Voxeo, Tropo, & ORUG

I went out to ORUG tonight. Voxeo was presenting a thing they’re working on, Tropo. Disclosure: they bought us dinner. Full disclosure: I think this thing is really tight.

I used to help set up phone systems in high school, and phone trees have always seemed like kind of a mystery. Tropo lets you build whole phone apps, and it’s ridiculously easy. It’s basically a phone system DSL. They handle text-to-speech, speech-to-text, playing recorded sound files; there’s lots of convenience things for capturing different types of inputs, handling error cases, recording calls, transferring calls, etc. They give local phone numbers in different area codes, they’ve also got Skype integration, and a few other ways to connect to the system. The very cool part is that it’s all free to play around with, but once you start using it for commercial reasons, then you have to pay.

Ever hear of Google’s Grand Central? With this, you could easily make your own. I’ve been playing around with a few things using Tropo’s Ruby setup, and I’ve put the demo code on GitHub. Very cool stuff.

You can write apps in Ruby, PHP, Python, Javascript, and Groovy (“Java++”). There’s a bunch of example code on their site, and development is really easy to do. For example:

answer

digits = $currentCall.callerID.to_s.split('')

area_code = digits[0..2]
city_code = digits[3..5]
subscriber_number = digits[6..9]

# single dashes get spoken as 'dash', use doubles for a pause.
# Double commas don't work, neither do extra spaces
say "-- -- -- S-up. Your phone number is -- #{area_code.join(',')}--#{city_code.join(',')}--#{subscriber_number.join(',')}"

hangup

There is a debugger that you can print messages to. Right now there’s a *ton* of output to it, but you’ll find your messages in there.

One thing: I was getting a message that the caller was “not accepting calls at this time”. I realized this was a parse/compile error in my script. So, if you can’t get something to load, check it. The debugger doesn’t seem really helpful with this, I got a generic seeming Java Exception for a variable name typo. They use Java under the hood for tons of stuff, so even though I’m writing Ruby code, it gets interpreted in Java.

I did learn a cool fact about these phone trees. You know how a lot of phone trees suck when you try and talk to them? Well, for speech-to-text conversion, you can only get around an 80% success rate. The reason is that phones are only around 64kbps of data. There’s too much loss for the algorithms to work well. That’s why apps that run on the local computer/phone are able to do better — they embed part of the recognition algorithm in the client.

And, on a final note: skateboarding through downtown is awesome.

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