Is voicemail doomed to the dustbin of history or will it evolve?
Voicemail is widely recognized as one of the great telecommunications applications. Starting with its launch back in 1980 by VMX and others, voicemail’s use quickly became ubiquitous in business and soon turned into a multibillion-dollar business as an add-on to business PBX systems, home telephone service, and later mobile services. Ideal for brief messages, voicemail automated message services and eliminated the pink “While you were out” slips.
It also spawned “voicemail tag” and the “daily” greeting. Remember recording daily greetings? (I bet some do).
More recently, voicemail is losing its luster as other applications take over short message delivery responsibility. Email, instant messaging, SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and other mobile applications are often the go-to solution to delivering short messages.
As noted in a blog by Dave Michels on NoJitter, large corporations, including Coca-Cola are giving their employees the option to go without a corporate voicemail box (which I suspect is being replaced by either a mobile voicemail box or SMS messaging).
But based on a podcast interview I did with Karel Bourgois, Founder and CEO of voxist on the topic, voicemail isn’t dead, it’s evolving to be part of a new generation of omni-channel business applications. “There are times when voice is the best medium, like when you are driving or on a subway train,” noted Karel. Recognizing that the reality is you can’t always use the keyboard on a device to safely send a message. Driving and texting continues to be a serious risk factor.
It seems the issue with voicemail is that it’s not integrated with the way people consume their messages. We experimented with Unified messaging almost 20 years ago, allowing recorded voice message to appear as a WAV file attachment in your email, but that turned out to be pretty inconvenient and not very private.
As Karel notes, “If you are in a situation where you can’t take a call, you are like also not in a situation to listen to a voicemail.” In many cases it would be much more convenient to receive a transcription of the message delivered on the messaging application chosen by the recipient, not the sender. “A Facebook Messenger user wants their messages on Messenger, not some other application.”
Of the new innovations driving the evolution of voice messaging, a key technology is the cloud-based speech-to-text engines that can accurately convert a voice message to text. Past attempt created almost comical text interpretations of messages requiring the recipient to listen to the original recording to understand the contents of the message. IBM’s Watson is an example of a very high quality speech-to-text engine available to developers on the cloud using open APIs.
Other innovations include the Communications Platforms as a Service (CPaaS) offerings and open APIs, allowing developers to build the next generation applications using powerful APIs without the burden of infrastructure costs. Karel’s voxist application is an example, using Telestax’s Restcomm open-source platform to develop and deliver his next-generation voicemail offering as an over-the-top application for mobile and consumers.
It does appear that there is a future for voicemail and it will evolve to meet new user needs. I also suspect we’ll ditch the old name, calling it something else and positioning it as an add-on to the other social or messaging applications.
The daily greeting? That’s headed to the dustbin of history. “Today, December 9th I’ll be in the office…”