What Matters in Cloud Telephony

The landscape of cloud telephony continues to change.

I was heartened this week to see some of the sharpest minds I know in cloud telephony and unified communications get together with the acquisition of Teleku by Voxeo. Teleku and Voxeo’s Tropo service are complimentary ones that offer lots of goodies for developers, and I’m anxious to see what these guys will be cooking up now that they have joined forces. Congrats to all involved!

While there is lots of discussion about what this acquisition means for the constantly changing landscape of cloud telephony, this move validates (in my mind) some of the important trends that will determine which cloud telephony companies will be around for the long-term and how developers will use their services.

None of this is new – I’ve said it all before. It is worth noting, however, that all of the trends that I’ve observed before that are going to make the difference in the cloud telephony space are ones that both Tropo and Teleku do very well.

Portability – underscored not only by Teleku’s support for the open standard VoiceXML, but also the Tropo crew’s involvement in the Asterisk world, and the defacto standard for building Asterisk apps in Ruby – Adhearsion.

SIP integration – remember this kids: true cloud telephony has SIP baked in – the rest is just marketing fluff. Both Tropo and Teleku support SIP interoperability and make it very easy for developers to use SIP as part of their applications.

Multi-channel / multi-modality – Both Tropo and Teleku have big multi-modal chops. Being able to interact with users on multiple communication channels from one code base is a key tenet of unified communications and cloud telephony, and this will become increasingly important in the future.

Speech recognition – cloud telephony isn’t your grandfather’s way to build a phone app, so why should users be restricted to their grandfather’s way of interacting with a phone app? Speech recognition is fully supported in both Tropo and Teleku, and this will matter more and more to cloud telephony developers going forward.

So if you’re wondering what the next change in the cloud telephony landscape will be, you can bet that one of these trends will dictate the change.

Until then, I’ll be hacking on some cloud-based, speech rec enabled UC apps. 😉

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Ides of March

This month promises to be an important one for the advancement of open standards for voice applications.

The World Wide Web Consortium is scheduled to publish the CCXML 1.0 standard as a “Candidate Recommendation” this month, an important step in the advancement of this standard and the first change in its status in some time (the standard has been stalled in “Last Call Working Draft” status since January of 1997).

I and other voice application developers are anxiously awaiting the arrival of this milestone. The time has come to move this important standard forward.

The Penguin Loves Obama

Will he love the penguin back?

That’s the hope of a number of prominent open source advocates who have written an open letter to President Obama encouraging greater use of open source software in the federal government:
penguin

Mr. President, we believe the open-source industry is changing the world of software development in many of the ways you have promised to change American politics. The values of open source mirror those you promoted in your campaign: hope, change, and openness. We, the undersigned, sincerely hope that you will make the use of open-source software a key component of every new technology initiative the United States government enters into during your presidency.

Here’s hoping that President Obama sees the connection between his campaign’s call for change and embracing better ideas for our future, and the principles of open source software development.

Audio Control in VoiceXML: Redux

One of the questions I hear most from VoiceXML developers relates to audio control features in VoiceXML. VoiceXML does not natively support the ability to “rewind” or “fast forward” through audio files, but some vendors provide this functionality as extensions on their platforms.

Does this mean you can’t implement audio control in a VoiceXML application? No, it doesn’t.

Over 2 years ago, I wrote a post describing how to achieve audio control in VoiceXML in a way that was portable and platform agnostic. I continue to think that this is the right approach for achieving audio control in voice applications.

VoiceXML is a markup language that can be used in conjunction with any number of server side languages: PHP, Perl, Java, C#, Ruby, etc. If it can be used to build a traditional web app, it can be used to build a VoiceXML app as well.

I think it’s great that other platforms are providing innovative ways to provide language-specific methods for achieving audio control in voice applications.

But the true power of VoiceXML is that it is standards based, runs on a large number of platforms, and won’t shoehorn you into a programming language that may not be right for you.

VoiceXML = Flexibility, Portability, Opportunity!

Spread the Love

Is YouYube getting preferential treatment from governments?

Frederic Lardinois, of ReadWriteWeb, argues that when it comes to posting videos online governments should spread the love:

Lately, there has been a trend for government agencies and elected officials to put their videos up on YouTube. While we commend them for doing so, we can’t help but wonder if this is, in the end, a positive trend. After all, while YouTube is definitely the most popular video sharing site, it is definitely not the only one.

He’s right. I’ve made this same argument about governments using Twitter. There are other microblogging sites out there, and governments need to make sure that their use of new channels to communicate with citizens (whether through video or microblogging) is not targeted to one specific company.

Some might argue that using multiple video sharing or microblogging sites is just adding work. Don’t underpayed and overburdened public employees have enough to do?

If this is the argument, then I’d respond by saying that the use of these services should be automated — almost all of them (certainly any of them worth using) have an API that makes it easy to develop scripts or applications that can significantly cut down the time and effort required to post content. YouTube has one. So does Twitter.

Social networking platforms are becoming the norm for government communication and outreach. Its time for governments to get smart about their use of these services.

Automate your processes. Use the APIs. Spread the love.

Twitter and the Public Sector

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the need for standards to guide governments in their use of microblogging platforms like Twitter.

Government Technology magazine has a new article about the different uses being found for Twitter in the public sector, highlighting some popular applications — including the use of Twitter for emergency notifications (something I’ve written about before). They even provide a Twitter “primer” for CIOs.

As the use of microblogging platforms by the public sector increase, I think the need for some basic standards will grow more acute.

It would be nice to see an organization like NASCIO or a similar organization step in and provide some guidance to governments that would help make public-sector Twitter accounts easier to find and more consistent.

UPDATE:

A friend just made me wise to an interesting event taking place in just a few minutes:

FEMA Administrator David Paulison will be available from 3 -3:30 pm Monday, Jan 12, 2009, to give a message and reply to questions using the agency’s Twitter account, femainfocus. The agency’s top official will discuss where FEMA was, where it is now, and where he sees it going.

This looks like a pretty novel way of using Twitter to communicate with the public, and I’m interested to see how it goes.

First Draft of VoiceXML 3.0 Released

The W3C has released the First Public Working Draft of Voice Extensible Markup Language (VoiceXML) 3.0. This is the next version of the VoiceXML language that reportedly will include a host of new features, including speaker authentication.

Although this is an early draft, according to the document:

By the middle of 2009 the group expects to have all existing functionality defined in detail, the new functionality stubbed out, and the VoiceXML 2.1 profile largely defined. By late-2009 the group expects to have all functionality defined and both profiles defined in detail.

I’ve got to find some time to go through this document — in addition to being a very interesting read, it might be kind of neat to provide input that might get incorporated into the standard by the W3C.

Guess I know what I’ll be doing for New Year’s Eve. 😉