How Twilio conferencing helps Blazing Cloud

When Blazing Cloud needed a solution for a daily standup conference call, I looked no further than Twilio. I’ve heard great things about Twilio, most appealing of which is its simplicity to implement. As a non-developer who was increasingly frustrated with using free conference services, I decided to take on the task of creating a Twilio app that could be used by anyone on our team.

What I found most frustrating about free conference services:

  • You are forced to over-estimate the length of a call, otherwise it may be cut-off or an announcement is made to all attendees when time is running out.
  • Conference callers have different roles such as organizer and participant. In some cases, a call cannot commence until an organizer has dialed in
  • It’s time-consuming to setup reoccurring calls
  • Plans can be expensive if you find you need to upgrade

After looking into the benefits of a Twilio conferencing solution, I decided it was worth leaving my comfort zone to take on the task of writing a webapp. Based on a tutorial by Morten Bagai, I decided to create a ruby app running on Sinatra and hosted on Heroku. I setup a simple app.rb and and pushed them to Heroku. The next step was to write, or copy/paste the required TwiML to make the app talk to Twilio. This was fairly straight forward but I quickly hit the wall where my experience came up short and considered doing what all non-developers that are surrounded by 5 engineers often do, yell ENGINEER!! But instead I asked Judy Tuan, who recently won a hackathon for a project that allows non-smartphone users to receive articles from Wikipedia over voice using Twilio. Judy is also an aspiring engineer and I figured it would be good for us to work through the problem with some good ol’ trial and error.

Our eureka moment was when Judy asked, “Where’s your gemfile?” and I quickly pointed out that while this so-called gemfile rings a bell I had failed to include it. Doh! When we pushed the gemfile to Heroku, our app came to life. All I had to do was copy the Heroku url, paste it in Twilio, enter my credit card and we were in business.

Our Twilio app now allows up to 20 people to call into a private number, be greeted by a customizable message, and listen to music until a second participant calls in. As for cost, we are paying around $0.15 per day for our conference calls and $1 a month for a phone number making it a cost-effective alternative to other conference services. This solution also scales in that it’s easy to quickly create multiple apps with unique numbers. We’ll be transitioning from our traditionally scheduled conference calls to our Twilio conferencing number soon.

For those interested in the source for our app, you can pull it here.

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