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Please Speak S-l-o-o-w-w-w-l-y and Dis-tinkt-lee

I wrote recently about Web-based services that capture your cell phone voice mail, transcribe it to text, and deliver it to your e-mail ("Voice Mail Driving You Crazy? Get It In Writing"), and in the article I rated the quality of the transcription -- how accurate the text was. I got some e-mail expressing polite surprise at my conclusions.
I wrote recently about Web-based services that capture your cell phone voice mail, transcribe it to text, and deliver it to your e-mail ("Voice Mail Driving You Crazy? Get It In Writing"), and in the article I rated the quality of the transcription -- how accurate the text was. I got some e-mail expressing polite surprise at my conclusions.John Fabrega, with Line1 Communications, wrote to say that his company had evaluated these services and thought SpinVox did the best job of accurately transcribing voice messages.

John has some skin in this game, because his company resells SpinVox services, so you may take his opinion with a grain of salt. I stand by my conclusion that the best results I saw came from SimulScribe, but I will say something I probably didn't stress enough in the article: I suspect that in general, transcription quality depends as much on the speaker as it does on the service. I further suspect that the difference between a speaker who produces accurate text and a speaker whose messages don't read so well isn't that great -- just a few hmmms and ummms and lazy locutions.

It occurred to me while I was working with these services that using voice-to-text was a lot like using handwriting-to-text systems like Palm's PDAs. When I first picked up a Palm Pilot I didn't train it on the handwriting I was inputting, it trained me to produce useful text output. I'd love to hear from some of the experts on voice transcription about this.

Speaking of SimulScribe, I said in the article that while the service had a Web-based in-box application for PCs, it didn't do "visual voice mail" for your mobile phone. SimulScribe does have an application that runs on Windows Mobile devices and several models of BlackBerry to provide you with that in-box. It's called SimulSays, and while I didn't see it mentioned on the SimulScribe Web site, you can find it at www.simulsays.com.

And in one of those Homer Simpson moments (a Homer Simpson moment is when all you can say in your own defense is, "Doh") I wrote that the GotVoice Web-based in-box doesn't give you access to the transcribed text, you must wait for it to be e-mailed to you. Not true. In my tests it did take a while for transcriptions to show up, and I found the application's a little confusing, but the text does show up, and you can capture it, and download the recorded message as well.

I thought the Web-based in-box application was the key to making these services useful, by the way, because they make voice mail work as much as possible like e-mail. But I wondered how much voice mail a person would have to get to make transcription and "visual voice mail" really useful. The pricing for the various services I looked at generally set a limit of 40 transcribed messages for the basic monthly fee, which is only 10 a week, or a couple a day. That seems like a very low threshold. I think I'd have to get 10 a day before I'd want to trade my cell phone voice mail for checking an app on my PC or smartphone to see if I had messages.