Don't Call It "Voice Jail" Anymore
You know that old adage about how the phone always rings just as you're stepping into the shower? If you keep a mobile phone on your hip, on any given day it probably rings at any number of inopportune times—like when you're in a meeting, racing a deadline to finish a task, or just trying to take a few minutes to gobble down your lunch.
Of course, you don't actually have to answer the phone every time it rings, but each time you let a call go through to voice mail it just means one more message to listen to later. The term "voice jail" is usually a reference to how callers get trapped while trying to reach someone, but it's equally applicable to anyone that's forced to check messages constantly lest he or she risk missing something important.
When grabbing your paper mail from the mailbox outside, there's always stuff in there that you either don't care about or is of vague or unknown origin. Now imagine you were forced to open every letter, and do it in the order they were put in your mailbox. That's pretty much the way most voice mail systems work—with the exception of the iPhone and maybe a few other enlightened devices, checking messages can be an inefficient and time-consuming process.
Voice mail messages have historically been a lot more convenient to leave than retrieve, but that's finally changing thanks to new services like voicemail transcription, sometimes referred to as voicemail-to-text. Instead of having to spend your time (and maybe your wireless plan minutes too) dialing into your voice mailbox, messages come to you, as text, via e-mail, SMS, or both.
With voicemail transcription you can not only read your voice messages rather than listening to them, you get to deal with them in any order you want instead of just sequentially.
Some mobile carriers offer voice-to-text as an optional feature, but a number of independent firms including CallWave, PhoneTag (formerly Simulsibe), PhoneWire, and YouMail offer it as a service you can sign up for no matter what mobile provider or phone you use. (SpinVox also offers voice-to-text, but in the U.S. you can only get it through recently-acquired Alltel (by Verizon Wireless)or bundled with other services from http://www.UReach.com/.)
The recent proliferation of voicemail-to-text services is mainly the result of advances in speech-recognition technology and the low cost of computing resources like the disk space and processing power needed to analyze and store messages.
Voice-to-text service providers generally aim to convert voice messages into text with little or no human intervention through the use of sophisticated recognition software. But the technology isn't quite foolproof, so most services also have humans standing by to help transcribe the messages, or parts of messages, that the computer can't handle.
For its part, PhoneWire's "people powered" transcription service eschews speech recognition technology, saying that human beings are better able to deal with things like audio gaps, thick accents, and background noise.