Ribbit is an internet service for integrating voice communications into web applications. It is a US start-up that was acquired by BT in July 2008, but until now has not been available to UK customers. Today at Cloudforce BT announced Ribbit for Salesforce.com, an extension to the Salesforce CRM application and platform. In essence it adds a voice mailbox to your Salesforce.com account, enhanced with voice to text transcription. You can receive voice messages and have them sent to you as SMS or email; you can also use it as a voice memo utility where you dial in yourself to record the message.
A typical use case is for recording voice notes immediately after a meeting, perhaps when you get back to your car. These notes can then be attached to contacts or prospects for later reference.
The feature also adds a Flash-based VOIP phone to Saleforce.com, so you can make calls from your computer (not that this is anything new).
The cost will be around £35 per month.
I asked at the press briefing whether the voice-to-text really works. It’s good enough, I was told; the interesting part is how it done. First the message is processed using third-party technology. The automatic transcription assigns a confidence level to each word or phrase, and where confidence is low a human corrects it. Despite human involvement it is still only 80% – 90% accurate. I would like to know more about how many messages end up needing human intervention and how that impacts the time it takes – overall we were told 5-10 minutes for transcription on average. It would also be interesting to know who is doing this, where they are and how much they are paid – it sounds like an ideal use for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Ribbit is also an example of Enterprise Flash. Its API is Flash/Flex. This works out well for Salesforce.com integration, as Salesforce.com also has a Flex API. It’s not so good for mobile devices, partly because Flash is not always available (hello iPhone), and partly because Flash Lite does not give access to a microphone, making it useless for voice communication. Apparently a REST API is also under development, though that won’t solve the client piece.
BT says there is more to come, both in terms of other Ribbit applications, and integration with other BT services.
My reaction: Ribbit/Salesforce.com integration looks convenient but is it really worth £35.00 per month, when you could just record notes on a portable device instead? Well, the big feature turns out to be the automatic transcription. One BT guy at the meeting says he uses the service to have his voicemail emailed to him, and as a result rarely needs to dial-in to listen to the message. That has real value – text is better than voice for lots of reasons. That said, is the transcription service really good enough? I sensed some hesitancy about this, though with human involvement it certainly could be.