Cool Tool of the Week: PhoneTag for voicemail haters.
|By PhoneTag, voicemail on Aug. 8, 2008||Tweet|
As I've mentioned before, I despise voicemail. It's annoying to access, to sit through and to keep tabs on. Maybe this all stems from my days as a newspaper editor, when I would arrive at work daily to find 30 stern voicemails from retired grammar school teachers.
So I was intrigued when The Toad Stool's Alan Wolk recommended I check out PhoneTag, a voicemail transcription service. I've seen references to such services before, but like any good consumer, I like to wait for a personal recommendation from someone I trust. And I'm not surprised to say, Alan was right.
How it describes itself: "PhoneTag automatically converts your voicemail into text and delivers it directly to your mobile phone, Blackberry, Goodlink enabled phone and/or your email account; so you can read your voicemail."
How I'd describe it: A fantastic way to save hours of your life by reading all your voicemails instead of listening to them. It's not free, but at 25-35 cents per message, I'd say it's a pretty good deal.
Getting started: Setting up a new account is simple. You pick from three plans (unlimited for $29.95, 40 messages per month for $9.95, or a pay-per-message plan at 35 cents a piece), give your contact info, then get instructions to set up your phone. It works with every major carrier, and even my no-frills junker of a phone had no problems.
How it works: When someone calls, your phone rings as normal. If it goes to voicemail, the call is forwarded to PhoneTag. Within a few minutes, you're e-mailed a transcript of the call, along with a sound file of the original voicemail. That's it. You can set the e-mail to go to your phone or anywhere you like to check messages.
Testing it out: During my seven-day free trial, I ran PhoneTag through a variety of tests. The results were overwhelmingly impressive, although background noise and almost any accent can make the voice-recognition software do some semantic gymnastics.
A few test runs, with one vaguely obscene result, afer the jump:
Here are a few good examples of PhoneTag's strengths and weaknesses.
First off is a voicemail left by me for myself (truly taking all the "social" out of social media). I should note that, despite living in the South, I have no appreciable accent. Also, I don't really talk like this. I was reading one of the opening paragraphs from Robertson Davies' 1970 novel, Fifth Business.
Original message, sent at 7:53 p.m. by me:
The afternoon had been humiliating for him, and when Percy was humiliated he was vindictive. His parents were rich, his clothes were fine, and his mittens were made of skin and came from a store in the city, whereas mine were knitted by my mother; it was manifestly wrong, therefore, that his splendid sled should not go faster than mine, and when such injustice showed itself Percy became cranky. He slighted my sled, scoffed at my mittens, and at last came right out and said that his father was better than my father.
Arrived via Gmail at 8:08 p.m.:
The afternoon had been humiliating for him. And when Percy was humiliated, he was vindictive. His parents were rich, his clothes were fine, and his mittens were made of skin and came from a store in the city whereas mine were knitted by my mother, it was manifestly wrong, therefore, that his splendid sled should not go faster than mine and when such injustice showed itself, Percy became cranky. He slighted my sled, scoffed at my mittens, and at last came right out and said that his father was better than my father.`
The verdict? Apart from a few punctuation issues, PhoneTag nailed it.
After a few more successful tests along these lines, I decided to ramp up the difficulty. I turned to my friend Hillary, who is self-described as having "the quietest, most unintelligible voice ever." She also noted that "99% of people cant understand my voicemail messages." Perfect!
You'll see that the results were not only less successful, but also hilarious. Her sample was a brief entry from her blog:
Original message, sent by Hillary at 8:10 p.m.:
So I was walking in Wal-Mart with a scowl on my face, mumbling something under my breath because it was 7 on a Thursday and I was out buying cleaning supplies so i could go home and wipe the counters down before i got down on my hands and knees to scrub the awful kitchen floors when this woman I've never seen before touched me on the shoulder and said, "You should always smile, you're really pretty." I wasn't sure whether I should question her sanity or give her a big hug, so i just said "thank you" instead.Thanks, David.
Received at 8:22 p.m.
So, I was walking in Wall Mart with a scale on my face and I'm going on something out of my breast . Because it was 7, on Thursday and I was out buying cleaning(supplies?) So, I go I could go home and wipe the counter down before I got down on my hand and knee. Just scrub the awful (??) floors. While, this woman I have never seen before touched me on the shoulder and said, you should always smile. You're really pretty. I wasn't sure whether I should question her sanity or give her a big hug. So, I just said thank you. Thanks (dad?)
The verdict? Close, but somewhat disturbing. The parenthetical notes are Phonetag's attempts at phonetic spellings, which you'll often find marking names and other proper nouns.
While voice recognition will never be perfect, I have to say I'm overall impressed with PhoneTag and its strides toward a voicemail-free world. Or, as I call it, Paradise.