Voice.com will let you phone in your Twitter and Facebook posts, just by registering a phone number and connecting it to your social profiles. The service then posts a link to the resulting audio clip on your behalf or, on Facebook, displays a little audio player right in the news feed.
Although the beta version looks like the start of a new consumer service, there is also a version for the Salesforce.com Chatter enterprise social network, as well as an option to create branded or themed experiences on public social networks. Voice.com calls these "hotlines" or "voice channels." For an example, you can see the So You Think You Can Sing? page on Facebook, where people have called in their warblings. There is also a Troops Shout Out channel on Twitter, where people are encouraged to "give a shout out to support our troops and to support a family member or friend who is deployed."
Voice.com was created by Angel, a subsidiary of MicroStrategy, that provides interactive voice response (IVR) technology to call centers, as well as analytics for call center performance.
Angel president Dave Rennyson said the consumer incarnation of the Voice.com service is indeed a departure from the company's core business managing large volumes of phone calls on behalf of its clients and providing them with tools for creating custom voice-powered applications. However, when the company reassessed its priorities in January 2010, it recognized that mobility was becoming "a major force" in customer service, he said. "More than half of the calls coming into an Angel system come from a mobile phone."
That was the beginning of a major research and development effort into new ways to provide customer service, such as smartphone calls that also include on-screen interaction with the caller, Rennyson said. Angel also began looking at the intersection of mobility with two other major trends, cloud services and social media, and Voice.com was one of the results. By offering it for free, at least "for the foreseeable future," Angel hopes to attract the attention of social media enthusiasts who will figure out innovative applications of the technology.
"The real prize ultimately will be either some magical consumer app that emerges or, what I think is more likely, the enterprise applications we will create," Rennyson said. The Chatter version, which just got approved Tuesday for the Saleforce.com AppExchange, will allow Angel customers to call in posts from the road. "Imagine being able to put out a cry for help, or a comment about a deal you're working on. It's the same technology applied in a slightly different way."
The hotline feature also has business applications. "I can see the Republican National Committee setting up a hotline for voters in Ohio--maybe with caller ID to verify that's where the calls are coming from. Or Johnson & Johnson could set up a hotline for comments on baby products," Rennyson said.
So far, one limitation is that there is no way of providing a headline or tagging your voice post. My sample post to Twitter came out like this.
When you call into a branded or themed hotline, you get a little more context. For example, Angel ran a test of the Voice.com system last month when President Obama held a Twitter Town Hall, creating its own Presidential Hotline where people could leave a voice message. Those tweets still didn't give much of a clue of what the person had to say, but they were tagged with #askobama as a topic, which means they were among the tweets White House staffers would have been monitoring for that forum. No word on whether anyone from the White House actually listened to those recordings, however.
"I'm not sure we made it into the top 10," Rennyson chuckled, but given the volume of posts to the Town Hall session "I kind of doubt it." Still, if you listen to the messages people posted to that hotline, you get an entirely different feeling for their sentiment than you do by reading 140-character posts.
"The social network can actually be very antisocial--it's very text driven," Rennyson said. Angel is thinking about ways it might add more context to let you know why you should listen to a particular sound clip before you click play, he said. For example, voice-to-text transcription might make it possible to post the first few words of the message, he said.
Today, you can sign up for Voice for Facebook or Voice for Twitter, and you can create your own hotline associated with a Facebook business page. The Hotline for Twitter feature is listed as coming soon.
I found the signup process very quick and easy, although the authorization for the Facebook app does ask for a scary long list of permissions to access your account and any pages you have associated with it. You can make a voice post to my Facebook page by calling 408-837-4965.
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