How we built EgyptianVoices

Trouble in Egypt

Early this week I was listening to NPR and it was reported that the Egyptian government had shut off the internet in Egypt.  This prevented most people in the country from communicating with the outside world via Twitter, email and Facebook among other things but they could still make phone calls.

Google tried to help

Google created a service that would take recorded messages and tweet them out but I don’t think it transcribed them and if it did then it wasn’t handling Arabic as well.

I knew there were companies out there that did transcription quickly and much more accurately than Google…

Enter VoiceCloud

The VoiceCloud team found me originally because  I’ve been developing a reputation as a phone XaaS hacker guru the past couple of years.  After talking to them about their service a long time ago I wrote an OpenVBX Plugin that used their API to do transcription.  It didn’t take long because I had already written similar things for my (now defunkt) startup OtherNum.  The plugin turned out awesome and I used it for own personal voicemail system I set up on OpenVBX.

What We Built

So,  the next thing I know, I have an email from VoiceCloud asking me to collaborate with them to build a better solution to this problem.  I was stoked!

I decided to get some phone numbers from Twilio (UK and Bahrain numbers – it’s an early beta feature and I’m special ) for this project and took some code snippets out of about 6 different projects I’ve worked on and built a system that takes recordings off the phone, passes them to VoiceCloud to be transcribed and then takes the transcription and posts it to Twitter.

So in total, I used Twilio, VoiceCloud, Bit.Ly and Twitter APIs (and I’m working on integrating as well).  That’s quite a mashup if you ask me.

Taking it up a notch

Then the VoiceCloud team decided to add another feature – They routed all the transcription requests to a team that could translate Arabic to English and then transcribe it!  So now people who only speak Arabic can use it too!  I didn’t even know they were going to do that but it works VERY well.  Now you can read the English text in the tweet and click the link and hear the original Arabic recorded message.

How to use it

People in troubled areas can call Bahrain +97316199857, the UK +441524488013 or the US +16199004859.

and leave a message in English or Arabic and then their message will be published here:

The Point

Neither I or VoiceCloud are making any money off this.  The idea was just to build something that might help people out.  Some people have used it but we’ve had trouble getting the word out about it because, well, it’s a little hard to reach people there.  Maybe the situation there will be resolved peacefully and nobody will need what we built.  That would be just fine with me.  We can hook it back up again next time a crisis erupts.

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 23:45  Comments (1)