Transcribing Voicemails

On: 2015-11-17 19:20:00

Some voice services offer a transcription of your voicemails, like Google Voice™. We think this is a mis-feature and we would feel bad trying to offer it, and we think you should know why.

As a matter of disclosure, I have a Google Voice number, and recently Google™ updated their speech to text engine, which a lot of people thought was much better. I don't dispute that this was a great improvement over their previous performance. In fact, I would say it's quite usable at this point.

Except it's not anywhere close to perfect, and there are lots of scenarios where it's not even usable (thick accents for instance). I appreciate the progress, but I deliver a product, not a progress bar.

This is the problem with speech to text at the moment. It just isn't where it needs to be for general consumption. It's like 3D movies have been for decades, it's just gimmicky and ultimately flops in the real world, except in specific places where it shines (like Siri™ or Cortana™ are great for specific kinds of questions). I admit, some people have a great experience with transcription tech, and for them I'm happy. As a vendor, I want all of my customers to have a good experience, and speech to text is something that some will experience well, and some will just have frustration with.

I keep an eye on the research in this area, and there's good promising headway in the future, but it doesn't look like it's soon. That's why we don't do this "feature" on our own (not to mention we couldn't even use Google's tech, as it's closed outside of Google's own products). The day this changes, we will change with it.

Ultimately, like so many decisions we on the Phone Janitor team make, we are cautious to dive into decisions that may result in diminished experiences for even a minority of our customers. If a good experience was going to be limited to a privileged few, there are other companies that can decide if you're good enough. Here, everyone gets our best. If the tech improves, you can bet we'll include it. Luckily, we also have left in the ability for customers to use third party tools to transcribe their own if they want, and we might improve this if customers ask, like partnering with a good vendor.

So far, this attitude seems good for our customers. As we grow and improve the product, this can only get better for everyone. Do you think that is the wrong approach? Send us an email, or a tweet if that's your pleasure, or talk to us on Facebook. As always, we take customer feedback seriously. Believe it.