Google offers free tool to make voicemail searchable

Google has begun testing Google Voice, a free service that – among other things – will make transcripts of voice-mail messages and make them searchable.

For now, Google will only offer voice-mail transcription to existing customers of GrandCentral Communications, a telecommunications service provider that it bought in July 2007, it said in a posting on the Official Google Blog.

GrandCentral (now Google Voice) offers customers a single number through which they can forward calls to their work, home or mobile phone, filter calls before answering them, record conversations and access an archive of recordings and voice mail via the Web.

According to a Q&A posted on the Google Voice site, the service will soon be opened to new users. This, it says, will happen “in a matter of weeks.”

Those who would like to use the service are asked to leave their e-mail address, with the assurance they will be notified “as soon as Google Voice becomes available.”

People who had earlier reserved a number on the GrandCentral site will automatically get such a notification, telling them that the service is open to the public.

Just like Google’s promise that with its Gmail e-mail service, you’ll never need to delete another message, GoogleVoice promises to archive voicemail “for life.”

Google isn’t saying yet whether it will make and store transcripts of recorded conversations in addition to voice-mail messages.

GrandCentral stopped accepting new customers after Google bought it and even now, rebranded as Google Voice, the service is still closed to new business.

Google claims its service is the only fully automated voice-mail transcription service on the market. The transcriptions may include mistakes, and Google will make accuracy improvements over time, it said.

In contrast, other automated transcription services already on the market rely on a small amount of human intervention to improve transcription accuracy and teach the software new words on the fly.

Last week Skype began transcribing its customers’ voice mail messages into SMS (Short Message Service) text messages using technology from U.K. company Spinvox.

If the Spinvox software is unsure about a word, it plays that part of the recording to a person who confirms or corrects the transcription.

Spinvox began launching services in the U.K. in 2005 and now powers the voice-mail transcription services offered by North American carriers including Alltel, Cincinnati Bell, Rogers and Telus. Telus will send transcripts to its subscribers via SMS or e-mail.

Another software company, Nuance Communications, announced a competing offering last April. It hasn’t named any customers yet, but operators in France and Spain are deploying its voice mail-to-text service, a company spokesman said last month.

Skype makes its transcription service pay for itself by charging for the SMS messages, but Google hasn’t said how it will make money from its transcriptions, which like other GrandCentral services are free.

One obvious revenue source for Google would be targeting advertising: when a friend leaves a message suggesting you meet for dinner, the transcript might be displayed alongside an advertisement for a local restaurant.

Google might also use the transcripts to improve the profiles of its users’ interests that it is building in order to deliver interest-based or behavioural advertising, a move it announced on Wednesday.

According to information posted on the Google Voice site, the quality or reception of the calls doesn’t change with the service, as “you’ll still be taking calls from your existing phones.”

One limitation is for now you will not be able to use your Google number as a fax number. Prospective users are asked for feedback on whether this is a feature they would like to see added to Google Voice.

To learn more about Google Voice, check out these feature videos.

With files from Joaquim P. Menezes


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