mr.nik's opinion: The world-wide widget: Voice Web 2.0

The first time I set up a page on 'Myspace' I was sorely unmoved. Frankly, it appeared not much different from something us web 1.0 oldies remember from a dozen years ago: Geocities. A place where you could create your free online presence; and millions did. The difference then was that you had total flexibility - a blank page with a remit to create your own garish HTML. Many tried, few succeeded very well.

Myspace is, of course, different. You are actually far more restricted with what you can do, but at the same time you're provided with a set of functions that let you connect your page with those of anyone else you choose. The other difference is, we now have a generation of web 2.0 teenagers growing up who have embraced web 2.0 and never heard or seen web 1.0. So, while they continue to express themselves and stamp out their identity as strongly as their counterparts did a dozen years ago, there is no knowledge of what is under the bonnet; indeed there is no need to know; just configure the building blocks. This process is trivial and consequently this 'social' web is richer and more dynamic than its forefather, even if it is just as aesthetically ugly to look at.

Of course, facebook has come along to make amends - slick, tidy and neat it appeals to those of us (perhaps a little older) with less of an urge to look quite so flashingly-neon and radically different from the crowd. But the key points remain: the open interface and the ease with which any of thousands of pre-built applications can be deployed and customised breathes incredible life and variety into everyones' own personal corner of the web.

This is the incredible power of open standards (such as XML) finally coming home to roost: the ability to incorporate gadgets, widgets and chicklets into any online home, to create an effervescent, engaging and almost living web experience, no matter who you are. This is the web creating the web; the web's users rather than its architects shaping the experience they want themselves and others to enjoy. Building with blocks rather than creating them.

So, will this ever happen with Voice? Yes, I'm pretty sure it will - or at least I'm pretty sure it ought to.

On the whole we are still at the stage of dabbling - halfway between Geocities and Facebook - with organisations starting to deploy and offer 'packaged applications' and speech vendors starting to ship 'components' that can be used as a leg-up in complex applications. But it still feels very much like cutting and pasting the code of web 1.0 rather than organising the widgets of web 2.0. Still making the bricks rather than building with them.

Part of the reason is that voice tools and interfaces and platforms are not yet sufficiently mature to fully embrace this way of thinking - although leading service creation environments, such as Vicorp's xMP, are successfully pushing the boundaries. But the other reason is that Voice Applications (unlike Myspace pages) are not in the hands of teenagers, but in the hands of their parents and grandparents in the form of IT Managers and Customer-Service directors, undergoing a rather conservative osmosis by evolution, not revolution.

But I do dream of the day when the 'voice web' (as Nuance once called it) will come of age. I will create my voice-enabled application 'mashup' as easily as I log onto blogger and create a new blog post, or add a new gadget to iGoogle. I will click save to deploy it instantly on somebody's hosting platform, or perhaps even better, somewhere in my telco's enormous network. To be honest, I don't care and I don't need to - this is the power of open standards. If I need third party content, I'll drop in a widget or two that provides it. Most of what I'll actually do is provide content and engagement and not worry about how to make the whole thing work.

Perhaps this sounds like the sort of thing that doesn't really need to happen in the business environment (where voice applications currently live and breathe and are far too mission-critical). Perhaps "voice for the masses" is an imaginary product that doesn't have an audience. I'm not so sure. Our "connected world" is becoming engrained in our cultural DNA. From teenagers who want to create their own voicemail service, to Customer-Satisfaction directors who want to outshine the competition, I think we're destined to hear a lot more about Voice.