I’ve been using a great service called PhoneTag (used to be called SimulScribe, the new name is much better) for at least a year now, and I have to say it is one of the best new products to emerge in a while — a true time saver. I’d wished for years that this service would one day exist, so when I first heard about it, I immediately signed up. For those who don’t know, PhoneTag is an automatic voicemail-to-text transcription service. Now when I get voicemail on my home or office phone (and it would work on my mobile phone too if I didn’t have an iPhone. Apple, are you listening? Would be great if this were integrated into the iPhone’s client-side visual voicemail.), PhoneTag creates a text transcription of the message within minutes, which is then sent to me as an email containing the full transcription, with the original audio attached as a .WAV to the email message, so I can still listen to the original if something is garbled in the transcription process.
I’ve always detested voicemail as a medium, which is a problem for me since I also dislike the telephone and never answer phone calls from numbers I do not recognize, which leads to even more voicemail. The tyranny of voicemail is that it forces you into a synchronous, real-time process as you listen to every message, not to mention all the brain damage associated with logging on and interacting with a voicemail system via a numeric keypad on a telephone. Even with the UI problems fixed via the iPhone’s visual voicemail, the user must still sit through the full real-time recording of the message the caller left, and, let’s face it, some people’s voicemails leave a lot to be desired when it comes to conciseness and intelligibility.
The quality of the PhoneTag transcription is decent, though it often loses words, is terrible with proper names, and can be error-prone. But the beauty is that the service is good enough. You actually don’t need anywhere near 100% accuracy to easily review even a badly transcribed voicemail in text form — I can nearly always grok the contents of a message in text form and find that I seldom, if ever, need to listen to the original audio file. I’m guessing that I can read a text message 5x – 10x more quickly than a spoken-word version of the message, so PhoneTag easily saves me several minutes a day, and time is the one commodity I am consistently lacking.
PhoneTag is a great service and one that falls into the “I wish I had funded that one” category for me. Alas, we didn’t close our new Foundry Group fund until the tail end of 2007, so the point is moot — I wouldn’t have been in a position to the back the company anyway. In any case, PhoneTag has definitely improved my day to day productivity, so I wish them all the best.