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Jott responds to my query on how their service works

John Pollard, CEO of Jott wrote back to me yesterday regarding the processes that Jott employs behind the scenes.  He was kind enough to grant me permission to post his reply here:

Hi Nitin,
Thanks for spending some time with Jott over the holidays, and for your interest in general.

You are correct that we use a mix of human and machine technologies.   Not only would it be amazing for a machine to have such high accuracy with names, technical jargon, etc., it would be impossible to do it burdened by car noise, random accents, zero grammatical context and the typical low bandwidth cellular phone connection.   We are dead focused on making Jott immediately useful, in situations that are realistic.

The machine part gets very interesting over time, and we’re excited by the innovation that’s going to happen there.   But right now we wanted to deliver on voice-powered, hands-free, messaging and to do lists.  Lots of good stuff coming down the road too…

Best wishes and Happy New Year.

John

So, as we sort of suspected, there is some human interaction involved.  I guess the most important thing to note here is that the service is extremely easy, and the backend magic is nearly invisible to the user.  I certainly plan to follow these guys along in their development of this clean and elegant service.

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Jott amazed everyone at the holiday family gathering

I wrote about Jott a few days back, and was slightly off the mark about it’s usefulness. As it turns out, Jott is not really meant for transcribing voicemail to text (that really would be a killer service), rather Jott is meant for you – the user – to be able to call Jott and leave a message that is then transcribed and delivered to your inbox.

The service is very easy to setup, and has an elegant interface. The real power of Jott, however, is its ability to transcribe voice messages to text. Over the holidays, while we had family visiting from Boston and New York, I mentioned Jott to the geeks amongst us. One of them, Yogendra Jain, is no ordinary geek. He’s been working in the DSP, intelligent voice arena for over two decades. So, naturally, I wanted Yo to critique the Jott service. He set up an account and off we went. He recorded messages that referenced his kids (both with fairly complex Indian names), some technical jargon, and a general grocery list. Jott nailed it all, to Yo’s amazement. What astounded us was the ability of Jott to decipher the Indian names, as well as the technical jargon. For fun, we then asked my brother the Neurologist to ramble on about a patient diagnosis. His message included complex medical terms, as well as medical acronyms, and Jott was spot on with that message too.

While the transcription was not instantaneous, as you could tell that messages were in queue, they were nearly 100% accurate. It made me wonder if there was some human intervention involved in the transcription process – you know, some processing center deep inside India that is validating what the computer spits out. I’ve emailed the developers of Jott to see if they are willing to share some of the inner workings of their service. Hopefully, I’ll get a reasonable response – and I’ll report back on what the tell me.

In the meantime, I’m adding Jott to my GTD workflow as another way to get notes into my inbox.

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Yikes! The anchor application for cloud living betrays its users!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been contemplating the possibility of targeting 2007 as the year that I migrate totally to computing on the ‘cloud’.  By this I mean eliminating the use of specific computers (laptops, tablets, PCs) and depending on ubiquitous internet (cloud) connectivity to handle all my storage and processing needs.  Even as recent as the last New Year’s holiday, this seemed to be just out of reach.  Now, primarily due to the EV-DO access on my Palm 700p, the ability to ‘hit the cloud’ from just about anywhere – with reasonable speeds – seems possible.  The anchor application for this approach is a rock solid, lean and efficient email application.  Gmail has been the obvious choice.  With a growing number of incremental enhancements, massive storage capability, and a decent, recently released phone (Palm compatible) client, I was ready to take the leap.  Then…..this happened.  Yikes!

While Google claims only a small number of users were affected (it seems that the issue had more to do with a bug in Firefox than a Gmail related issue), the blogosphere has been abuzz with the news.  The thought of losing so much aggregated knowledge in the blink of an eye is really a frightening, and sobering reminder that living on the cloud’s edge can be a dangerous place to be.

