Scott Hanselman

Vonage Visual Voicemail

July 24, '07 Comments [10] Posted in Reviews
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vonageWe use the Vonage VOIP service here at the Hanselman House, and I recently turned on Vonage Visual Voicemail. Ordinarily when I get a voice mail message from Vonage, it attaches a WAV file to the email. I can't listen to the WAV on my Blackberry (for whatever reason. I probably could on a Windows Mobile phone) and sometimes I just don't want to listen to it. So, they send you the text of the message.

In their marketing pitch they offer this example:

Tired of listening to the same voicemail message over and over to make sure you wrote down the directions to the soccer game correctly? Just print out the message and you're on your way!

Hm. And why didn't I just map it out online and print the map? Why would I print out a transcription that is a very likely percentage wrong? Seems like a bad marketing example to me. Here's a better one they had:

Can't remember what time to pick up your daughter? With Vonage Visual Voicemail, just use your email search capability to find the information you need!

Now, in this example I find it a little hard to believe I'd forget something important like when to pick up a child, but ignoring that, I like the idea of searchable Voicemail.

Here's some actual voice mail examples that I've received recently:

Date: Jul 23 2007 07:04:32 PM From: Outside Caller To  : Scott Hanselman
Hello! This is a friendly reminder from Blockbuster. Our record shows that  as of Sunday, July 22nd, our Blockbuster customer has some items that have not been returned by the due date listed on your receipt.   Please note that if you choose to keep these items beyond store closing time on  July 26, your account will be charged the selling price for the items.  If you have any questions, please call your local Blockbuster store at 503-629-0500. Please disregard this notice if you have already returned these items.
--- Brought to you by Vonage ---

Rock on, they totally nailed this one. Probably because it was another computer talking very clearly and slowly on the other end. Hm. Let's try one from an actual human being:

Hi! Hi Studge.  It's a bad day.  I'm sure you guys have put (??) down.  I'm so sleepy.  I'm so tired.  I (??) to (dance?).  I (??) (??).  And, oh yeah, I'm tired.  I ain't tired on the other hand.  I'm trying to get up, open one eye and study my homework.  See you tomorrow?  Yup, dangerous time, dangerous times to do homework, but, i got you message yesterday I could hardly open one eye.   Monday I still can hardly open an eye. So, hmm. I have (class?) tomorrow. I should be home by 7 so I will try and call you then.  Okay, (so save as a small candle?) with my semi lighting .  I have to let it go.   Quite a (??).  Okay, I will talk to you tomorrow.  I need a couple of (??) to do. My bed always come (??) a little out of it. Oh, but I'm fine.

Wow. Let me just assure you that this wasn't even close. Like, there's not even a thread of cohesion here. Notice the lowercase "i" as well.

One of the first questions I had when I started using this was, "have they hired a legion of people to transcribe this, or are they using Voice Recognition." Looks like Vonage has outsourced the project to SimulScribe that appears to be a technology - not Mechanical Turk - based solution.

Here's another:

We're sorry.  We were unable to transcribe this message.  You will not be charged for this message.
Please listen to your voicemail.

Bummer. It's interesting to see what it gets right and what it gets wrong. Yesterday it send me a transcribed Voicemail saying that our friend had just come back from 4 weeks in Maui. We were like, Maui? What's she doing in Maui? Well, she's from Mali. Once we listened to the actual voicemail it made more sense.

Another oddity is that I can't log into Vonage and read my transcribed Voicemail either. They don't appear in the interface.

Even with all this weirdness, it's still pretty sweet when it works. It's about 1/3 right now. Definitely for the early adopter...maybe someday it'll be 99%. I'm looking forward to seeing what the Exchange/Communicator stuff inside of Microsoft does in this space.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007 10:13:45 PM UTC
Those transcriptions remind me of "The Orz" from the game Star Control II (and later re-launched as "The Ur-Quan Masters")... The Orz are from some other dimension and as such their language doesn't translate well:

Hello to our *house*. Do you feel *better* yet? You are *campers* and you will enjoy *the change*, but maybe not yet. Let's *spitting* the fun words for several *pieces*, and then surprising things!

You want to *take* *silly* words in *slow time*. It is okay. I will *spit* words and then perhaps it is the *party*. Welcome to my *house* or *other house*. It is a joke! Only it is my *house*.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 10:23:48 PM UTC
Awesome! Such a great game. I hadn't thought if it in a long time until someone sent me a link to The Ur-Quan Masters. Good times!
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 10:46:58 PM UTC
Wait, but you are paying for this 1/3 ready-for-primetime service, right?

I know it's fun to ride the bleeding edge, but the inner Scot in me isn't paying for this privilege.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 10:49:20 PM UTC
Yes, I'm paying for it's 25 cents a message, and I've sent a mental $5 limit before I decide if I've received $5 worth of value...
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 11:03:14 PM UTC
Speaking of Vonage, what are the people using them planning to do in the near future? Doesn't sound like either Vonage or Sunrocket will be up for much longer. Is everyone planning on switching to Skype?

I really don't want to go back to the phone company :P
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 1:23:22 AM UTC
There is a service in NZ called Aangel (yes, 2 a's). you call from your cell, and say "meeting with jim at 10am tomorrow at the country club", or whatever, and they send you an outlook appt, email, task request, contact etc.

That IS done by a human, and it's very accurate. $10NZ a month (about $8 US at the mo), plus a normal cell call. I think mechanical turk'ing it would be a MUCH better idea for the vonage on. I have the same WAV thing for my VOIP phone, and a transscript would be better, but still - WAY better than the old telco's version!!
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 2:35:19 AM UTC
I tried Simulscribe a while back and loved it. Needs to get the price-point down though. Their translation services are all human based I believe.

Not sure why Vonage calls it Visual Voice Mail. Seems like a poor choice.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 8:24:59 AM UTC
You should check out the Earthlink Line Powered Voice (VOIP with no ATA/IAD) and 8 Mbps bundle or the their triple play that adds Satellite TV..

http://www.earthlink.net/voice/bundles/

Prices are low and you receive all the VOIP features while still getting a dial tone if your power goes out (Thus why it is call Line Powered i.e. power come from the central office)
Anthony
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 11:48:36 AM UTC
You need Spin Vox in your life. The best transcription service IN THE WORLD, no comparison.
95% accuracy.
tim
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 12:08:12 PM UTC
There is a new breed of phone service coming. Vonage and Sunrocket are the old way. The telco is (of course!) the old way.

How does this strike you? They're not open yet, but are accepting pre-registrations
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.