RailsConf – Asterisk & Rails

The first of the small sessions I went to was presented by Evan Henshaw-Plath, about Integrating Asterisk and Rails. Before the talk I had only a vague idea about Asterisk, but I was thinking about VoIP because of recently setting up Skype for talking to my family (big deal!).

Fortunately Evan started the talk by giving a good run down on what Asterisk is and what it can do, complete with amusing audio clips. It’s an open source telephony server, which can be setup to handle voice in many different ways. He described it as the ‘PHP of telephony’ – it is open source and powerful, but ugly and difficult to configure. It doesn’t really support dynamic applications well.

There are a couple of Ruby libraries that aim to change this by integrating into Rails. RAGI is an older but stable library, while RAI is a more up to date fork that he and others are working on. The idea is that we can write Rails applications that just deal with voice as another form of input and output. (Telephone buttons can also be used for input).

He pointed out that in some ways voice isn’t like a web page, since you have to continuously provide some kind of sound, for example. But he talked about ways in which you could play around with people’s expectation of how phones work: for example by making two phones ring and giving each the other’s number as caller id.

Evan’s talk revealed a whole new area of possibilities to me, suggesting telephony is something we could go and play around with: it’s definitely something I’d like to look into some more. Link to where he’s posted the slides

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