Phone 2 Directions, an DialogTech-powered Phone Mashup

DialogTech ,

As much as I’d like to attend the eComm conference, I can’t be there in person because of a schedule conflict; if you can, try to make it to the conference, which promises to be very interesting. Ifbyhnone is one of the sponsors, by the way.

And DialogTech helped sponsor one of the more interesting demos, written by yours truly. To help you find the way… here’s something new. Call +1 312 252 1758 to get directions to the conference location. And you don’t have to enter a starting address — instead, you enter a phone number.

This demo is based on a very simple principle: if I know a phone number, there’s a good possibility I know the location of that phone number.

Here’s a simple example. I’m driving along in an unfamiliar city on my way from the airport to a meeting. I get a bit lost. I don’t really know what street I’m on, and often I might not even be certain what town I’m actually in. As a result, most conventional map services won’t help me †I need to enter an address for them to work. Besides, map services require keyboards and that’s not useful (or safe) when I am trying to drive.

A GPS system would work, but I’d still have to enter my destination, which isn’t fun while driving. The same for cell phones that locate (approximately) where you are based on proximity to cell phone towers. Even worse, that requires that I download the cell-phone-tower-finding software to my cell phone in advance. And what if I’m using a plain old telephone inside a gas station to get the directions?

The easiest way to find a location is to do something the telephone is designed to do: enter a telephone number. Telephone numbers are everywhere: on doors of businesses, on signs, in people’s homes, at the desks of hotel lobbies. If you’re driving along and you see a telephone number, you can use the “Phone 2 Directions” service to get directions.

The basic idea is quite simple. By performing reverse directory lookup, Phone 2 Directions finds the starting location and the destination; it gets the route from a driving-directions service; it reads the results back. It’s a great solution for this problem– I call this idea “Telephone Accessible Geotags,” using telephone numbers as a way to find and mark physical locations, and there are many more services that quickly come to mind.

If you want to roll your own version of if you’re interested in technical details, here they are. The demonstration is hosted at DialogTech, which provides the telephony, speech recognition, and text-to-speech services. The interface to DialogTech uses the familiar web services pattern, and Phone 2 Directions is one of the first “phone mashups” available. DialogTech gives away one million minutes (yes that’s 1,000,000 minutes) of phone connection time to developers each month. If you want an account with them to try your own phone mashup, just sign up.

The source code for a demonstration version of this software is available in open-source.