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Saturday, March 10, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Inbox

Service lets you transcribe voice messages to inbox

Special to The Seattle Times

The connection between voice mail and e-mail has strengthened, more so than just a few months ago. Recently, we have seen Internet phone companies deliver voice messages as e-mail attachments (Inbox, Dec. 23) or services that broadcast voice messages to a network of cellphones (Inbox, Nov. 4). Now we have a service that receives voice messages on a telephone, transcribes them and delivers the text to your inbox.

Surprisingly enough for those of us who have fought with programs with more potential than practical use, SimulScribe actually works. After setting up a mailbox, I sent myself a long message, naming the presidents, cursing and talking too fast. It all arrived in due time (about five minutes) with the words intact. Not only did it spell the presidents' names correctly, they were all properly capitalized.

While this is accomplished with software, it's accurate enough that you might think that it is powered by hundreds of educated gnomes who are eagerly awaiting the chance to translate your speech into text. (Along with the transcription, SimulScribe attaches an audio file in case you need to determine the tone of voice.)

While it is a thrill to see any new technology that actually works, at some point you need to determine how an innovation can actually improve your life. In the three days I have used this program (after I tested it for cuss words and presidential monikers), I sent a few "notes to self." Depending on your job, such a service can be invaluable.

In fact, it's best to determine SimulScribe's usefulness by listening to its company line. It is designed for people who often get so many voice messages that callers are greeted with an annoying "the mailbox is full" announcement. These people, accordingly, don't have the time to wade through 25 messages a day and would rather just be able to read, act and discard. It is for people who need to manage messages in a mobile situation, without indicating they are paying anything less than full attention at a meeting.

If the result is satisfying for the target group, the process is a little convoluted. Someone calls your voice mail and leaves an important message. Because your phone is turned off, the message jumps to the SimulScribe service, where it is transcribed and sent back to your phone as an e-mail or text message. You answer and stem the crisis. All in the time that it takes to gawp at a handful of PowerPoint slides.

In order to work properly, you need to set up a feature called "call forward no answer." Here, the phone rings locally but jumps to SimulScribe instead of your regular voice mail. Getting this to work properly might take some fiddling, and may require calling individual providers in order to activate this inconsistent feature. This is just a little bump in the road, but won't be a big deal if this is something you need.

Likewise, the cost. Service is $10 monthly for 40 messages and 25 cents thereafter. Someone who gets 25 daily messages might run up quite a bill. On the other hand, if time is money, you won't mind paying for the privilege to control your voice maelstrom.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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