By Mark O’Neill
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
I have always been a bit of a sucker for new toys and gadgets, especially ones on the internet and Twitterfone is now officially “my new toy”. The invite code has been sitting in the wreckage that is called my email inbox for the past couple of weeks now and it was only today that I finally got around to activating it and seeing what Twitterfone was all about. As soon as I did so, I got that gleam in my eye and my girlfriend said to her friend who was around, “uh, oh, I know that look… I’ll never get Mark off the computer now!”
So what is Twitterfone all about?
Twitterfone basically allows you to “phone in” your Twitter messages, so instead of typing them on a keyboard the old fashioned way, you can now call an automated machine with your mobile phone (which you have to verify with them), speak your message clearly to the machine, and then let the machine transcribe it. A few minutes later, your message will appear on your Twitter account – along with a link to an audio recording of your phone call (so make sure you’re not farting or having sex while you’re talking!)
To be completely honest, I was rather cynical of the whole setup at the beginning, mostly because I have tried voice recognition and transcription services before and they have been disastrous. Being Scottish, my accent is sometimes a little hard to understand, especially over the telephone, and whenever I have test-run any voice recognition software, it has always hashed up my words. So when I signed up for this, I was expecting more of the same.
But no, Twitterfone captured everything perfectly. You just dial the number, wait for the beep, and start talking (just as if you were talking to someone’s voicemail). If you mess up the message, just press the * key on your phone, which wipes the message, and you can start again. Once your message is finished, just hang up. Easy. Then sit back and wait for the message to appear.
This service is good if you are outside and you are nowhere near a computer. You can have the Twitterfone number programmed into your mobile, which will allow you to phone in all your Twitter messages. On the other side, if you’re just feeling lazy and don’t feel like typing your messages, Twitterfone is also good. So there are many uses for it.
Three downsides to the service that I can see. One is that they don’t tell you how much a phone call to Twitterfone costs. So I emailed Twitterfone and asked them. The Twitterfone creator, Pat Phelan, emailed back literally 5 minutes later and said that it was a “fixed line call” (whatever that means), but I have been checking the credit on my pre-paid mobile and it has been hardly going down, so the cost must be minimal.
The second downside is that Twitterfone doesn’t support the sending of direct messages and @username. You will still need to use your keyboard for that. So if you do a lot of those kinds of messages, Twitterfone may be of limited use to you. Hopefully in the future, the service will roll out support for this.
The third and final downside is that it is very difficult to know when you have crossed the 140 character limit for the message since you are speaking it. So you obviously need to give it your best guess. Plus since Twitterfone puts a link to the audio at the end, you need to be extra careful that the end of your message doesn’t get cut off.
The audio link bothers me a little. I’m not sure if it is part of the 140 characters or not. If it is part of it, I would ideally like to see an option in Twitterfone where you can have this link disabled. Perhaps some people want the full 140 characters for their message or perhaps some others don’t want their original phone call broadcasted to the world? I personally don’t mind that much, but maybe some people would object to it on privacy grounds? What do you think?
Twitterfone is currently available in Ireland, United States, Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Japan, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Germany. Each country has its own number which you can call.
Currently the service is in closed beta and by invite only, so if you want to take part, you have to go to the site and request an invite. However, Mr Phelan has given me NINE invites to give out to Geeks Are Sexy readers! The first nine readers to email me at mark AT betterthantherapy.net will have an invite code sent to them. But only nine are available so email me quick, try out Twitterfone, then come back here and give your thoughts on the service.