Brief Encounter: SpinVox
NMK's Tim Hoang interviews James Scroggs of SpinVox about the company's secrets of success and the way both the Web and the business world are likely to evolve to embrace social media.
Ever looked at Twitter and thought "I think it could be even more instant?" Me neither, but then it took me a while to warm to the micro-blogging site and now I can't get enough. James Scroggs, VP of consumer business at SpinVox speaks to NMK and explains why the pure instantaneous nature of voice is the future, while also covering off some of the burning issues in social media.
Can you tell me a little bit about SpinVox and what it does?
SpinVox converts voice into data or 'content' so you can instantaneously record thoughts.
The engine at the heart of our service, voice-to-text conversion system (VMCS), enables people to power social media with their voice. Think Twitter but with no interface - what I believe you will be seeing is the next evolutionary step in the social media space.
But speech recognition is nothing new. My laptop asks whether I have a microphone each time I lean on it.
Voice recognition may seem simple, but on a technical level it can be very difficult to pull off if you take into account regional dialects and changes in vernacular. Without giving too much of a sales pitch, Spinvox has a 97 per cent accuracy when it comes to speech recognition.
What effect will this have on the Web?
If you look at microblogging sites such as Twitter and Jaiku, the key to them is their instantaneousness, capturing a thought or feeling at that very moment. The way Spinvox works is that it gets rid of another interface. For so long humans have had to adapt their behaviour to computers. Even in speech recognition, users would have to be mindful of how they speak and pronounce words. However, this is an instant thought that can be easily translated into content much quicker than having to text.
Also, how often have you written a Twitter update only to delete and rephrase sentences? Again this is why voice represents a much more truthful and honest communication tool and when it is converted it can be easily searchable and tagged.
It is very difficult to adjust your voice and or mask it. Again, emotion in speech is so important to communication and that is what we are trying to capture. Although essentially it is text, the instantaneousness and language used gives it a weight that no text message can really mimic.
The Web was built around democracy - allowing literally anyone with a computer to voice their opinions. However, this was, and still is, limited to people who can use a computer. Voice to data means that my gran can communicate to me even when I do not have time to properly speak to her. She can contribute to the Web ecosystem by simply picking up the phone.
The Web is also a great leveller - no-one is judged by their social status, colour, creed or trainers worn. So it has bred new kinds of instant connections, removing all barriers; arguably a new kind of democracy based on open conversations.
But how can this be used in business? Why should organisations care?
During the London election we helped The London Paper gain insight into voter opinions and gave it a format in which to communicate their thoughts. It sounds lazy, almost too simple - but isn't picking up the phone so much easier than texting?
In the same way I can't see why people would push around a shopping trolley in a supermarket when they can order online, I can't see why people continue struggling with unnatural interfaces. But that's why I'm here. As with many social media tools, the question is how do you create something tangible out of something intangible? It's about giving it the 'Wow' factor and I think we have that. We are potentially creating a fundament shift in IT communications. We are bringing humanity back into technological tools. By being able to behave naturally we are breaking down the barriers to technology.
Can you define the terms social media and Web 2.0 and what they mean to you?
Social Media is a catch-all term for the plethora of digital media tools and channels that connect communities, one to one and one-to-many. I see it as the folk tradition of word of mouth for the digital generation - the same principles and etiquette that fuel chat around the camp fire, the kitchen table, terraces, bar or watercooler, continuing the story-telling tradition of sharing life experiences. Web 2.0 is now the preferred space for that sharing.
How has it changed the face of the media?
The face initially looked a little glum - the media simply didn't know how to embrace it and so relegated it to some illegitimate, mutating niche proposition. But as a confluence of many niche channels has created a new mainstream, I think the media has finally cracked a smile - it has realised how social media tools and channels can stimulate communities into deeper engagement and participation.
Are you active on social networks? How often do you use them and for what purpose?
I operate under various pseudonyms in the social media spaces. I use them for business and personal networking, knowledge sharing and getting some marketing insight. And maybe the occasional rant on specialist subjects dear to me - thus the anonymity!
I also Twitter through SpinVox, just to see how the tool can start conversations and connections. But I vicariously enjoy my colleagues' dedication to it as they capture and share moments that seem to spark the most extraordinary strings of debate, and 'games'.
And have you use social media for marketing activities?
Yes, SpinVox has engineered a number of 'campaigns' or 'moments' in the social media spaces - from more formal partnerships with brands like Ministry of Sound, or the Sunday Times or the London Paper, through to less formal moments like Food 2.0, dubbed 'Nom nom nom'. Meanwhile our Speech Mob Figures have generated their own Flickr Group, virally and quite outside our direct powers of engineering - that's the magic of the medium.
Four key strands have proven invaluable - 1. Shaping the brand; 2. Telling our stories; 3. Building a user-base of our pathfinder products - from whom we can learn; 4. Engaging influencers in discussions about our vision of the future - to validate and build a shared sense of purpose and direction.
How receptive to social media are your colleagues and customers?
Massively - it's an essential component of our marketing, communications and feedback processes. Recognising it's not about control, but influence and inspiration, we want people to be talking about our brand and using our product every day. Social media allows us to be part of that conversation.
The trick is not to apply old media conventions and KPIs to the space. Adhere to its rules, around the principles of conversation rather than intervention, and it will be proven both cost-effective and rich in both hard and soft rewards.
The difference between social media and marketing is that former is motivated by stimulating community and shared message creation, the latter message delivery. Ideally they work in tandem. One cannot rule or replace the other.
Who do you think is really pioneering the new media space at this present time?
Arguably bloggers are ahead of any big brands. The downward flow of the big brand faces some extraordinarily influential salmon swimming upstream rather speedily and gracefully - the blogosphere's resourcefulness, insight and agility could teach brands a lot. Look at what a team of bloggers did at Cannes, streaming live Q&As between Bloggers - 12 year old through to journos - and Spielberg and the cast of the new Indiana Jones film via Seesmic: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/digitalcontent/2008/05/s pielberg_pops_up_on_seesmic.html. - such ingenuity gives a heady flavour of the spaces brand's fear to go, capturing genuine moments of innovation - that kind of adventure is too great for many brands.
Measuring is a key topic in the social media space. What does a marketer need to consider if he is to measure social media activities?
One size does not fit all. But keep propositions single-minded and a brand true to itself rather than dancing differently to seduce different groups. So it's all about integration: You have to ask yourself is the strategy joined up - does above the line meet the through the line and buzz lines neatly? Do Google alerts and analytics provide evidence of positive traffic and chat? And are the behaviours and buzz reflecting what is intended in this space. Conflicting messages and tactics will get found out. Also, let consumers in on the strategy, be part of the conversation, rather than preach to them.
Ok, a catch-all question to finish off: Where do you think the Internet is heading next?
The Internet will become more granular - tagged content will create further levels of enriched media and data services. We believe that it will involve a semantic layer; which means the social vernacular of the web will trigger deeper layers of personalised content. As long as this remains in the consumer's control it will be a phenomenal change in the dynamics of the space.