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Spoken Web: The Next Transformational Change Wave

Dr. Manish Gupta associate director,IBM India Research Laboratory, talks to V.Sudhakshina of CyberMedia News about the architecture, relevance, potential and benefits of this technology.

Can you explain as to how does the HSTP architecture work?
HSTP or Hyperspeech Transfer Protocol is analogous to HTTP or Hypertext Transfer Protocol. HTTP is the backbone of the World Wide Web and creates the interconnected network that makes browsing a seamless experience. HSTP is a technology that ensures navigation of hypermedia content through non-visual content - speech.

A protocol to seamlessly connect telephony voice applications, HSTP enables the users to browse across voice applications by navigating the hyperspeech content in a voice application. HSTP can also be used for developing cross-enterprise applications that allow a user to transact across two or more voice applications.

HSTP protocol forms a layer between a telephony stack and the voice application on the server where the application is deployed. All calls received by the application are first intercepted by the HSTP layer. This layer evaluates and distinguishes between two types of calls - whether it is a fresh call to the application or if it is a call transferred from another voice application as a result of a hyperspeech link or a transaction.

In the second case the HSTP layer extracts the HSTP session details such as the phone number of the application from where the call is transferred, any application specific data etc. These details are then passed on to the current voice application which processes this data and takes the appropriate action.

Based on HSTP protocol, IBM has developed a new technology to make IT services more affordable, accessible and available to over a billion new users around the world, without the need for a traditional computer. Dubbed the Spoken Web, this technology will transform how people create online content, access information and transact through the use of voice interactions over mobile phones instead of computer and textual interfaces.

The Spoken Web is based on the concept of a 'VoiceSite'. These 'VoiceSites' are analogous to websites but accessible via phone through a voice interface. People can simply create and browse 'VoiceSites', traverse 'VoiceLinks', and even conduct business transactions, simply by talking over the existing telephone network. This is particularly compelling for people who don't have access to a personal computer and Internet, or who are unable to read or write.

The Spoken Web is a World Wide Web in a telecommunications network, and it will change how people create, build and interact with information and e-commerce VoiceSites - using speech instead of text.

What is the relevance of the HSTP technology?
The world has changed significantly over the last few years. It has become much more interconnected. Among the various factors responsible for this change the two key drivers are the Internet and mobile telephony. The use of mobile has increased sharply all over the world, especially in growth markets like India.

The country currently has over 375 million of mobile users and the number is growing by millions every month. However, the concentration of the Internet is still very low and there is no indication of that being changed in the near future.

It is therefore critical to develop a technology, which is inclusive and suits the need of the rapidly changing world. The HSTP protocol helps develop a technology that enables people with little or no education and access to technology as well as people with visual disability to take the benefit of a network parallel to the World Wide Web. It is a game changing technology that has the potential to completely transform the way we share information or do our business.

How does voice over web service benefit transactional processes?
In most of the voice based applications that currently exist, the user has to share sensitive information such as credit card details with the third party vendor in order to process a transaction.

Using the HSTP protocol, the user can directly interact with the 'VoiceSite' of the bank or the credit card company. This eliminates the need to share sensitive information with third party applications where there is a risk of compromising this information. HSTP enables the slew of e-commerce services over the telephony network. The enablement of transactions over the phone will also allow small and micro businesses, who do not have access or means to create Web sites, to offer online services.

Apart from transactional purposes, what would be the other benefits of voice over web application?
Spoken Web has the potential to offer all that the World Wide Web offers today. The applications can be used to create 'VoiceSites' of different types like personal, professional, and information services, among others. It also has the capability to create social networking and community portal applications which can be accessed only by members of the group similar to discussion groups/forums that exist on the Web today.

What are your pilot projects for HSTP in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat?
Spoken Web is currently at a pilot stage. IBM India Research Lab has completed a pilot in a village in Andhra Pradesh, which has received tremendous response from the local community. They found it a highly convenient and effective way of sharing information and doing business. The pilot in Gujarat is underway.

Which are the areas that you are planning to deploy this application?
IBM is exploring various options, including partnership opportunities, to take this technology to the masses.

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