Take Notes For Free From Any Phone

Updated: January 07, 2011

One of the most exciting things about telephony and voice at the moment is the rapid proliferation of tools and services that can dramatically improve all kinds of voice experiences - and at very low cost. Making the best and most use of these services (like Ribbit, Cloudvox, Voxeo, Twilio and ifByPhone) will require payment and some coding skill to fit their APIs (application programming interfaces) with whatever VoIP or other phone system you use and any web or network based services are needed.

If you are already lost, don't worry. We are going to show you - or anyone - how to put together one of these voice services for free that will provide you with real value. What we are going to do is show you how to put together a system that will let you make a free phone call, record that call, transcribe the call to text and email it to you. There is one limitation - the recording is limited to three minutes using the setup we are going to describe. But that is plenty enough for you to take memos, notes, even letters while you are away from your desk - even while you drive - as long as you do it hands free of course.

There is one other catch - you need a Google Voice account. Currently Google Voice is in a beta mode where only invited people can get an account. Occasionally Google gives current users new invites to hand out. When we get any we will give one of the invites to the best and most helpful comment made on this blog post.

There are two parts to this. The main part is done automatically by Google Voice. It can be set to automatically transcribe all voicemails and then email the recording AND a transcription to any email address you specify. But you also have to set Google Voice up right to receive the calls - in particular if you decide to use some of its other services this isn't necessarily trivial.

The main function of Google Voice is in fact call routing. When you set up Google Voice you get a local number that is your Google Voice number. Next you associate other numbers with Google Voice - you can add home phone number, mobile numbers, work numbers, anything. Next you can set up rules and call routing for any incoming call to Google Voice. You can even insist that if Caller ID is blocked that the caller identify themselves before being put through. Google Voice handles all of this for you. Then based on who is calling and the rules you have set up the call can be routed or even simultaneously ring at other locations. These features are all great, but for the transcription part to work, you have to have the voicemail set up so that Google Voice handles the call if nobody else picks up.

So, first make sure that none of your other phones will pick up faster than four rings. Then go to Google Voice Settings. Click the Phones tab. If you want to just make this kind of call from your mobile phone then add your mobile phone and edit its advanced settings. Select 'Direct access to Google Voice from this phone.' This means that if you call your Google Voice number from your mobile it will go straight to voicemail.

Now click the voicemail tab. Select voicemail notifications and select email the message and enter the email address you want to receive the transcriptions. At the bottom of the screen select voicemail transcripts and save all changes.

You are ready. Call your Google Voice number from your mobile phone and start dictating your memos.

Note - try to speak clearly - the transcription isn't perfect - but it is plenty good enough for getting down your notes and memos.

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