Voice Mail Needs An Upgrade…

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Voicemail is my least favorite form of communicating…

dsc_zettler_zet_phone_45_blau.jpgWhether inbound or outbound, voicemail is simply unmanagable. I got to thinking about this after reading a post today on Fred Wilson’s web site titled “Lifechanger – Voicemail Transcription”. It’s about two new voicemail to text services he discovered. And while Fred raises some good points about the benefits being offered by these services, they would still fall short of being a ‘Lifechanger’ for me as far as voicemail is concerned.

There are three main problems I have with voicemail…

First, outside of a time stamp and any caller ID information, they lack any context. I can’t screen or prioritize messages when they arrive in my voicemail, and I have no easy way to organize and archive them in a way that makes it easy to search for them at a later time. Most systems won’t even let me listen to voicemails in any order I want. Having a text transcript would be a big help in this regard, but to simply add a message into an email stream without grouping it with the other true IM’s and emails from the person that left it ends up creating more of a siloed view then I’d like.

Second, voicemail is a one-sided affair. I have no copies of the voicemails I leave for others. Not good. Imagine if you couldn’t look at your sent emails. You wouldn’t be able to check if you mentioned something in a message that you sent, or if you even sent it at all to a particular person. This is a big feature gap with voicemail that makes it tough to use in a business framework.

Third, voicemail isn’t conversational at all. I can’t respond to a voicemail with any threading. Each voicemail message is standalone, and must use some form of hinting to reestablish prior context when used as a reply or a followup. This also takes away the crispness you can get with short questions/responses in an IM conversation – even an asynchronous one. The thread of the ‘conversation’ needs to persist in the receiver’s and sender’s mind – typically the least reliable place to store it.

Voicemail could be an incredibly powerful tool if it could pull itself out of the analog model it grew up in. And simply storing the messages digitally isn’t what I have in mind. To be relevant in the future, voicemail needs standards. Without standards there is no voicemail ecosystem.

And without an ecosystem, voicemail is a communications dead-end…

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