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IVR Junction

IVR Junction is a system that drastically simplifies the process of setting up an IVR system. IVR Junction leverages existing cloud-based services to provide free online content moderation, free hosting of audio recordings for dissemination to a global audience, and a novel mechanism to automatically synchronize audio recordings across geographically-dispersed offices, thereby enabling local access points with decreased calling costs (subject to local telecom rules).

New home is at www.ivrjunction.org

Introduction

Most of the world’s 3.6 billion mobile subscribers live in the developing world, and they use their phones primarily for voice calls. As researchers seek to enable this population to access, report, and share information using the phone, the HCI and ICT4D communities have witnessed a surge of interest in Interactive Voice Forums. Voice forums are build using IVR technology and enable callers to leave messages that can be heard over the Internet and over the phone. For example, CGNet Swara is a voice forum for citizen news journalism. Using CGNet Swara system, callers can report news, issues etc. in local language using a phone. The submitted news recordings are reviewed by moderators over the Web. Recordings which are approved by moderator are published on the web for Internet audience. Also, published recordings are also available for playback for the phone-based users of CGNet Swara.

Recent voice forums have spanned diverse domains, including citizen news journalism, agricultural discussion forums, community dialogue, user-generated maps, access to health information, outreach to sex workers, group messaging, feedback on school meals, support for community radio stations, and a viral entertainment platform. Due to the success of these projects, there are numerous researchers, companies, and non-profit organizations that are actively seeking to establish their own phone-based voice applications in new domains.

However, despite the enthusiasm surrounding IVR systems, the unfortunate reality is that it remains quite complex to install and configure interactive voice forums. Systems that offer this functionality requires expertise that is usually beyond the reach of non-profit organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). A second challenge that researchers and practitioners are facing in the IVR domain is how to scale their voice applications beyond the pilot stage. Though pilot deployments have shown that IVR applications are creating envisioned impact, their subsequent reach is often limited due to challenges in moderating content and managing operating costs at scale.

Solution: IVR Junction

IVR Junction is a new system that combines other free and commercial tools into an integrated platform for building scalable voice forums. IVR Junction uses existing cloud-based services to provide free online content moderation, free hosting of audio recordings for dissemination to a global audience, and a novel mechanism to automatically synchronize audio recordings across geographically-dispersed offices, thereby enabling local access points with decreased calling costs. It simplifies the creation of voice forums, by leveraging a Windows-based installer for each client machine and familiar Internet services for hosting and moderation.

How IVR Junction works

An organization needs the following components to set up their voice forum:

  1. Windows laptop or desktop
    • $500
  2. GSM or Fixed line modem
  3. SIP and VoiceXML interpreter software
    • Voxeo Prophecy 11
    • Free for 2 ports (for evaluation purposes). Requires a quote for production purposes
  4. IVR Junction
    • Utilizes free Microsoft components like IIS Express, MS SQL Server Express, .NET framework 4 etc.
  5. Voice forum application code
    • Coded in VoiceXML (free modifiable templates would be released soon)
    • Free
  6. YouTube account
    • Online content moderation channel
    • Web hosting of audio recordings
    • Free
  7. SkyDrive or Dropbox account
    • Synchronize audio recordings of distributed “geographically-dispersed” branches
    • Free
  8. Facebook page
    • For dissemination of voice content over the Internet
    • Free

Assume you want to setup a simple voice forum which enables users to record a message and listen to message recorded by others. The UI would look something like this:

        Hello, Welcome to the Citizen News Journalism service.

        Press 1 to record a message.

        Press 2 to listen to message recorded by others.

Here is the call flow:

  1. A voice forum caller calls the voice forum number to record a message.
  2. GSM modem converts the voice traffic into IP packets and connects the caller to the voice forum application which is coded using VoiceXML standards. The caller records the message using the application. The user presses 1 to record a message.
  3. IVR Junction code converts the audio file into a video and uploads the video corresponding to recorded message on the configured YouTube channel to get approval from moderator.
  4. YouTube moderator sign-in on the YouTube channel to see if there are new recordings which awaits his approval. YouTube moderator approves or rejects a recorded message on the basis of the content or quality or both. YouTube moderator also decides to push approved recordings on configured Facebook page of the voice forum.
  5. If the moderator rejects a message then nothing happens. If the moderator approves a recording the following steps execute in parallel:
    • IVR Junction code uploads the audio file corresponding to the approved YouTube video on the configured Dropbox folder.
    • If approved by moderator, the corresponding video is posted on the Facebook page of the voice forum.
    • The content is available for consumption by the Internet audience on the Facebook page and YouTube channel.
    • Other users of voice forum are able to listen to the message posted by the user when they call the number and press 2.

Distributed and Scalable

IVR Junction - System Design

Some NGOs have geographically distributed branches. Even if these branches are in different regions, it may be desirable for them to share a single audio repository, as users (such as farmers) often speak the same local language, share similar local constraints and geographical features, and have comparable standards of living. However, sharing content via a single server can be expensive, because some users may need to dial a long-distance number if they are located in a different state or calling area. This expense could discourage people from using the service. IVR Junction overcomes this problem by utilizing distributed servers which can be set up in each calling area. If desired, local audio contributions from each region are automatically synchronized with an audio repository in the cloud, thereby facilitating increased knowledge sharing. IVR Junction utilizes distributed architecture to reduce the call cost and thus is scalable. In addition, IVR Junction also supports multiple parallel lines.

Power Applications

Although IVR Junction enables researchers and practitioners to set up any voice forum, it is particularly useful:

  1. If you want to setup a voice forum in a country which has long distance calling rates for different regions (say you want to set up a voice forum in India where users are distributed in three geographically dispersed regions i.e. in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Karnataka), IVR Junction would enable
    • Users to make calls to the voice forum at local call rates and yet enable them to connect to users in other calling regions.
    • Phone broadcasting system to utilize distributed architecture to make outgoing calls at lower call rates.
  2. If you want to set up a voice forum where users are located in different countries (say in India, US and Egypt) and you want them to interact with each other by dialing a local phone number.

IVR Junction use case 2

What kind of voice forums can be build using IVR Junction

IVR Junction can be used to set up voice forums like

Release

We plan to release IVR Junction in Summer 2013

Contacts

If you are interested in deploying a voice forum using IVR Junction, please contact us at adityav at cs dot washington dot edu and thies at microsoft dot com

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Bill Thies
Bill Thies

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