IVR System Design and Hosting

Almost a month back I was anxiously looking for IVR hosting solutions and apparently ended up writing a SOS call on this blog. This is a follow up of that call with some information which I could receive. I also want to express my gratitude to someone who saw my call and replied me with his valuable suggestions. However as I set to do so in this post, I would bring back some of the references for a quick refresh. I am currently developing IVR prototypes for a usability testing. This required me to follow up a number of steps, right from finding an application domain to finding an information lag, to creating a script and recording the same. However one of the most crucial of these steps is to finally make everything work. I was suffering so much there.

Anyways, that’s where I had to call for help. Thanks Nalin, co-founder Mayavi Telecommunications, for sending out suggestions regarding the IVR hosting solutions. You introduced me to some of the best ones in this domain like Kookoo, Knowlarity and FreeSwitch, apart from Exotel which I’m finally using. A part of the suggestion was to keep an eye on IVRS world, a blog by Uttam Pegu. Uttam writes extensively about IVR system design and more recently about cloud telephony. It is an interesting blog which attends to a number of questions in the context of Indian Telephony scenario. Other things which I discovered includes an interesting Visual IVR design framework called CallKick. It is launched recently by Mayavi Telecommunications and comes bundled with a ready-to-install android app.
All these mentions form an interesting Pandora box which I wasn’t aware of earlier 🙂

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Telephony; What else does it bring with itself?

May be things aren’t the way I observed but nonetheless I must tell what is making me to even write so. I am seeing a lot of people around me spending hours entertaining  calls. Either they are answering calls or many a times are making calls to all different sort of people. And with an oxygenated penetration of mobile telephony, people aren’t simply making calls to all different sort of people; they are making calls from all different sort of locations as well. Finding people with earplugs and talking to gods and demons while they walk on road or virtually at any place, no matter how bizarre the place itself is, isn’t such a spectacle any more. No doubt we are connected better than ever before perhaps in the history of human race but what about the clarity of communication. What is it that drives these conversations? Does it compose of statements followed by further set of statements or by an endless clarification of the anything being spoken of? Does it include more of confusion or clarity? Although I have no access to what people talk about on their phones but with some inquiry and with couple of persons who shared their experiences of talking at length, few interesting things seem to be emerging.

It is off course subjective to an extent to see a connection between clarity of communication and the communication medium i.e. mobile telephony in our case. However the agencies, the people who are talking, which drive communication do have an effect on the clarity of communication. Whether one is able to communicate to the other, does depend on one’s ability to articulate his thoughts. No doubt about this but the case doesn’t simply rest here. What about the loss of signals during a mobile conversation or a sudden disappearance of battery power? What about the continuous noise that disrupts our talk sometimes? And what about an accidental push on the ‘red button’ when you are trying to switch between your ears? All of these and similar others random factors do affect our perception of the caller or of the subject being talked of. I have come across people testifying how they have been mistaken for someone who is arrogant or egoistic when for reasons, similar to the ones mentioned above, a call broke at some critical point in the conversation. And even when they resumed the call back, how hard they had a time clarifying their stand or explaining the reason for the ‘break’ in communication. This might happen between two people fixing a deal on phone, or between duos who are on the verge of resolving a crisis. And this might be worse between a couple.

Apparently none other than script writers or storytellers have made a note of any such behavior, truly spontaneous and random, but many a times critical. We can accept this! We can term these as ‘misunderstandings’  and can assume that these have ever existed between people, and can conclude that communication technology can’t really handle it. However I do feel somewhere that technology isn’t simply mean to enable communication between peers but rather it is there to sustain it in an intended form; in a form which humans decide.

May be you already know this!

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Yeah.. may be you guys are already aware of this but here is an interesting way to discover new things every single day. I have subscribed to Commarts Dot Com daily news letter. Everyday one can get interesting feeds to posts, blogs, graphic work, interaction work and much more. For instance today I came across a visual search engine called Niice. To every single keyword you enter you get a bunch of visuals. I would strongly recommend subscribing to Commarts for your daily dosage of design.

I love this idea of seeing numbers over a timeline. Extremely engaging and interesting work.

ICTs for Development

I’ve entered the ITU data on mobile phone penetration for all countries from 1998-2008 into a Google Docs spreadsheet, and then added the Motion Chart visualiser (the same engine made famous by Hans Rosling and TED, though they use the Gapminder Trendalyzer version).

