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Making Phone Systems Accessible to Web Applications


What is Twilio?

Twilio is an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) company that allows developers to build telephone and SMS capabilities into any web application. Started in 2007 in San Francisco, Twilio allows tech companies to bypass the antiquated and unwieldily technology of telephony systems, and build phone functions using modern programming languages and API methods. Using Twilio APIs, one can make and receive phone calls and text messages, and perform an variety of complex tasks, such as text-to-speech, conference calling, queues and more. Services are priced on a per-use basis, making the service accessible to smaller ventures.

The Twilio API

The main function of Twilio is to provide a layer of abstraction over the complexity of the public switched telephone network (PSTN), and make its functions accessible to programmers. It accomplishes this through its APIs, which use the REST communication model. Twilio uses a simple markup language called TwiML to communicate between your web application and the Twilio API. For example, you could receive an SMS message at a Twilio provided phone number, and that message will be translated to TwiML and sent as an HTTP request to your web application to be handled.

Twilio provides a very robust and user friendly introduction to programming on its APIs, with an active and well-documented presence on GitHub and many resources for the novice programmer. This is one of the main advantages of the Twilio API over many of its competitors. However, another API to consider is Tropo, by Voxeo. Though less user-friendly than Twilio, Tropo has a number of powerful features that can make it quite advantageous. If you are a developer requiring a telephony API, these are the two primary services to consider.

Growth in Client Base

Twilio has become known for its aggressive platform evangelism and marketing, and a number of notable tech companies have been added to its client base. Online auction giant eBay uses Twilio to help service its StubHub online ticket marketplace. StubHub uses Twilio to automatically make time sensitive phone calls to sellers to ensure the availability of tickets prior to an event, a workflow that used to require a great deal of manual intervention. Twilio is also used to much success by online broadcaster Hulu, who implement Twilio as part of their customer support functions. It's estimated that over 100,000 developers now use Twilio.

The company has also formed effective partnerships with major players in venture funding. Notable seed stage funders 500 Startups and SV Angel have formed an alliance with Twilio to create Twilio Fund, aimed at providing seed money to startups that are using Twilio technology. The fund has backed a number of startups, which serves as good marketing for the value of Twilio features to early stage ventures.

Building Attention Grabbing Features

Twilio is important because it facilitates attention-grabbing voice and SMS messages for a now ubiquitous audience, mobile phone users. While mobile app growth has been exploding, application notifications have become more prevalent in the attention-space of the user. As a result, many users may tend to ignore many push notifications and emails, oftentimes due to the sheer volume of messages received.

Phone calls and SMS messages, perhaps thought by some to be antiquated, still get a lot of attention from the recipient. While many users won't interrupt their day at the receipt of each individual email, they may very well drop everything to answer a phone call. This monopoly on the attention of the user shows that telephone use is still an important task in the lives of users. Twilio creates an accessible way to interface with this attention grabbing activity, and can empower companies to create features that make their voice heard above the din of competition.

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