Waxing Nostalgic on VoIP

There is an old maxim in the fashion business that says that everything comes back into style eventually. (I’ll prove it — I never thought I’d be wearing wide-bottom jeans again, but here we are.)

This same principle can be applied to technology. Who would have thought that mainframes would make a comeback? Who would have thought that the richness of more traditional desktop client-server applications (as opposed to the relatively sparser GUI’s of web-based applications) would come back into vogue?

And so it is with voice technologies. When I read about the latest Voice over IM development (for example, this one, and this one here, and of course this one), I can’t help but think about the early days of VoIP. Remember when the only way to use VoIP was on your PC – before Vonage or the other providers brought VoIP to your telephone? I came across this neat article on the history of VoIP as I was reminiscing that provides a good description of the early days.

So it looks like VoIP has advanced to the point where its making a comback on the PC…? Weird.

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Cooking up Some X + V

I’ve got a new tutorial up explaining how to turn XHTML into X+V using a nice little PHP class library called MiniXML. This approach is still a bit rough, and I’m continuing to refine it but it seems to work fairly well for small to moderately sized XHTML documents.

Ultimately, I think this could become a very powerful and flexible way to turn plain old visual XHTML into multimodal X+V with nothing more than Apache/PHP and some clever coding. Have a look and let me know what you think.

IM Talking Now

Impossible to get away from discussions of Goggle’s newest release – Google Talk. Reactions seem a bit ho hum so far.

Admittedly, I haven’t played around with it all that much but there are a few drawbacks that I can see initially. The Google Talk software is restricted to Windows, so you can’t use it to call someone running Linux or OS X on their desktop. (Users of other IM clients can, however, engage in chat messages with users of Google Talk thanks to its use of the Jabber protocol.)

In contrast, Skype runs on Windows, Linux or OS X. Skype calls are also encrypted, and the Skype client allows users to chat with others using the Skype client (regardless of the platform they are running it on). Skype has a lot more going for it as well – through paid services, users can call PSTN phones, and receive calls from non-VOIP phones as well. Interestingly, Skype has also announced that it will open up the API for its IM functionality to developers.

It would be interesting to compare the quality of phone calls using both Google Talk and Skype. Something for the weekend I suppose.

What’s the N11?

Seems like more people are familiar with the concept of abbreviated dialing designations because of Mary J. Blige than anything the FCC has put out. Still, the FCC has put together a very nice summary explaining Abbreviated Dialing Codes (sometimes referred to as N11) that is worth a read from those working in the public sector.

More and more state governments are starting to implement systems based on N11 designations – the State of Utah has a VoiceXML-based 511 system, as does the State of Virginia (I believe both are using the TellMe platform). The State of Oklahoma is now doing some interesting things with 211.

Rollout of systems based on these designations is still somewhat uneven — organizations advocating for the adoption of 511 and 211 systems track implementations closely. Let’s hope that as more and more states deploy systems, they will build them using open standards. Mary’s got no love for vendor lock in.

Expectations of VoIP

Jon Oltsik has an interesting article up on CNET News about the current state of the VoIP “revolution.” He correctly points out some of the limitations that currently exist with VoIP service, which suggest that rumors of the demise of the PSTN are greatly exaggerated.

“We all complain about ‘Ma Bell,’ but land-based dial tone almost always works. No one worries about voice quality or power–it just happens. Not so with VoIP. Network convergence has been a sexy topic for 10 years, but the fact is that most corporate networks were designed to simply pass data packets around willy-nilly, not guarantee carrier-quality voice service.”

As with most things, its all about keeping the proper perspective.

Sweet X+V Tutorials

I found a couple of very nice X+V tutorials on the IBM developerWorks site that walk readers through the development of a voice-based SMS sending application. All that’s required is an editor (my favorite Windows editor is HTML Kit)** and a copy of the Opera Browser (version 8.0).

The first piece gently introduces readers to the idea of developing an X+V application, and the second elaborates on the initial example by introducing the concept of a mixed initiative dialog.

Multimodal applications hold enormous potential for improving government service delivery by enabling a broader array of input options for web-based services. This is a nice introduction to the concept of multimodality, and a good way to get your hands a little dirty with X+V. Plus the download of Opera 8.0 is free (if you don’t mind looking at a few ads as a tradeoff for integrated voice functionality — I don’t).

Good stuff. Bravo, Mr. Kusnitz! Bravo!

** The voice extensions for the Opera Browser are currently not supported on Linux, so you’ll have to download the Windows version. You can create the X+V content on another platform, and host it there if you like. If your looking for a good Linux-based editor, you might try this one.

Tapping into VoIP?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has now made it official that VoIP telephony providers must allow wiretapping to identify possible criminal activity. The FCC gave providers 18 months to comply with the requirements of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).

This ruling comes as software developers continue to develop tools to eavesdrop on VoIP telephone conversations, and to protect them.

I’ve said before that governments need to constantly evaluate their revenue and regulatory environments in light of new advances in technology, and this issue highlights my point. Eighteen months may not seem that long in the world of POTS, but it is a very long time in the world of internet technology (which, after all, is the world VoIP belongs in).

It remains to be seen what will happen in the next year and a half to impact this ruling. Stay tuned!