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What’s the difference between a Graphic Designer, an Information Architect and an Interaction Designer? September 15, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Agile Software Development, Definitions, Ecommerce, Mobile Software Applications, Project Management, Social Media, Software, VoIP, VUI Voice User Interface, Wireless Applications.
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Information Architecture is the study of the organization and structure of effective web systems. Information architects study and design the relationships between internal page elements, as well as the relationships and navigation paths between individual pages. They combine Web design, information and library science as well as technical skills to order enterprise knowledge and design organizational systems within websites that help Users find and manage information more successfully. They are also responsible for things like ordering tabs and content sections of a web-based software application.  They try to structure content and access to functions in such a way as to facilitate Users finding paths to knowledge and the swift accomplishment of their User Goals with the System.

Graphic Design is the skill of creating presentations of content (usually hypertext or hypermedia) that are delivered to Users through the World Wide Web, by way of a Web browser or other Web-enabled software like Internet television clients, micro blogging clients and RSS readers. Graphic designers study and design graphic elements, logos, artwork, stock photography, typography, font selection, color selection, color palettes and CSS styles.


Interaction Design is the process of creating an interface for the user to engage with a site or application’s functionality and content. Interaction designers are concerned mainly with facilitating users’ goals and tasks, and use a systematic and iterative process for designing highly interactive user interfaces. Their methodology includes research and discovery techniques such as requirements analysis, stakeholder analysis, task analysis, as well as prototyping, inspection and evaluation methods to define the structure and behavior of a web-based software system.


What’s the difference between Design and User Experience?

  • Design is about changing understanding; user experience is about changing behavior.
  • Design is about intent; user experience is about purpose.
  • Design is about style; user experience is about substance.
  • Design is about the platform; user experience is about the person.
  • Design is about the present; user experience is about the past and future.
  • Design is about action; user experience is about impact.

Portsmouth, NH’s Whaleback Systems, a provider of managed VOIP services, raises $600,000 March 8, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Mobile Software Applications, Startups, Telecommunications, Venture Capital, VoIP, VUI Voice User Interface.
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Portsmouth, NH’s Whaleback Systems, a provider of managed VOIP services, raises $600,000 from Ascent Ventures and Castile Ventures.

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Massachusetts Innovation Breakfast Friday, 20 November at 8:30am at the IBM Innovation Center in Waltham – Ronald Croen, CEO of Nuance, will be speaking November 19, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in events, VUI Voice User Interface.
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Massachusetts Innovation Breakfast kicks off this week with a Friday morning (8:30 a.m.- 10:00 a.m.) casual get-together at the IBM Innovation Center in Waltham.

There’s limited space so sign up now. (You must RSVP by the end of the business day Thursday to be part of the group.)

There will be a chance to look around the IBM Innovation Center, and there will be a special guest speaker, Ronald Croen, Founder, CEO and Chairman of Nuance Communications, who will be speaking on Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2009 and Beyond: Massachusetts vs. Silicon Valley.

There is a Stereo mp3 audio transcription of this presentation, as well as the excellent question-and-answers session which followed, posted on this site below:

Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2009 and Beyond: Massachusetts vs. Silicon Valley – Ronald A. Croen

There are some great videos of Ron Croen’s presentation available here.

Get ready for high definition cellular and landline telephone calls November 3, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Fiber Optics, Telecommunications, VUI Voice User Interface.
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For over forty years, the quality of telephone calls has changed very little. The shift in the 1990’s from analog to digital cellular technology promised crisper quality, but the results never panned out. Struggling with 30% annual increases in cellular traffic, cellular telephone companies used the improved technology to add capacity, not improved quality.

Today the demand for cellular minutes is nearing its zenith, with mature growth levels of only 3% in the past year. Now the relentless advance of digital technology advances in cellular communications can be used for purposes other than simply packing more telephone calls into the cellular airwaves.

To this point in time, the big U.S. carriers plan to use their growing capability to provide all sorts of data services, but eventually, the cost of better sounding voice calls will be too cheap to ignore. Today’s carriers convert telephone calls into 6,000 digital bits per second, a tight squeeze and the major reason telephone calls sound so poor today. In the tiny European country of Moldova, French wireless carrier Orange has now deployed the world’s first high definition cellular telephone network, which uses double the number of bits per second. The highs and lows of the human voice are not so badly mangled using the high definition cellular telephone system.

In the U.S., chipmaker Broadcom is working on new equipment that will allow even better-sounding telephone calls. 32,000 digital bits per second will produce voice quality that is virtually indistinguishable from face-to-face conversation. The technology portends a clear audible improvement over not just ordinary cellular telephones but also landline telephones, which chop off high frequencies, especially above 3 kHz, the frequency range in which much human speech falls into.

