I have been using the free version of the YouMail.com voice mail service for a while now, and have been happy with it. It offers much better web-based access and customizable responses than what my mobile service provider (Verizon) offers. So far, so good.
Early last week I received an email from their marketing folks encouraging me to enable the free version of their voicemail -> text translation service. The first 7 transcribed voicemail messages are free each week. It sounded like a good offer - I don't get too many voicemails anyways. The service comes with two quality level settings - good and super-mega-good. They do warn you that the super-mega-good quality option does incur a slight delay in message delivery.
I went ahead and opted for the 'super-mega-good' option, wanting to see how far computer translation technology had come recently.
When I started receiving the messages, the quality level seemed too good to be true. I was completely amazed by the detail. For example, a donation solicitation from my alma mater was transcribed as:
"Hi, my name is Laura and I'm a sofmore at Illinois Wesleyan. I'm one of more than 1,800 students who recieve financial aid so I know first hand the importance of support from alumni and friends. I see you've made donations to the university in the past and I was hoping you might give a gift again this year. Now more than ever a gift of any amount is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time and thanks in advance for your support. Have a good night."
The two things errors in the above message immediately tipped me off - the spelling of 'sophomore' as 'sofmore' and 'receive' as 'recieve'. A computerized transcription engine would be unlikely to make phonetic errors like that, I thought.
Then, after a few more, the clincher:
"Hey, Jason. It's Cathy. We just left. We are on our way to the Freeway. So, we'll probably there in about 20-25 minutes. It's about 9:40 right now. So let us know where you wanna meet. Bye"
The capitalization of the word Freeway was the give-away this time. It just smacks of an error only a human transcriptionist would make. Perhaps someone out there can prove me wrong, but as far as I can tell, YouMail.com must be using a pool of humans to listen to and then manually transcribe voicemail messages when you choose the 'super-mega-good' quality option.
Can you say 'privacy concern'? I can't wait for the voicemail from my doctor asking me about scheduling a rectal exam!