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“Calling Nixon:” Google Voice Rings Big Business

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So Google Voice thinks it’s ready for the big time. Today, Fortune writer Seth Weintraub saw that his Google Voice account was linked to his Google apps (s goog)and surmised the feature would soon be available to all, taking Google Voice into the realm of corporate VoIP. Weintraub offers the giddy prediction that frugal businesses, “can now forgo the purchase of a phone entirely, instead relying on Google Voice through Gmail during business hours.”

Google Voice is indeed a wonderful service that allows folks to consolidate numbers, send texts from Gmail, etc. Because it’s VoIP, instead of an extra phone line. you only need data; but Weintraub may be forgetting a key selling point of Google Voice that could undermine a business faster than hitting that iceberg sunk the Titanic — its voicemail transcriptions. Weintraub writes:

I’m also hearing murmurs that Google will soon support number-porting so that users can pull business lines/personal lines into Google Voice as well, if you desire. For those who want to keep their line with their telco, Google offers a voicemail and routing service which effectively has much of the same functionality as Google Voice.

For those who are unaware, Google’s voicemails can be delivered as an audio file and played online, or they can be transcribed using Google’s speech-to-text capabilities. Those transcriptions are often so terrible they become absurd, and are the subject of mocking blog posts. To illustrate what businesses might be in for, we pulled some business-related messages from the GigaOM staff — partly for laughs and partly as a service to any businesses who might want to attempt frugality for a while. Frugality comes at a cost:

Received Jan. 2010:

Hello, this is the Holocaust is. I’m assuming that Fairfield University in Connecticut, and I’m contacting you about the report that your role 2 or 3 years ago … I’m only email is Howard’s Hazel. W Hey, R. D. Call soon seeing you. I have a s. He has the AT hotmail dot com. So Holocaust of AT hotmail dot com…

Received Dec. 2009:

Hey Celeste, Hi, it’s kill Fred, tantra logic. XXX. XXX. XXX Oak at the office (XXX) XXX-XXXX on sell. It was great to see you last week he wants. I’m at 8. I’d appreciate it, our conversation intrigued with the possibility of doing some work together. Gimme a call please when you can, what’s up talk some more. Thanks. Bye.

Received Nov. 2010:

Hi Stacey, This is well with them. So if I was calling Nixon positions and I are Atlas and he came and I would think that they’re missing you know. If you can give me a call back. My number is, XXXXXXXX. Thanks. Bye.

Received Nov. 2010:

Hi Nicole, This is Suncrest I’m calling to see if I can follow up with you on the seat. Regarding this Email said if you could. And if you and recover the eyeball of the most of the I wanted to get elected. That. On the site time to get together. I am. This is for real, you can help pasta figured out that night….

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7 Responses to ““Calling Nixon:” Google Voice Rings Big Business”

  1. We use Google Voice at my workplace (just switched this year), and I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have voicemail transcription, however terrible they can sometimes be. The important thing to realize is that voicemail transcriptions are not intended to replace listening to messages. They are supplements to listening to messages.

    Transcriptions allow me to get a basic gist of all the messages I have so I can pick what order to listen to them in if one or two messages seem particularly urgent (ones I need to get back to within minutes instead of hours).

    And even though the actual words can get muddled, Google Voice is pretty good at transcribing spoken phone numbers. If the person leaving you the message includes her area code, the transcription will include the phone number as a link you can just call back by clicking—a lot easier than listening to a message over again three or four times to write down the phone number to call back.

  2. If we consider the small business market, who has distributed teams and need to collaborate, they need to share documents, calendars, send emails, and make calls. Google Voice + Google Apps is a very smart move by Google. Finally SMBs can afford the tools which only enterprises could afford. I’d like to see a price comparison – fully loaded – for say a 25 person company – using Google Apps & Google Voice compared to the upcoming (fully hosted) Office 365 from Microsoft. They will offer a similar feature set, I’m guessing the extra cost for Unified Communications to be higher than Googles.

  3. As a researcher, I can see these are the examples where Google’s acoustic and language models are misaligned to the target task. We would expect them to do a better job in adaptive language modeling by going beyond n-grams and incorporating large span syntax and semantics. They have huge data centers and can afford to implement massively parallel decoder.

    I’m sure their researchers are working on all fronts – noise robustness, discriminative acoustic modeling, language model adaptation, multi-pass hypothesis search and more. It is a tough problem but hopefully next time you will have better experience.

  4. Seth Weintraub

    …and I’d like to add that Google Apps isn’t linked to my personal account.

    Since I moved to Google’s new Apps infrastructure (see links in my post), I can get a Google Voice account that is linked directly to my Apps account, not a Gmail account.

  5. Seth Weintraub

    It is true that Voice transcription overall is bad, but I’d wager that Google’s is probably one of the best services out there. Besides, you don’t need to use transcription alone. It just gives you an easy way to get the gist of a message.

    You can also listen to your voicemail the old fashioned way. Google provides a nice visual voicemail interface.

    So the question you are posing: Is it better to have transcriptions which are only moderately beneficial or none at all?

    Both your Telco and Google provide regular voicemail.

    I’d argue that Google’s Voice reliability and prospective lock-in are bigger barriers to entry than silly voicemail transcriptions.

  6. Stacey wrote: “a key selling point of Google Voice that could undermine a business faster than hitting that iceberg sunk the Titanic — its voicemail transcriptions. ”

    Not sure what you mean by this. Right now, most businesses don’t transcribe their voicemail. So, any transcription Google offers, even if not so good, is an added bonus. Businesses can easily use Google Voice without the transcription and do business like they do now.