John Sequeira


Thursday, June 07, 2007
Making dumb phones smart

I also have become a fanatical Jott user. Jott is a cool piece of software that allows you to call in from your cell phone (or any phone you set it up for) and record a message. That message is then transcribed and sent to you as an email or an SMS. It changes your voice to text. Jott has just rolled out some incredible updates where you can send a note, not only to yourself, but to other people who's email addresses or SMS #'s you have loaded into your contacts. Send a message to one person, or a group of people. It's super easy. And did I mention that both Jott and Gmail are FREE?!?

I'm not a fan of smart phones. I've been accused of being a phone-luddite, and that's probably accurate. There are a few services that might justify me going smart, but I've always held out hope that voice-enabled tech will make my old clunker do the fancy stuff.

The first service that gave me this idea was a dotbomb called something like qixo (google+memory is failing me. And no, it's not the travel site). After signing up for quixo[?], you uploaded your addressbook to them, and gave them your cell #. When you called them, you'd speak the name of the person you wanted to talk to, and a human being would connect you to them or ask for clarification. Say goodbye to remembering phone numbers - a neat idea.

It was free, and provided a couple years of Kozmo-like novelty while they lasted. But importantly they enlightened me to the idea that you could make 'dumb phones' smart.

Jott is a service along these lines that I've enjoyed using. As mentioned above, they are a free voicemail dictation service that actually use humans to do their voice recognition. Your voice files go to India where they're transcribed and emailed back. I've found it to be a great way to capture things-to-do and keep faith with my favorite GTD tenet: ( either record the task or spend brain cycles reminding yourself to remember it).

It's such an endearing and useful service that it doesn't bother me that the voice recognition is absolutely horrendous. I don't think I've ever gotten a message transcribed without errors, normally horrible errors. Either it's my diction, my cell phone quality, or (as I suspect) the hiring situation in outsource-mad India is quite dire. Overall it's *much* worse than my experience with Dragon Dictate, circa 2001. But since I use it only once or so a day, I always remember what I meant to say and have no trouble decrypting the unintentionally steganographic transcriptions. And there's a weird b-movie kind of entertainment value to interacting with such a low quality service. Anyway, if you set your expectations really low and don't have serious privacy issues then I recommend it -- use it now before they run out of VC/angel money.

Aside: profanity is not transcribed by Jott - a friend who didn't know about the mturk architecture found this out. It wasn't me- honest :-)

Update: 1-800-Goog-411 is an essential speed-dial entry for dumb phones. It's awesome.
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