Unfortunately, WordPress scripting rules mean I can’t post the active chart here. To access the spreadsheet data and Google Motion chart, you need to go to:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=tUzZsw5SoG_jXRDl6p8tRCg&single=true&gid=0&output=html

Screenshots below give an indicator of how you can visualise the data. The chart offers three main means to visualise (bubble, bar chart, and line graph) via tabs at the top right. You can change the axes and element colouring/size, and highlight individual countries. For bubble and bar, the main point of the chart is that you can click play (bottom left) and show how things change over time. (Note playback speed variation control, and also the ability to drag…

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I have a question!

I have a question. It has born out of a repeated observation. Almost all the times when I have been to washroom to relieve myself, I see that people become completely silent. And I am making this observation against the washrooms which are located in a building where people work and most often know each other in person, for example in an university or in a office. The fact that they know each other makes me wonder why did they even not acknowledge the presence of the people they know. I understand that this might vary from culture to culture but I have tried varying this observation by asking many of my friends and family and they seem to attest the same.

Well the simplest of reasons I am being told of is that it is out of etiquette to do so. But I don’t remember any teacher of mine telling me about this. Or may be I have been to one of the not so good schools. But even if it so I wonder how people could resist saying hello to the people (they know) when they encounter them in washrooms and loos. How could the etiquette gain such an enormous power that it dictates human behavior to become completely strangers to each other during that time? Strange, isn’t it?

The another argument which comes upfront is the following: Washrooms are usually the places where there is always filth and foul smells. So why to stay there to exchange words of acknowledgement. One always tries to leave such a place as soon as possible. Well I could have really considered this argument had I never been to any washroom myself. The washrooms I am talking about since the beginning of this post are actually the ones which are very well kept and sanitized. These are the washrooms equipped with world class toilet fittings. These are fitted with hand dryers and automatic dispensers to release water and soap solution in urinals and toilet seat. To an average nose like mine, there are absolutely no foul smells. So an urge to leave ASAP doesn’t seem reasonable.

Consider the third argument: Bathrooms are usually congested spaces so its not really possible to carry a conversation. To me this also doesn’t seem to be the case. Current architectural plans of bathrooms are quite spacious. They are some times as big as living rooms and have ample of space to move around and relax. Thus this argument doesn’t seems to sustain as well.

I don’t really know why people behave like that. Take all the arguments and see them in parallel but what I am wondering about is the disappearance of a simple acknowledgement in these spaces. Till we find the answers we are free to speculate and off course to observe silence in any such washroom we enter.

Grice Maxims: Sustaining Polite Interactions in a Conversation

Mentioning before my readers today is work on Conversations by H. Paul Grice, a philosopher and a psychologist. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists Grice’s work as of special relevance to linguistics and artificial intelligence. The other source to get closer to H. Paul Grice is  Media Equation, a book on how people treat new media by Bryan Reeves and Clifford Nass. We shall be referring to Media Equation while noting Grice’s work on conversations. Not because his work could not be read on its own but more because Media Equation seems to contextualize it better in connection with the design of interfaces.

The basic premise is the realization that people assign mindless attributes to interactive technology products like Computers. People follow social rules while interacting with these products. One of these social rules is Politeness which states that human beings are, in general, polite with each other in their day-to-day interactions. On these threads continues the mention of Grice’s Maxims. Grice believed that conversation is an activity where people try to help each other. And, the activity sustains polite interaction by following four basic principles: Quality, Quantity, Relevance and Clarity. We shall be expanding on relevance in a separate paragraph as it seems to carry more weight and insights for interface designers. Lets take a look at Quality, Quantity and Clarity first. In Gricean terms, Quality would mean that speakers, participating in a conversation, should say things which they identify as true. Anything untrue could risk violating the idea of conversation. Quantity would mean that speakers should contribute appropriate amount of content to the conversation- not too much or too little.  Clarity would mean that a contribution by a speaker is expected to be as less obscure as possible. One must thrive to keep ambiguity out of the content and to ensure that there is singularity in the meaning of the content.

Relevance, it is here that we consider the purpose of the conversation. Also, if we treat interfaces as medium of Communication with the users, it makes sense to be aware of the purpose of this communication. Speakers in a conversation should try contributing content which could be mapped to the purpose of the conversation. We have often come across interfaces where there are action items with no task flow to follow. Users find themselves clicking on these hot spots and noticing that nothing actually is happening. Thus interface designers should try designing interfaces which does not offer anything that could not be met. It is then nice to either disable the buttons (or take them out from the interface) which could not offer functionality at the moment. Clifford and Reeves further expands the meaning of purpose of the conversation by including designer’s sensibility to the user goals.  Designers need to consider all different goals of the users which they want to accomplish using the interfaces. They could take the liberty of prioritizing these goals but an explicit mention of these goals would help them developing an overall picture of the interface.

This is all for now. I will report more readings from the related topics soon.