Sometimes communications services come along that demonstrate technical feasibility but then you have to ask “Why?”, “Who would use it?”, “What are the real user benefits?” Such a service is the voice-to-text SMS-based service announced by Skype and partner SpinVox last week.
Basically a Skype user can set up their account such that Skype voicemails can be converted to text via SpinVox’s speech recognition technology. The resulting text is then sent out as “segmented” SMS messages. But when one looks at both the limitations of the service and the alternatives to receiving the same information, one has to question whether any market research for a business case was done:
- Message segmentation: a single SMS message can only handle 160 characters and is usually reduced by “identifying” information. This means any text conversion needs to be sent out in 150-155 character segments as multiple SMS messages.
- Content limitation: the text version can be sent in up to three SMS messages which means the recipient will only see the first 465 or so characters of a voicemail message.
- Sender identification: there is none! Who is 233-33?
- Cost: there is a service charge of US$0.25 per voicemail plus Skype’s “per message” SMS charge of US$0.112 for each SMS. so a 450 character message costs US$0.59 per voicemail (assuming you have no additional SMS messaging charges from your mobile carrier).
- Timeliness: whereas one is immediately informed of a voicemail’s arrival on a landline or mobile phone (or even with Skype’s or Pamela’s voicemail), there is a ten to fifteen minute dead time waiting for the voice-to-text conversion to occur prior to sending out the SMS message(s).
- Email notification of Skype voice mail: I can receive real time notification of a Skype voicemail including, at a minimum, the sender’s callerID via email on either my PC or any mobile device that handles email, such as GMail for Mobile or BlackBerry email.
- Employing Pamela, which records voicemail as an MP3 file, these recordings are automatically forwarded via email to my BlackBerry or any GMail for Mobile configured mobile device (such as my iPhone). I can then listen to the voicemail as an MP3.
A major issue working against adoption is simply the difficulty of even activating this service. On following links from the press release to the Voicemail to text description page and hitting the “setup voicemail to text” button I ended up on “My Account” page with no indication anywhere about this new service. Only after enquiring via Skype PR did I learn that there was an obscure and non-obvious path to setting up this service. Apparently this relates to the fact that I already had set up use of my mobile number for other Skype services (such as my SkypeOut callerID). It is readily apparent that nobody at Skype had performed a quality assurance walk through.
Overall a poorly thought through offering that needs more professional product management, including market and user experience research. From the Skype perspective the only way to generate revenue from such as service would be to send the voicemail’s text as SMS messages which can be charged against Skype credits. Converting all the content of a voicemail to text and sending as an email has no inherent revenue generation model.
I also have to come to the conclusion that SpinVox was desperate for some form of Skype partnership, given that there are many alternatives available to readily handle the content of a voicemail message. One has to question the overall value of and market need for having a text version of what starts out as a voice communication. If messages need to arrive via text, start with a PC (using email or even Skype SMS, for instance), a BlackBerry or other email-enabled mobile phone where the entire process involves text only.
I usually am a fan of Skype services but this one has to be considered a FAIL. It’s a service that has neither the quality or value that one usually associates with Skype.
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- SpinVox Will Transcribe Your Skype Voicemails & Send You a SMS (gigaom.com)
- Skype offers SMS voicemail notifications: good idea, poor execution (skypejournal.com)
- Skype and SpinVox team up on Voice to Text (saunderslog.com)
- Convert Voice Messages to SMS With Skype (mashable.com)