Saturday, March 22, 2008

$100M to SpinVox

Congratulations to SpinVox for their $100M round. This announcement together with a very effective marketing campaign brought SpinVox to the news on many channels. Many people asked me about this company - is the technology finally mature to hand speaker independent speech recognition task in a noisy environment and highly compressed channels. Especially people are interested in speech analytics once mentioned together with the magic words facebook or twitter.

Various companies are reviving the speech recognition market with new applications and in some cases confuse laymen whether it is a new technology or a new application. It reminds me of one of my favorite Dilbert cartoons I am attaching.

In recent posts at TechCrunch, GigaOM and many others, SpinVox is mentioned together with a reference to other companies active in the voicemail speech to text market: SpinVox, GotVoice
Simulscribe, Jott, Yap, Vlingo.

In future post, I will focus on the technological difference between these companies (as one can understand from their marketing material). For now, I will just comment that $100M round is not standard for a technology company. However, for a service company it is. And that is actually the key to understand the SpinVox operation. Speaker independent transcription is not 100% and is not even 90%. When taking into account noisy channels and compressed telephony the numbers are reduced much further. While providing a service for voicemail transcription, humans are required in the process for verification. A verification process requires listing to the message which can be performed at at most 1.3 times faster the message length. This is very similar to the time it takes for a trained person to transcribe the call so the technology cannot help much. So what is the technological gap - it is mainly to ensure that the transcribers will not be trained much as usually is needed for low wages high turnaround operations.

All people that are involved at speech analytics believe that this voice thing is gonna be big. Yet, we should be realistic about what can be achieved and when.

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