Jott’s strength may be its convenience. It doesn’t involve a software download (as ReQall does), a cellular-carrier middleman, or (as yet) any fees. Pollard says it was important to him and cofounder Shreedhar Madhavapeddi to build something simple. “The core philosophy of Jott is that we want to use stuff that’s already entrenched in your life–you don’t have to buy a new phone or download a bunch of new software,” he says.
Even the speech-to-text process at Jott is low-tech. Jott’s phone system makes sense of contact names such as “myself” using speech recognition software, but such software is still far too primitive to deal with the unrestricted vocabulary that callers use in their actual messages, not to mention rushed or garbled speech or audio junk such as ums and uhs. So Jott saves messages as sound clips on central servers. Human workers at a large call center in India log onto the servers, listen to the most recent clips, and transcribe them manually. In case a transcription is murky, every e-mail from Jott also contains a link to the original sound clip.
“Over time, speech recognition software will get good enough so that shorter, clearer Jotts will be transcribed in a completely automated fashion or will at worst be sent to a quality-assurance person who reads them, listens to the sound file, and says, ‘Yes, this is completely accurate,’” says Pollard. “But for now, 100 percent of Jotts go through a human being.”
In my tests, Jott transcriptions arrived in my e-mail in-box quickly (within about 10 minutes of my calling the service) and were remarkably accurate. Jott’s transcribers even corrected one of my own mistakes. I was leaving myself a reminder to pick up plaque remover for my dog’s water bowl, and in an attempt to be helpful, I spelled out the word “plaque.” But instead of “P-L-A-Q-U-E,” I said “P-L-A-Q-E.” Someone in India thoughtfully inserted the missing “u.”
Pollard won’t reveal how many people are using Jott so far, but he says the company is beating its own projections. Some users have told the company that they already depend on Jott for critical tasks such as coordinating in-home medical care for elderly relatives, Pollard says, making him optimistic that many users can be converted into premium customers. “We’ve had plenty of people say they would be willing to pay for something like this,” he says.
Hear more from Google at EmTech 2014.