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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Speegle Speak Perfect Web Search

Check this site out if you haven't already:

http://www.speegle.co.uk/

Its a google like search, but in addition to the visual search listing you get an audio (TTS) rendition of the search results. The search site presumably is a technology preview of the underlying technology (PanaVox Speak Perfect). A functional and presumably real website using the technology in an ecommerce setting is:

http://www.cezine.net/catalog/

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Speech Tech Turns IT Managers into Heros

Today the IT Manager's Journal recently published an interesting read on the role of speech technology can play in improving the bottom line. VoiceXML is mentioned as helpful, but not a panacea, as vendors tend to extend their implementations. In the same breath, Microsoft is cited as muddying the waters with its promotion of SALT.

I would take exception with the author's conjecture that Intel and Cisco are solidly in Microsoft's corner in this area. While both companies originally joined the now defunct SALTForum, the author (Paul Korzeniowski) must not be aware of the fact that most recently Intel joined the VoiceXML Forum as a sponsor member, and the active role Intel folks are playing in the VoiceXML Forum. Cisco is also a member of the VoiceXML Forum at the promoter level.

Another interesting anecdote is a quotation from the Garter Group pointing out the fact that Microsoft's Speech Server 2004 has not had much impact on the market.

Read the article.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Big Blue has a clue, when it comes to speech tech!

There are tons of companies involved in speech technology, yet when it comes to R&D and introducing core speech technology enablers, and setting industry trends, there are the big three: IBM, Microsoft, Nuance/Scansoft. Its interesting and important to pay close attention to the approach the big three take in the marketplace, as the approach of any or all of them take will have direct consequences on where the rest of the herd goes. Last week we touched on the Microsoft approach, and were left somewhat mystified as to why they are apparently heading towards the cliff, at least with regard to speech technology.

In contrast, IBM is an altogether a different story, perhaps best summarized in the transcript of this recent TMCnet interview with Bruce Morse, VP of Contact Center Solutions at IBM. Morse provides a crisp sketch of IBM's three-pronged focus in the speech industry: contact centers, multimodal interaction, and embedded speech enablers. None of this is particularly surprising as each of the big three is essentially targeting these same areas, among other things. What is interesting is that IBM's approach is well-positioned in terms of capturing speech developer mindshare, while Microsoft's approach is that of brute force, leveraging its lethal Windows control point and not necessarily paying attention to where the market has been going, at least thus far.

Morse mentions, VoiceXML - a mature W3C Recommendation that happens to be the industry standard for implementing speech dialogs. Microsoft promotes SALT, a non-standard technology introduced by Microsoft and rubberstamped by a number of avid VoiceXML supporters (with the exception of IBM) simply out of curiosity and/or fear of now paying lip service to anything Microsoft might be doing. Incidently, SALT was originally toted as a multimodal dialog markup that supposedly addressed VoiceXML's weakness, which according to Microsoft was that VoiceXML was only suitable for voice-only applications. Ironically, since then, the miniscule take-up of SALT in the marketplace has been for the most part limited to voice-only applications, while millions of multimodal VoiceXML (aka XHTML + Voice) have shipped in Opera 8 (Windows version) with IBM speech technology enablers.

Morse mentions, MRCP, an IETF standard in progress that provides an open speech resource integration. The MRCP version 1 draft specification alone has enjoyed widespread support in the industry by virtually every major speech resource vendor in the market, with the exception of Microsoft. To be fair, vendors (besides Microsoft) have supported Microsoft's MRCP equivalent (aka SAPI) but not to the degree MRCP has been supported in its comparably shorter life to-date.

Morse cites IBM's enthusiasm for Eclipse and the variety of free speech technology tooling they have introduced on the Eclipse platform. Microsoft of course has its proprietary Microsoft Visual Studio .NET - a not-so-shabby IDE that has hard-to-ignore mindshare of its own. Neverthless, things are changing rapidly. JBuilder, Visual Studio's only real competitor in the past simply cost too much - much more than an MSDN universal subscription which essentially gave you everything you needed in terms of Microsoft dev tools. Eclipse offers essentially everything JBuilder used to, at the right price! spkydog predicts the eclipse revolution will eventually provide Microsoft competition it can't afford to ignore, and this is a good thing as it assures developers that both Eclipse and Visual Studio will continue to get better.

On that note, we have to agree with a comment to one of my recent postings by IBM's Mr. Jablokov. Its not necessarily a bad thing that Microsoft has not yet woke up to the reality of VoiceXML, it will ensure that VoiceXML keeps getting better. Hopefully, the few SALT survivors will receive a similar benefit, but they ought not hold their breath.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Where are the SALT Hosting Providers?

Just where are all the SALT hosting providers out there? Message Technology's press release this week raises this interesting question. Consider for example this quote:

"By offering the SALT hosting environment in conjunction with industry standard VoiceXML hosting platforms, MTI will make available to customers a range of hosting options not offered through other industry-wide hosters. "

In other words, what is being said here is that unlike industry standard VoiceXML, for which there is not shortage of hosting providers, very few hosting providers have decided to host SALT applications. Which of course begs the question, why is this the case? Consider a few facts:
  • The SALT specification has been publically available since Microsoft launched the SALT Forum, way back in summer of 2001. That's four long years ago, yet there is precious little takeup of the specification in the market.
  • The SALT Forum itself hasn't issued a press release for exactly two years now.
  • The Microsoft Speech Server has been shipping with SALT support for over a year, and despite the initial hype it has gained very little traction in the market place.

It is quite likely here that what is happening is that there are a few firms willing to bet on SALT, simply because Microsoft is behind it, and that fact alone means it just might someday succeed. That explaination aside, what continues to baffle spkydog is why Microsoft insists on ignoring industry standard VoiceXML? Even if they eventually get a toe-hold in the marketplace with SALT by using brute force, why waste all that energy swimming upstream? Imagine what would happen if Microsoft added fully compliant VoiceXML 2.x support to MSS and offered it at low cost? If Microsoft expects to make a dent in the new Nuance/Scansoft's combined marketshare (over 70% of the ASR server ports deployed if I have my data correct) supporting VoiceXML would be one reasonable way of accomplishing it.

For some reason, spkdog suspects that the folks behind VoiceXML prefer the status quo. :-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Voxeo's Platform

We've discovered a bit more evidence that its not just spkydog who thinks Voxeo's Voice Fusion Server is one of the best (if not the best!) VoiceXML platform available! Unlike many of the hosted solutions available today, whose implementations are simply inspired by the W3C's VoiceXML 2.0/2.1 specifications, Voxeo's platform is one of the most rigorous and complete VoiceXML 2.0/2.1 implementations available. Not to mention their leadership in CCXML and legendary "Extreme Support"! If you haven't tried out Voxeo's free online developer studio yet, spkydog encourages you to go discover for yourself what you're missing: http://evolution.voxeo.com.

Read the TMC article.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

VoiceXML 2.1 becomes a W3C Candidate Recommendation

Yesterday the W3C announced that the VoiceXML 2.1 became a Candidate Recommendation - one step closer to becoming an official Recommendation. VoiceXML 2.1 adds a number of useful constructs to VoiceXML 2.0, including data, disconnect, grammar, foreach, mark, property, script, and transfer. There have been a number of articles in the VoiceXML Review (official e-zine of the VoiceXML Forum) on the new features and how they work. Check out Marchand's "First Words" column.

Read the VoiceXML 2.1 Candidate Recommendation.