SALT Forum submits multimodal spec to W3C

The SALT (Speech Application Language Tags) Forum on Tuesday officially submitted Version 1.0 of its specification for consideration by two committees of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium).

The specification was submitted to the Multimodal Working Group and the Voice Browser Working Group of the W3C. The SALT Forum includes many high-tech industry companies, including founding members Cisco Systems Inc., Comverse Technology Inc., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., Philips, and SpeechWorks International Inc.

There has been some controversy surrounding multimodal specifications, there being proponents of the SALT Forum's technology as well as proponents of another multimodal technology submitted to the W3C by the Voice XML Forum. Each group claims to have the better development environment for creating a user interface on mobile devices that would combine voice, touch-screen, and graphical systems to access data.

The Voice XML Forum, which includes founding members AT&T Corp., IBM Corp., Lucent Technologies Inc., and Motorola Inc., was organized in 1999. Earlier this years its specification, which did not include multimodal development, was approved as a standard markup language for creating voice responses to make menu selections in lieu of making choices by depressing a series of numbers on a keypad.

The submission of the SALT Forum specification to the same standards body that is currently reviewing the Voice XML proposal should help to break the deadlock between the two competing standards according to one industry analyst.

"The main thing is, W3C will consider not only SALT but the specification by [Voice XML Forum] to break up the pieces of VXML and consider that," said Bill Meisel president of TMA Associates, a leading speech technology research firm based in Tarzana, Calif.

Some of the controversy might have been avoided if, when the SALT Forum originally submitted the specification to the W3C, it had been able to announce the fact. However, W3C guidelines state that a submitting organization cannot identify the W3C until it officially acknowledges that it is considering a submission, according to Rob Kassel, a member of SALT and product manager for Emerging Technology at SpeechWorks in Boston.

The fact that the specification has been submitted to a standards body at all is also verification of the claim by the SALT Forum that there was no single company agenda here and it would be open standard, Meisel added.

"If they had found a separate standards body, not as involved with XML, it would be seen as more competitive. But this is clearly an attempt to make a standard everybody can live with," Meisel said.

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