Conference Calls Meet Social Chat Annotation

Like Twitter chats during television shows? Check out HarQen's intriguing beta product that adds social chat to a conference call for later search and replay.

David Carr

August 4, 2011

4 Min Read
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Social media has the potential to make other kinds of media richer and more useful. Even the lowly corporate conference call might not be immune to its charms of the hashtag.

In the consumer world, there is the phenomenon of Twitter chats that accompany TV programming, carried on by viewers who take their laptops or iPads into the family room so they can provide running commentary on their favorite sitcoms and reality shows. HarQen wants to do something similar with conference calls, only with a social chat experience that is timestamped to synch with the audio for later replay. That way, you can jump right to the point in the audio where a key idea was shared by clicking on a hashtag like #keypoint in the accompanying transcript.

This product, HarQen Symposia, is currently in private beta (see the application form on the website). When I spoke with founder and CEO Kelly Fitzsimmons a few weeks ago, she was targeting a September release. Provided as a cloud service, the Web application that accompanies the conference calls is a combination of a custom chat application and a note taking one. You toggle back and forth between creating notes for yourself and notes to share. In either case, you are creating an annotated index to the audio as you go. When reviewing a recording, you can also toggle back between everyone's notes or just your own.

Corporate collaboration systems do a great job of handling text, but not such a great job with audio records, Fitzsimmons said. "Knowledge management is almost all text driven, which means you're always missing the conversations led up to why something happened."

There comes a time in every project or business decision-making process where text is not enough, and we have to get everyone involved on a call, Fitzsimmons said. Yet once everyone hangs up, we essentially throw away the best record of what was said and how it was said--the audio. "We could have solved world peace, but once the call is over all we have are our cruddy notes," she said.

Sure, you can go back and listen to a replay--as long as you don't mind listening to the whole thing. There is voice-to-text software that can give you a rough transcript, or you could actually pay to have the whole call transcribed by humans. But what Symposia gives you is a little different, a way of marking up the audio with your own keywords to say which parts you thought were important.

Some other applications that promise to make it easier to scan or search through audio have come to market as personal productivity tools such as Cogi, a conference call service transcription service that lets you mark sections of the audio you want highlighted, or SoundNote, an iPad app that lets you synchronize your note taking with an audio recording.

HarQen instead wants to create a group collaboration application where all the shared notes are pooled to create a better index for the audio record. "We're using the behavior of the people on the call to figure out the importance of different parts of the call," Fitzsimmons said. Symposia also will let you share sound clips extracted from a call, so you can send a colleague "just the two minutes that really matter" out of a multi-hour call, she said.

Currently, HarQen markets an audio annotation and indexing product called Voice Advantage aimed at recruiters and human resources managers, which they use with recordings of job interviews. This allows a hiring manager who didn't participate in the original screening interview to go back and review the interviewer's notes, along with relevant audio clips. The core concept is thinking through how voice records are captured and organized to enable more efficient retrieval, Fitzsimmons said.

In April, HarQen was recognized with a Silvertip PwC Entrepreneurship Award from the Angel Capital Association and Price Waterhouse Coopers.

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About the Author(s)

David Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Healthcare and InformationWeek Government (columnist on social business)

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