Phillip Smith

Ending the tyranny of voice mail

Okay, I admit it. I'm an inbox junkie. And, If I have to look in more than one electronic inbox, it drives me crazy. Historically, nothing drove me crazier than voice mail... it just refused to behave. So the journey began: first it was eliminating all but one voice mail box; then I began forwarding everything -- business, mobile, and home -- to that one (voicemail) inbox. But even that wasn't enough -- I still couldn't manage to remember to dial in for the messages. I tried asking people to e-mail me instead of leaving a voice mail, but that was short-lived. Then I hit on the magic dust: a voice mail transcription service.

It all started with an exploration of Jott. Jott is a service that provides "mobile note taking" -- basically, I could call Jott and it would transcribe what I was saying and send it to me, or to you, or to anybody that was in my address book. So, for example, I could call in and say "Hey Mark, I'm going to be late for coffee," and then tell Jott to send it to Mark. I kind of liked the idea of mobile note taking -- just think: I could send notes to my inbox! -- but the reality was that I didn't use it.

Then I stumbled on Simulscribe. It was like Jott, only in reverse.

Basically, when someone calls me I forward that call (when it's not answered) to Simulscribe. Simulscribe takes the call, records it to a digital audio file, transcribes it, and then sends it to me. And, for extra points, it can even send the transcribed message as an SMS to my mobile phone. How cool is that?

Now, in reality, that's not quite how I have things set up. In fact, our phone system at the Centre for Social Innovation was already set up to send me voice mail as an audio file. The audio file, however, wasn't much use when I was on the road and trying to access my e-mail from my Blackberry ... so I simply forward that file to Simulscribe and they do the rest.

Don't believe me? Here's a quick example:

Hi there. People are always asking about how I do this. So, I thought (Of a?) really quick example. Basically, a year or so ago I signed up for Simulscribe. Probably one of the most fantastic services that I've ever signed up for. And it has made my life dealing with voicemail an absolute treat. So there you have it an example of how Simulscribe works and how great the quality of the transcription is. And (I'm?) probably gonna make it into a blog post right about now.

And here's the audio file. (Be sure to read the transcribed text above while listening.)

I can't tell you how much I enjoy replying to voice mail via e-mail. Talk about being e-mail-centric. ;-)

The funny thing is, when I signed up for Jott, I took efforts to determine how they did the transcription. Jott used to be very upfront about this -- they simply send the audio file somewhere to be manually transcribed. I thought that was quite ingenious, but not 100% cool in my books. So, when I signed up for Simulscribe, I was a bit anxious to find out how their service worked.

However, according to their site: "SimulScribe utilizes cutting-edge voice recognition technology to convert your voicemail messages into text."

Funny thing is, the transcription takes about 10 minutes (the same as Jott), and the occasional spelling error makes me wonder...

Anyway, for all intents and purposes, Simulscribe has saved my life. Sign up and free yourself from the tyranny of voice mail.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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