Marrying web applications with voice has long been seen as the proverbial pot of gold: easy to dream about but hard to actually find. A few startups (and some large companies) are trying to solve the problem; some are using Voice XML, while others are betting on Adobe’s Flash. Today, TringMe, a Bangalore, India-based startup has thrown its hat in the ring by coming up with a way to marry VoIP with PHP, the lingua franca of the contemporary web. TringMe describes VoicePHP as an extension of PHP that now outputs voice instead of text and also takes input as voice instead of text.
Basically, VoicePHP is intended to do the same things as VoiceXML, but by using the familiar PHP programming methology. In doing so, it wants to attract a large pool of PHP-savvy developers and have them develop voice applications. (See how it works.) This is an even simpler approach than the one floated by Ribbit, a Silicon Valley-based company that was acquired by British Telecom in July 2008 for $105 million. Ribbit is betting on the large-scale adoption of Flash and hopes its Flash-centric solution would become the engine that powers web-voice applications.
The idea of VoicePHP seems disruptive in its simplicity. As TringMe puts it on the VoicePHP web site, “With VoicePHP, there’s no need to learn a new markup language, tags, attributes associated with VoiceXML. Widely and Freely available tools for developing, debugging PHP can be continued to use with VoicePHP.” It also means that an application written in VoicePHP can be accessed via Flash, instant messenger (like Google Talk), Mobile VoIP clients or even plain old phone lines. This gives TringMe an advantage over rivals that require Flash.*
VoicePHP also squares off against Twilio, a startup that allows developers to write apps that tap into Twilio’s backend to talk to any kind of phone. Twilio’s simpler version of VoiceXML allows developers to offer some core voice-related functions and helped it attact 1,000 or so developers during the first three days following its launch in late November 2008. Some of them are already using the service in an interesting ways. Voice(sneak) and Dwellicious are two such examples.
Twilio’s approach seemed simpler than the application programming interface (API) tactics that have been tried by others; VoIP companies offering APIs to their platforms have struggled to attract developers to their platforms. Although some VoIP services such as Phweet and iotum’s Calliflower are using TringMe’s API, the company is hoping that VoicePHP will remove all the complexity associated with API-based solutions.
VoicePHP goes well beyond the API paradigm and integrates voice into the language itself. One continues to use the same development, testing tools and implements PHP code as he is used to. There is no need to invoke special “vendor-specific” APIs.
Of course, TringMe isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart. It is betting that as VoicePHP grows popular, more and more web-voice application developers would use its VoIP platform, in turn helping TringMe earn money.
* If you are a VoIP developer and can offer your insights, I would appreciate your help. You can leave your thoughts in the comments area or email me using the contact form.
PS: GigaOM readers will get 50 beta invites for the hosted platform which will include one US phone number and phone credits to test the service. You can signup with TringMe & mention GigaOM. Their voice application will be immediately available from Flash, IM, Phone etc.