Voice Mash-ups – Imagination is the biggest barrier

I’ve been watching the growth of Iotum’s Free Conference calling service because conferencing is the perfect voice service for social media. So it was that last Friday I sat in on Alec Saunders Voice Mash-up conference call (download podcast) to learn where he, and a number of voice evangelists (Thomas Howe, Jim Courtney, Andy Abramson)  think drives voice web integration.  

It was an interesting discussion that got me thinking more about voice as an interface, and mash-ups as a business model.

First voice as an interface is overlooked. The phone is ubiquitous. Everyone knows how to use them – and how to interact with automated voice applications. As well applications like speech recognition (ASR) and Text to Speech (TTS) are robust enough to make voice a reliable option for both control and data delivery for any application. Combine this with web development approaches, which have proven architectures to deliver a seamless user experience by coordinated multiple services and opportunity for new voice applications is apparent.

Still all development depends on having both users and a business case. By using data from multiple sources, delivering them through existing services and by focusing on a relatively small feature set mash-ups make it easy to solve issues that might be ignored with other paradigms.

In a business environment this means it’s possible to eliminate delays, increase efficiency and customer satisfaction by connecting people and information all without worrying about breaching the firewall. It’s meant delivery companies can confirm you’re home even before the truck rolls – saving you the inconvenience of a missed parcel and them the cost. It also means that subjects in a drug trial you can phone information in anytime making reporting both easier and cheaper.

These same approaches can be applied to social sites – linking users anonymously to explore common interests – such as on shopping, dating and fan sites. These services raise the forum (often associated with these sites) to a whole new level because voice adds emotional content that can be misconstrued otherwise.

In all these cases the number of users required to justify deployment are relatively small – because most of the cost of development is the professional services to understand and architect the services that need to be connected. And that gets to the core rub with voice mash-ups – they may provide a lot of business value but no-one is going to get rich developing them.

In large part that’s because mash-up are in my mind the component phase for a new type of voice development. Every technology moves through phases from componentization which flourishes during times of experimentation to vertical integration when costs, reliability or long term ownership issues override. Right now companies and sites need to understand the competitive advantages of using these services, and will not alter their processes much to implement them. That means a component and professional services business model. As soon as the value is proven – and the feature set across an industry understood look for vertically integrated products and services to emerge.

That said now is the ideal time to jump in and experiment because you’ll get a level of service and application exactly tailored to your needs. It’s only the ability to imagine how these services can affect your bottom line that stand between you and a new class of customer engagement tools.

If you’d like to see what people are doing with voice mash-ups drop by Ottawa’s next DemoCamp (http://www.barcamp.org/DemoCampOttawa7) as two of the demos are voice mash-ups, or drop me a line.

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