Connecting all with VoIP Drupal and Twilio

Leo BurdThis post comes to us via Leo Burd, PhD. Leo serves as a researcher for MIT’s Center for Civic Media where he is working to solve issues around digital divide, social engagement, and civic empowerment. To reach that goal, he began exploring and building innovative phone, web, and mapping applications for use here and abroad. Along the way, this led to the creation of VoIP Drupal which he shares with us today.

Are you working with communities that do not have easy access to the Internet? Would you like to provide your clients with automated phone access to their orders and personal information? How about organizing a Web, phone and SMS campaign in your neighborhood?

Developed by the MIT Center for Civic Media, VoIP Drupal is a versatile open source communications toolkit that combines the power of Twilio with Drupal web sites. It is used to build hybrid applications that connect regular touch tone phones, the Web, SMS, and other channels in a variety of ways, facilitating community outreach and providing an online presence even to those who are technically challenged, or who do not have regular access to computers.

Technically speaking, VoIP Drupal is a collection of modules that enables Drupal sites to make and answer phone calls, play and record audio messages, send and receive SMS, organize conference calls, implement voice menus, run voice-based polls, and more (fig. 1).

Main modules of the VoIP Drupal system

fig 1 - Main modules of the VoIP Drupal system

The core VoIP Drupal modules define a common API that facilitates the back and forth communication between your site and Twilio.  The other modules use that API to enhance Drupal sites with phone extensions, click-to-call, voicemail, phone recording, audio blogging and other powerful features.  With the basic building blocks in place, Drupal shops do not have to reinvent the wheel and can focus on the unique needs of their clients. Similarly, Twilio fans benefit from the higher level functionality already provided by VoIP Drupal; not to mention all the powerful user, group and content management capabilities that are inherent to Drupal itself.

One of the key features of the VoIP Drupal platform is its ability to create “dialplan scripts” for inbound calls from inside Drupal.  By combining commands such as “say”, “send text”, and “run IVR”, one can create event announcements, SMS surveys and all sorts of interactive phone calls and sms conversations (fig. 2).

Dialplan scripts created with Visual VoIP Drupal

fig. 2 - Dialplan scripts created with Visual VoIP Drupal

Since officially launching VoIP Drupal in March 2011, we have been promoting the platform and building applications on top of it.  One of them is My Dot Tour (http://mydottour.org/), a system that helps people organize participatory neighborhood tours using web, sms and even touch tone phones to play and collect local stories. You can try it yourself. Just call 617-300-0368 and enter spot number 113 to hear about the “Chua Luc Hoa Buddhist Center” location (fig. 3).

Screenshot of the My Dot Tour system

fig. 3 - Screenshot of the My Dot Tour system

Another VoIP Drupal example is What’s Up, a local information system developed in collaboration with the Incourage Community Foundation in Wisconsin (http://incouragecf.org) to enable access to web content via offline channels such as low-cost digital signs, customized flyers and posters, and an auto-generated community hotline.  By dialing or SMS texting to a central number, folks might find out info about ongoing events, get reminders, and be redirected to local organizations (http://civic.mit.edu/whats-up).

Although VoIP Drupal was created to bridge the digital divide, the flexibility of the platform makes it very suitable for the creation of “voice and sms apps” for all sorts of domains including electoral campaigns, community alert systems, audio tours, call centers, language training, adventure games and e-commerce sites.

We are currently in the process of expanding VoIP Drupal beyond MIT. If you would like to get involved, as of April 2012 we need help porting existing modules to Drupal 7, writing documentation and, above all, spreading the word to governments, businesses, non-profits. You can take a video tour of the modules (http://groups.drupal.org/node/215969), tinker at the VoIP Drupal demo site (http://www.voipdrupal.org/), or simply ask questions at the VoIP Drupal Group (http://groups.drupal.org/voip-drupal).

Join us! VoIP Drupal will change the way you experience telephony, Drupal and the web!