W3C's Voice Browser Working Group to Disband

The World Wide Web Consortium's Voice Browser Working Group, the organization responsible for the development of VoiceXML, will be disbanding after nearly two decades of developing industry standards for speech technologies.

Jim Larson, a VoiceXML trainer and industry consultant who founded the group in 1999, says the Voice Browser Working Group's accomplishments include "a large number of standards that have affected millions of users worldwide."

Dan Burnett, current chair of the organization, agrees. He calls the group "one of the longest-running and most successful working groups at W3C, both in terms of its list of specifications and its whole-hearted adoption by its target industry."

During its existence, the group was responsible for not only drafting VoiceXML but also the State Chart XML (SCXML), Voice Browser Call Control (CCXML), Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML), Pronunciation Lexicon, Semantic Interpretation for Speech Recognition (SISR), and Speech Recognition Grammar specifications, among others.

"Most of the standards work for voice have been completed," Larson says. "The world is now moving away form IVR to smartphone applications."

The Voice Browser Working Group was working on but has not yet completed version 3.0 of the VoiceXML standard. "I would liked to have seen VoiceXML 3.0 completed, but there just wasn't enough interest in doing so," Larson says.

The original VoiceXML standard, created by IBM, Motorola, AT&T, and Lucent Technologies, soon became the worldwide standard for IVR application development.

According to Burnett, VoiceXML "created a uniform language for IVR development that allowed enterprises to use the Web model of resource naming, caching, and fetching for easy integration with their existing back-end systems."

"Most importantly, VoiceXML introduced the Web model to the automated call center environment, along with its associated reductions in development cost and time and deployment cost and time," he adds.

When the Voice Browser Working Group began, Burnett says, "nearly all such development was done using proprietary software running on custom hardware systems that lived in phone company central office buildings."

Application development, he adds, "took many months, and new features often took years to make their way onto the hardware platforms."

At the same time, speech recognition technology suffered from a lack of adopted standards, which made it difficult for competition to flourish since each ASR engine had a custom API that IVR application developers had to use," Burnett says.

All that changed, though, with the development of VoiceXML, according to Burnett. "VoiceXML has been an unqualified success that has directly led to continued innovations," he says.

Many of those innovations will now be picked up by the W3C's Multimodal Interactions Working Group, headed by Debbie Dahl, which has pledged to continue to develop standards for speech in conjunction with other input media.

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