VoIP and VoiceXML

A while ago I was expounding on mobility and sort of dissing TellMe because they had a lot of hype and then seemed to disappear. That's when I was told about however many billions of VoiceXML pages that TellMe has served up powering companies like FedEx and AT&T Wireless and I realized I hadn't really been paying attention more than anything. Seems like a rampaging success to me. (I think I may have dated the girl who's voice they use in the Song demo as well...).

But think back to early 2000... the internet hype was in full swing still and we were all looking around for that next new cool technology. VoiceXML seemed to be one of those cool and hip new technologies (along with WML) and I started looking into it. Among the various odd jobs I've done over the past 10 years in technology was working for a company named Sonat in Birmingham, Alabama back in 1995 (I think). I helped them install a Voice Notes system - a telephone menu system powered by Lotus Notes of all things - which their sales guys would use to call in and see how much oil was scheduled to pass through their pipeline on a daily basis. The logic was encapsulated into individual Lotus Notes forms with sound attachments which would get played over the phone to the caller. It was like programming logic using rows in a database. It was nuts.

So when I discovered VoiceXML, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Same sort of call menu logic, but this time in a much easier to present XML document. I immediately wanted to throw some VoiceXML documents onto my web server and have people call in to get info. But in order to do that, you need to have a phone number and a telephony gateway and all that stuff which was out of the question for my little co-hosted server.

Okay, five years later and now Skype is bringing VoIP to the masses and I'm thinking about this same idea from 2000. Wouldn't it be cool if you could throw some VoiceXML on to your server and have a VoIP client serve it up to anyone? I assume someone has to be doing this sort of thing already, but what I'm talking about is an Apache type server that anyone could install and have the ability to accept and make Skype calls.

Now. Why would I want to do this? Do I think voice is suddenly a better way of moving through a menu than say XHTML-MP? No... what I'm thinking about is the time you're in a car (obviously, I'll be thinking about this sort of thing a lot in the near future). Imagine you want to listen to some streaming radio program, or just set up a calendar entry. But you're driving. Now, you could *call* a service, but that limits the numbers of servers that can serve up that sort of content, right? Better to use your UMTS connection and make the "call" using VoIP instead. Now you're using data to do the voice bit, but you're not bothering to make a phone call. Since I pay $24.95 a month for unlimited data, this seems like a good deal to me.

Because the barrier has been lifted on the server side, there could be a ton more server-side apps out there that could benefit from a system like this. While you're driving you could update your online calendar or PIM info, get some results from a customized web search, listen to some streaming media from your private collection of audio, or do a variety of other things we haven't thought of yet. But you wouldn't have to mess with a screen-based menu system to do it, and the guys running the servers wouldn't have to pay millions of dollars for a telephony server to serve up all those VoiceXML pages.

All that's missing is a Symbian-based Skype Client, and for Skype to open up their protocols, etc. Is there any open protocol stuff for VoIP or does everyone use their own thing?

Anyways... Pretty cool, huh? Anyone doing this stuff and I missed it?


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