Making voicemail more useful

I was at the airport and saw on my phone’s screen that I missed a call from my friend Wanita. I called her back.

“What do you think?,” she said.

“About what? You called me.”

“Didn’t you listen to my voicemail?”


More often that not, I call people back without listening to voicemail. Voicemail requires me to make a mode shift. I have to call in, listen through a bunch of prompts, wait for the message and then try to write down the key details. This is typically more trouble than it’s worth. I’m not alone; many of my friends do the same.

I’ve recently started testing a service called SpinVox that converts voicemail messages to text. The text then gets converted to an SMS message or email. This is much easier to process. (SimulScribe offers a similar service.)

I’ve written before about the perils of voice recognition. Many voice recognition systems I deal with just aren’t acceptable. This one actually works. The not-so-secret sauce: words that cannot be accurately transcribed by the software are routed to humans who transcribe it.

The result isn’t perfect. There are still typos (names are especially tough), but the text is good enough to get the gist of the message. SpinVox only needs to better than the cryptic misspelled SMS messages that people manage to type out on their phones. And it’s certainly good enough to keep Wanita from yelling at me for not “doing my homework” before I call her back.

Disclosure: The VP of Marketing for SpinVox North America is a friend.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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