Another big problem with cellular telephone calls is the annoying apparent lag that occurs between the moment when one caller speaks and the time his voice reaches the other person’s ear. Many people assume that’s an inherent drawback of cellular telephones, but it is not. Wireless digital cellular signals fly through the air at the speed of light just as they do in optical fiber – the delays come from slow software and circuitous routing. The new Long Term Evolution (LTE) gear set for deployment next year should cut that lag by at least 75%, so much that most human ears won’t notice it anymore.

Landline telephones stand to gain from the same quality advances as well. Orange has already installed 500,000 high definition landline telephones in Europe that use voice over internet technology (VOIP). When this style of telephone connection first hit the scene, it was roundly criticized for its poor sound quality relative to traditional landline telephones, but Orange and other carriers, some of whom are in the U.S. like Vonage, have shown that better technology can close that quality gap and then some. Both cellular telephone and Internet landline telephone calls may soon sound terrific as a result.

What is the Mu-Law PCM voice coding standard used in North American T-Carrier telecommunications transmission systems? June 8, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Definitions, Telecommunications, VUI Voice User Interface.
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Mu-Law encoding is the PCM voice coding standard used in Japan and North America. It is a companding standard, both compressing the input and expanding the data upon opening after transmission. Mu Law is a PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) encoding algorithm where the analog voice signal is sampled eight thousand times per second, with each sample being represented by eight bits, thus yielding a raw transmission rate of 64 Kps. Each sample consists of a sign bit, a three bit segment which specifies a logarithmic rqange, and a four bit step offset into the range. The bits of the sample are inverted before transmission. A Law encoding is the voice coding standard which is used in Europe.

Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m the Senior Technical Project Manager at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

What is the frequency response of the North American Public Switched Telephone Network? June 3, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Telecommunications, VoIP, VUI Voice User Interface, Wireless Applications.
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The conventional North American Public Switched Telephone Network, or PSTN, has a frequency response range of 300 Hz to 3,400 Hz. The normal hearing range of humans is typically 30 Hz to 20,000 Hz. So the conventional telephone transmission system is unable to carry bright, high-frequency and deep, low-frequency tones.

But, somewhat surprisingly, because our ears are so used to hearing poor-quality audio over the telephone, our brains actually “fill in” the missing frequencies. As an example, the crisp “s” sound in the word “Christmas”. So in effect, the telephone audio often sounds better than it actually is to us.

An explanation of the Nyquist Theorem and its importance to Mu-Law Encoding in North American T-Carrier Telecommunications Systems June 2, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Definitions, Fiber Optics, Mobile Software Applications, Telecommunications, VUI Voice User Interface, Wireless Applications.
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The Nyquist theorem established the principle of sampling continuous signals to convert them to digital signals. In communications theory, the Nyquist theorem is a formula stating that two samples per cycle is all that is needed to properly represent an analog signal digitally. The theorem simply states that the sampling rate must be double the highest frequency of the signal. So, for example, a 4KHz analog voice channel must be sampled 8000 times per second. The Nyquist Theorem is the mathematical underpinning of the Mu-Law encoding technique used in T-Carrier transmission systems. T-Carrier is used in North American telecommunications networks. In Europe, where E-carrier transmission systems are used, a similar but incompatible theorem, Shannon’s Law, is used in the European A-Law encoding technique. This is the reason why Mu-Law encoding is used in North America and A-Law encoding is used in Europe.

The author of the Nyquist Theorem was named Harry Nyquist. Harry worked in the research department at AT&T and later at Bell Telephone Laboratories. In 1924, he published a paper titled “Certain Factors Affecting Telegraph Speed”, which analyzed the correlation between the speed of the telegraph system and the number of signal values it used. Harry refined his paper in 1928, when he republished his work under the title “Certain Topics in Telegraph Transmission Theory”. It was in this paper that Harry expressed the Nyquist Theorem, which established the principle of using sampling to convert a continuous analog signal into a digital signal. Claude Shannon, the author of Shannon’s Law, cited both of Nyquist’s papers in the first paragraph of his classic paper “The Mathematical Theory of Communication”. Harry Nyquist is also known for his explanation of thermal noise, also sometimes known as “Nyquist noise” as well as AT&T’s 1924 version of a fax machine, called “telephotography”.

His remarkable career included advances in the improvement of long-distance telephone circuits, picture transmission systems, and television. Dr. Nyquist’s professional, technical, and scientific accomplishments are recognized worldwide. It has been claimed that Dr. Nyquist and Dr. Claude Shannon are responsible for virtually all the theoretical advances in modern telecommunications. He was credited with nearly 150 patents during his 37-year career. His accomplishments underscore the excellent preparation in engineering that he received at the University of North Dakota. In addition to Nyquist’s theoretical work, he was a prolific inventor and is credited with 138 patents relating to telecommunications.





Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.


About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m the Senior Technical Project Manager at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

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What is the difference between Cellular and PCS? May 17, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Definitions, Fiber Optics, Mobile Software Applications, Telecommunications, Uncategorized, VUI Voice User Interface, Wireless Applications.
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Cellular is dual-classified as being inclusive of both analog and digital networks. Cellular networks began with analog infrastructures, and over time migrated this infrastructure to digital. In a cellular network, depending upon your location throughout the world, the operation frequencies are 800MHz to 900MHz band. Cellular infrastructure is generally based on a macrocell architecture. Macrocells involve a coverage area with a diameter of around 8 miles, and because of this large coverage area, cellular operates at high power levels, in a range of .6 to 3 watts.

PCS is a more recent technology, and has been all digital since inception. As with cellular, depending upon where you are located in the world, the frequency band of operation is in the 1.8GHz to 2GHz band. Instead of cellular macrocells, PCS uses two different infrastructures, both microcell and picocell. As these names imply, the coverage areas of these architectures are smaller than macrocells, around 1 mile in diameter. As a result, PCS uses much lower power levels – 100 milliwatts.

So the key differences between PCS and cellular are the frequencies in which they operate, coverage areas of their different cell architectures, and the power levels each uses to transmit signals. They work essentially the same way, use the same types of network elements, and perform the same functions.

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Why designing for a VUI is more difficult than designing for a GUI May 11, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Mobile Software Applications, VoIP, VUI Voice User Interface, Wireless Applications.
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Despite the fact that many Automated telephony and IVR vendors advertise that their web-based SaaS offerings can seemingly make the development, testing, deployment and maintenance of an IVR application seem easy and straightforward, this over-confidence in the VUI design abilities of untrained, non-technical business analysts and enterprise services managers is woefully misplaced. This mistaken impression is borne out by the simple fact that just because a software tool may be easy to use (even though all of these SaaS web-based vendors provide VUI tools with horrific interfaces and GUI designs, such as reliance on stone-age Java applets) only cursory thought, if any thinking at all, has been invested into how these untrained resources should use that tool. This can and often does lead to catastrophic results.

I frequently encounter the mistaken prevailing notion that designing a VUI consists of nothing more than taking a GUI and “simplifying it” for use on the telephone. As the thinking goes, we can all talk on the telephone; Not all of us can navigate a complex forms-based web site. But despite this mistaken general impression (perpetuated by IVR and automated telephony vendors and many software development teams within them, as well as their clients), some basic realities persist in shattering these ill-conceived concepts: People can read faster than they can listen with comprehension, speak faster than they can type, and talk much more quickly than they can process the meaning behind spoken words. So even though, based on initial impressions, designing an effective VUI might seem easier than designing a first-rate GUI, the converse is true: designing a great VUI is far more difficult than designing a GUI.

A VUI is inextricably linked with Time

When a user is navigating a GUI, they can read text at any location on the web page or application screen. The user can skip ahead visually to the section they are interested in. With a VUI, the user is a “prisoner” of the VUI design. The attention is captive: they must listen with (or without) patience to each word before they can hear the one that follows it. With this in mind, some best practices for VUI design emerge:

1. Long prompts are Bad: The longer the prompt, the more the user’s patience is being taxed. Introductory or “tutorial” prompts explaining how the system works may be required for an outbound IVR application or alternatively provided for the benefit of novice users, however they should not be forced upon returning visitors or outbound IVR call recipients that have received similar IVR communications in the past.

2. Long VUI menus are Bad: Again to use the GUI as a contrasting example, on a web page you can present many menu options to the user, even hiding numerous options in a drop-down menu. A VUI menu, on the other hand, should never exceed five or six items at the most.

3. Get to the gist of the communication quickly: Forcing your captive “audience” to listen through introductory marketing copy written into an outbound IVR or inbound VRU script will become annoying very quickly to the user. Script your important information into the beginning of your prompts.

4. Allow ‘barge-in’: Expert users who know how to use the system and know what they want to do desire the ability to speed up the automated interaction with the system. Allow them to issue their commands to the system without forcing them to wait for the system to finish talking.

5. Give expert users global hotwords: Global “hotwords”, or application-level shortcuts, allow users to “cut to the chase”, enabling them to cut through menus and enjoy the feeling of enablement that a responsive VUI system can provide.