I guess I’m still going to move ahead with the plan to migrate to the cloud (I’ll post details of my approach soon), but I will still rely on having a solid offline backup – which is further backed up by Carbonite.

To address the immediate issue of vanishing gmail, I recommend using a pop3 application, like Thunderbird, to suck down all emails from gmail for safe offline storage.

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Socialtext takes wikis offline

Wikis can be a powerful tool to collaborate with a bunch of people, manage notes, and meta-tag all types of content for future reference. With all their strengths, however, one of the biggest fall backs of the wiki is the inability to be productive in a wiki environment while disconnected from the cloud. Well, that may soon be a problem of the past. Socialtext has introduced an interesting open source partnership with the developer of the TiddlyWiki (which is very popular among the GTD crowd). Now, with the combination of Socialtext and TiddlyWiki, you can ‘disconnect’ sections of a wiki for offline use and editing. You can ‘reconnect’ through a simple synchronization interface.

Socialtext Unplugged | Socialtext Enterprise Wiki

Socialtext Unplugged is collaboratively developed with Jeremy Ruston of Osmosoft, the creator of TiddlyWiki. Socialtext Unplugged is an application within a single HTML file, which also means it is cross-platform.

This is a really nice feature to have when the cloud is not reachable. It seems like the team over at Socialtext is trying really hard to make its product as easy to get to as possible. Earlier this year they rolled out the Miki, a light client version of the wiki. With a Miki you can access wiki pages via your Treo or other wirelessly connected PDA.

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Jott could be the leap forward in voicemail that I’m looking for

Michael Arrington just posted about Jott, a company that is emerging from the shadows to offer voice to text delivery of voice messages:

Jott to Convert Cell Phone Calls to Text

It’s very simple – a user calls a specific phone number and leaves a voice message along with a recipient or recipients (an obvious use for Jott will be for people to leave themselves quick notes). The voice message will then be converted from voice into text and delivered via email or SMS. The recipient or recipients can choose between reading the text or listening to the original voice message.

I’ve found managing voice messages the biggest challenge to achieving a truly unified inbox. If this service is as cool as the one that Guy Kawasaki recently wrote about, then the guys at Jott have a real winner. I’d love the ability to receive an email transcript of voicemails in my inbox. It’s just easier to handle, and search, in text form. I suspect another benefit will be the ability to read voicemail while I’m stuck in a meeting. Sometimes trying to break-away from a lengthy meeting is not possible, so I’m left guessing as to what the content of a voicemail is. If a transcript were emailed to me, I could instantly act on it, or delegate it — or simply file it away. That would really rock!

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PearBudget: An elegant alternative to managing personal budgets

It seems like every new edition of Quicken (or Microsoft Money) adds another needless layer of complexity to the personal expense management process. While it is nice to be able import your bank transactions into those applications, most of the time a quick entry into a spreadsheet is faster, more elegant, and more likely to be used on a regular basis. All the fancy pie-charts and 3D graphs are useless if you don’t maintain your expenses in a centralized location. Enter PearBudget. I stumbled upon this nice spreadsheet via LifeHack and find it to be really easy and simple to setup. The author of this spreadsheet does a great job of breaking out the key budget areas into regular expenses, irregular expenses, and variable expenses. By sub-categorizing your expenses, it is easier to enter them as soon as you incur them. There are pre-built tabs for each month, and you simply enter your expense as you incur it. Being a spreadsheet, all calculations are automatically done, and you can monitor your behavior for any given month, or through a Year-to-Date analysis tab.

The nice part about a tool like PearBudget is that it can be used on portable devices that can open spreadsheets.  I was able to open the sheet on my Treo 650 using Docs-to-Go.  PearSheet is also being developed into a Web 2.0 application, but I think this is a great answer for those looking for simplicity in their financial management lives.  Quicken and Money are great but, despite their claims on ease of use, they require a level of rigor that many people can’t commit to.  PearBudget, which by the way is a free download, is much simpler, but gets the job done.