Thursday, May 13, 2010

Google Voice for the Deaf

Recently someone was kind enough to give me an invitation to Google Voice, a service I've been dying to try ever since I found out about some of the nifty features.

If you've never heard of Google Voice, it's a service provided by Google which allows you to either use an existing phone number or create a new phone number and use features like getting your voicemail online, sending and receiving text messages online, blocking callers, setting up unique voicemail messages, and more. It's a pretty unique service and it actually has a lot to it. What I want to focus on in this post is how Google Voice can benefit someone who is deaf.

Transcribed Voicemail
The first and most obvious benefit is in Google's voicemail transcripts. When you receive a voicemail, Google sends a transcript and an audio file to your Google Voice inbox. You can view the transcript moments after the voicemail is sent and you can listen to an audio file. I had my husband leave me a voicemail to see how good the transcribing is. In the voicemail, he said, "This is a test of the Google Voice system like my wife asked me to do. Goodbye."

(Click to make larger)

Google Voice transcribed that as "This is a test of the global works. The surgeon system like my wife has asked me to take goodbye."

I think you can tell from this that it isn't quite perfect, like most audio transcribing services. It would be a very bad idea to rely on this transcribing at face value. However, it can give you an idea of what the voicemail is about, and if it is about something you've already dealt with you can delete it without having to listen. If you do need to listen to the voicemail, there's a player just underneath the transcription. As the player plays the audio message, the words it thinks correspond to the transcription become highlighted and underlined in green.

You can't see it in my screenshot, but if the transcription is useful or not, you can check a box next to it to let Google know. If you tell the system that the transcription was not useful, you have the option of "donating" the voicemail to Google to help improve their service. So, this is something that can definitely improve, and it looks like it will. (Check out this interesting article on the death of speech recognition.)

Easy Texting
I vastly prefer texting (or email) over a traditional phone call. Google Voice makes it easy to text. You click on "SMS" in the top left of your inbox, and see this:

You can enter up to five numbers at a time. As you type letters or numbers, Google brings up contacts you already have that may match the number, so don't worry about remembering each number each time. It does get a little tricky to see how many numbers you've entered after a while. But to be able to type the text message on a keyboard instead of a cellphone makes it so much easier! The "160" is the number of characters allowed in a text message. It decreases as you type in the Message field.

When someone responds to a text you can easily see the entire conversation in your Inbox, and reply to them from there.

Visual Cues
If you fill up your Contacts, as they call or text you, you can see pictures you've set for them. It makes for easy visual sorting of your Inbox and at-a-glance recognition of who called and when.

"Do Not Disturb"
In the Google Voice settings, there is a setting for "Do Not Disturb." You can use this setting to send callers directly to voicemail for however long you set. This can be useful if you are in a situation where you can't hear your phone ringing and don't want to worry about it, or just don't feel like taking voice calls that day.

Unique Voicemail Messages
You can group your Contacts into various groups and then set a unique voicemail message for each one. Let businesses know you'd prefer to be contacted by email or mail, tell your family you're not taking voice calls today, etc. I always get nervous recording voicemails (who knows why?) so I might not use this, but it's a cool feature.

I don't have any Google Voice invites at the moment, since I just signed up, but as soon as I do I'll make them available for readers of my blog. How about you? Are you using Google Voice already or do you think it would be useful for your day to day life?

1 comment:

  1. I like google voice. I don't care much for talking on the phone, so I have the text of the voicemail forwarded to my mobile phone. Quite handy, and I can see who called, and that gives me more clues as to what the message is about.

    I also feel safer giving it out, because it's easy to block and re-route calls.

    Also an interesting Tech note is that Dragon, first available on the iPhone, is now available on blackberry too (I know a lot of deaf bb users). Might be interesting to see if that comes in handy during some meeting.


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