their offering of Audio Conferencing to all users. Any two or more plan users can meet among themselves or with customers.
Local party lines looped callers together so those individuals could save money and make use of limited resources. They could have used their own group line to conference with one another. However, we expect that it would have proven an irritation more than a bonus.
VirtualPBX Conferencing doesn’t suffer from the limitations of high cost or limited availability. The digitization of communications has eased those burdens considerably. It builds on the limited function of traditional party lines by linking together multiple individuals in a way that’s both private and uninterruptible. Eavesdropping becomes a thing of the past because conferences can be made invite-only and may be protected with passwords.
Individual and Group Extensions
VirtualPBX plans also give users their own individual extensions and offer Ring Groups for simple call routing to departments.
Believe it or not, individual extensions became a part of the local party line too. In a limited fashion, extensions were created when service providers offered distinct ringing patterns for users of a line.
Our Sales team, now theoretically accepting inbound calls on an old-timey local party line, could have their own “extensions” as ring codes that would be completed in a fashion similar to 1 long, 2 short.
For example, Sales rep 1 could be signaled with 1 long ring followed by 2 short rings. Another rep could have 2 long, 2 short. And yet another could have 2 long, 1 short. It was undoubtedly confusing and limiting.
What you get with modern VoIP phone systems like VirtualPBX are extensions like x1234 or x5598. You can set them yourself and take advantage of the thousands of possible combinations with four digits.
Furthermore, those extensions can be used in a variety of ways, including as direct links to an Auto Attendant or within Ring Groups as group participants.
No More Local Party Lines
The local party line is gone. And frankly, good riddance.
Still, there’s a respect to be paid for what it accomplished in its heyday. And there’s a lot of functionality in modern phone systems that relate closely to the basic predecessors in the party line.
The next time you dial a colleague or hold a conference with customers, be thankful for its ease of use and for its privacy.