How Google Voice revolutionized the voice to text transcription market

Spoken | August 9, 2016

With Spoken’s voicemail transcription offerings, it would have been easy to see Google Voice as competition. Never mind the tiny fact that those who compete with Google rarely win, anyway; it’s more to the point that Google Voice actually did a huge service for the entire voice to text marketplace.

When Google Voice first came out, Spoken CTO Gilad Odinak said “someone finally brought the 21st century to phone service. And so it did. Users signed up by the thousands to try out Google’s free automated speech recognition (ASR) system and get free voicemail transcriptions. In a meeting? No worries. Google Voice would transcribe the call and send it to your cell via SMS as well as to the site archives. The convenience and productivity aspects were undisputed.

Until the transcriptions actually arrived. Lifehacker warned the transcriptions were not bad–“but don’t rely on it.” A number of websites have sprung up at the curiously inaccurate transcriptions. Even a hysterical Twitter account spouts random bits of nonsense gleaned from the automated service.

It’s not Google’s fault; most ASR engines only claim 40-50% accuracy at best; it’s simply a limitation of the technology.

And that’s exactly how Google Voice’s free service did the industry of voice transcription a huge favor. Before Google Voice, users were hard-pressed to justify trying out a new paid service. The barriers to entry were a bit higher: you had to get a new phone number, give your credit card number and try out a service that might not be worth it in the end. After all, you could just listen to your voicemails the old-fashioned way. So why take a risk on a new service?

Google Voice changed all that. The service was free, so the barrier to entry was practically nonexistant. Within months, thousands of users began to develop the habit of letting voicemails go to text, knowing the transcriptions would be stored for later perusal and sent as text SMS messages to their phones. The service was free, so it was no risk. And it created a user base that saw the value of voicemail transcription.

What’s more, it created a user base that saw the value of accurate voicemail transcripton. Now voice-to-text providers no longer had to surmount the hurdle of “why do I need a transcription?”; users had already tried the free version and began to see the value in receiving voicemail as SMS. What’s more, a percentage of those users began to think, “You know, I’d actually pay a bit more if I could get a more accurate transcription.”

And that is the service that Google Voice did for the voice to text market: took a base of users from “why would I want it?” to “why would I pay for it?” to “how much?” and “how accurate?”

Thanks, Google, for getting the ball rolling. Now, users are interested in finding out how accurate the transcription is for the monthly free; they’re already convinced there is a value to it.

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