Ribbit opens Web telephony platform to all developers

Ribbit Monday released for general availability its Web telephony platform, designed to extend telephony development to the world's Web developers through the use of its APIs (application programming interfaces).

Telephony development has been the province of specialized programmers working on closed platforms. But Ribbit, which telecommunications giant BT bought earlier this year, is aiming the platform at any developer, integrator or carrier that wishes to create, troubleshoot and deploy voice-enabled applications.

At the heart of Ribbit's platform lies the company's SmartSwitch software, which enables voice transmissions to move across hard-wired and cell phones, as well as integrate with services like Skype and Google Talk.

Developers get access to a community site, support and monitoring and management capabilities, and will be able to sell their applications through the Ribbit Store.

Much like Amazon Web Services, Ribbit is pricing the VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) platform based on use. Specific pricing rates weren't available Monday.

The company believes there is great potential in merging voice with applications. Ribbit previously created an integration with the on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) application Salesforce. Users can push voicemail messages into Salesforce, attaching them to leads and contacts and transcribing them if desired. Users can also make and receive calls from within Salesforce.

Some 7,500 developers have joined Ribbit's community. But it remains to be seen what other types of Ribbit-based applications surface and find success.

"Voice has always been the one thing that's elusive as a human computing interface issue," said Ray Wang, an analyst with Forrester Research. "We all have that vision of Star Trek and people talking to the computer. ... I just haven't seen a driver for this that sticks, other than accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act."

A company called eMobileCat is using Ribbit to add voice features to online product catalogs. And a San Francisco design firm is working with games developer Electronic Arts to create a voice-powered community portal for a racing game, Ribbit said.

Developers have also created a number of flashy software phones, including one that looks like a chalkboard.

In addition, there are scores of proposed applications listed on the Ribbit developer site's "Idea Wall." Top-ranked ideas include "Inspector Pal." This application would take voice notes and photos taken by a building inspector with a phone, convert the voice notes to text and send them along with the photos to a database.

Ribbit is banking that programmers will come up with many more creative ideas, and to get that process jump-started, is putting up $100,000 in prize money for a contest that begins Monday and ends in March.

Coders will compete in a number of categories, including social networking and collaboration; business and productivity; carrier, network or ISP integration; and "Wildcard," where the voice-enabled application must "improve the usability of any device or interface, from vending machines to ticket kiosks."

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