6. Allow the user to pause the interaction: The GUI has another crucial advantage over the VUI – the ability to stop and start again exactly where you left off after an indeterminate interval. While providing the exact same level of interaction control to the user is impossible in a VUI, if within your VUI design you are asking the user to provide the system with a membership number in a COB (Coordination of Benefits) automated telephony call for a health care provider, or asking them for their account number in an inbound VRU application, or if the system wants the user to write down a confirmation code or other information, then design your VUI so that the call recipient or caller can get their pencil and paper ready, find their membership card, and say “continue” when they are ready.

The One-way Temporal Flow of the User

Of course, the spoken word is not only temporally linear, but also one-way. In the same manner in which time is a “one way street”, so is speech a “one way medium”. When you are listening to a prerecorded voice prompt, you can’t easily hit the nonexistant rewind button on your telephone. A VUI is not like watching a ball game on your DVR or Tivo, either. You can’t easily go back and listen to the prompt again. This is in stark contrast to the GUI world, where the user can jump back-and-forth within the text on the page or screen. Three simple techniques can help to alleviate this conundrum:

1. Always let the user ask to have the system repeat the prompt: Perhaps the most elementary technique to mitigate the one-way temporal flow of the user is to have the system offer to repeat the last prompt. The user must be made aware of the fact that they can have any prompt repeated to them at any time during the IVR interaction.

2. Make Help available to the user: Information or instructions that are crucial to the task completion ability of the call recipient or caller presented at the beginning of the interaction must be made available to the user at any point in the IVR interaction. Offer help to the user not only at the beginning of the call but also at moments where the user seems to have arrived at an impasse in the interaction. The need to offer help to the user is acute at “no input”, “Out of Grammar (OOG)” or “no match” states.

3. Present a summation of the gathered data: In form-filling dialogs or IVR interactions where the caller is being asked to provide information to the system, a marvelous approach to overcome the one-way temporal flow nature of the IVR interaction is to offer the call recipient or caller a summation of the data that has been gathered from them during the course of the IVR interaction so far.

Persistence in a VUI is not visible to the user as in a GUI

Callers or call recipients perhaps show the most frustration when they feel they have lost track of “where they are” in the course of traversing a scripted IVR inbound or outbound interaction. Aggravation mounts as the user becomes increasingly unsure of what to do next, and what the system expects the user to do next. Whereas a web page or application screen typically provides a multitude of visual ques, such as a menu tree, “breadcrumb” navigation path, or something similar, even something as simple and effective as a URL web address window on a browser is unavailable in the VUI world. Some approaches to mitigate these factors emerge to the experienced VUI designer:

1. Auditorily “Announce” the user’s position in the IVR exchange: In the same manner that a properly designed web page or application screen will tell the caller or call recipient where they are in terms of navigating a site or application, so should a well-designed voice interface let the user know their exact position in the IVR interaction. A simple and efective technique for providing the user with such “mental markers” is to use a word or two to announce this position to the user: “Main Menu”…”Here’s the drugs in your prescription refill:”, etc.

2. Audio breadcrumbs: The VUI version of the “breadcrumb navigation” trails that are featured so prominently on web sites in the GUI world can be emulated in the VUI world, where they prove no less useful. Each “voice page” that requires interaction with the user can be associated with a “position page” that announces the user’s position within the dialog tree. “Prescription, Reorder, Address”, as an example, would very nicely indicate to the user that they chose “prescriptions”, then “Reorder”,a nd are now confirming their prescription reorder address on file with the system. A “Go Back” provision or option should be offered to users at these “position page” states.

3. Audio Icons: Auditory icons, or “earcons”, are VUI equivalents of the GUI’s icons. These audio icons can be extremely useful to both the VUI designer as well as the call recipient or caller by either annoucing to the user that a particular action is about to be undertaken or positioning the user within a IVR menu structure or transaction path. “Wait audio”, or sounds played to the user to indicate that the system is busy performing a record lookup or other function can prevent the user from interpreting a system crash or IVR interaction end when faced with an absolute extended silence.

GUIs present one fundamental advantage over VUIs: the user navigating a web page or an application screen has control over the medium, the message, and the interaction itself. Although a poor GUI can make the user feel helplessly confused, a VUI faced with the challenges outlined above has to be near-perfect to prevent the user abandoning the IVR interaction entirely by the simple and universal act of hanging up the telephone. VUI designers should always be aware of the significant differences between designing an effective and useful GUI and VUI. It would be ill-advised to enter into a VUI design task or project of any size while carrying into the endeavor the familiar GUI design assumptions.

Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies,software developmentAgile project managementmanaging software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projectsecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurshipecommercetelecommunications andsoftware development, I’m the Director, Technical Projects at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

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