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Summary:

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 […]

hiww2Marrying 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.*

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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.

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  1. Simplicity indeed! Why didn’t anyone think of this before? Awesome concept!!

  2. Om, I’d be happy to offer insight into this.
    My main beef here is that Voice is best at person-to-person communications,
    It looks like this api facilitates person-to-machine. The last thing we
    need/want is more IVRs! Fonolo are heading in the right direction on this.

  3. nice out of the box thinking.

    We’ll have to see if it scales. Although Ribbit was never really put to the test either

  4. Michael T. Halligan Monday, January 5, 2009

    Another up and comer in this arena is CloudVOX, a Seattle based start-up. http://cloudvox.com/

  5. Om, thanks for the great coverage.

    For the benefit of the readers, I would like to add one more point to an already excellent article.

    With VoicePHP, TringMe is probably the only platform to offer Flash and REST APIs and the support in PHP language to program for voice. So whether a developer wants to develop a Adobe Flash based voice application, Mobile (Symbian supported, IPhone coming soon) based voice application or a Voice application using conventional phone lines, all they require is to use VoicePHP. So whether it is Adobe Flash, Mobile, IM or conventional phone, TringMe’s platform supports it all

    We will be demonstrating VoicePHP at HeadStart (http://headstart.in), Bangalore on Jan 9th,10th. Do drop by if you are around.

  6. Dameon Welch-Abernathy Monday, January 5, 2009

    Twilio’s stuff is dirt simple to understand and can be implemented by any competent web developer using ANY language they want.

    The one thing I see in the VoicePHP API that is neat is SMS support. Too bad it’s only SEND SMS, receive SMS would rock!

  7. May I know what problem are they trying to solve with this? Target customer ? Business case?

  8. Wow! I can definitely see myself using this. VoiceXML is really painful, with all its tags making code unreadable and unmanageable. It feels trapped to do programming in VoiceXML.

    Nothing seems simpler than the VoicePHP. As someone noted, receive SMS would be a cool addition. Good stuff!

  9. Some thoughts:

    1) PHP is a newbie language and most PHP code is just crap, voice apps have zero tolerance for crap.
    2) If you do speech rec you need grammars, if you do tts you will need ssml, two more things to learn.
    2a) Go download asterisk and use a PHP AGI script, oh by the way, I bet these guys are using some open source software.
    3) VoiceXML is just tags and javascript, don’t you know javascript?
    4) VoiceXML is portable, PHP is not. If these guys go out of business all your efforts are gone! Better off using something more standard!

  10. On the VoiceXML side I agree with Todd. It has taken a while but the standards and implementation is fairly stable and simple. PHP can get ugly. The whole concept seems to be a liftoff of Ribbit and maybe ooma. The guys are claiming support for a mouthful – Adobe Flash, Mobile, IM or conventional phone. Demos may work but supporting multiple environments and versions is a nightmare and PHP is not going to scale.

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