Vonage’s Comedy of Errors

I’ve written about Vonage in the past. Generally they’ve been a good phone provider, although in the last couple months we’ve had some troubles with them: dropped or garbled calls, lack of dial tone when we pick up the phone, unspeakable, fanged demons seeping from the router box, attempting to steal our immortal souls for their vile master’s pleasure. You know, standard voice-over-IP issues. We’re actually thinking about going back to the 1990s and getting an analogue landline for two to three times the price. (I’m only paying about $17 a month currently.) Going analogue would be a personal defeat, really. A public message that "my people" couldn’t work this one out. It’s hard for me. Please, a moment of silence.

One interesting feature of Vonage’s that we’ve been enjoying recently, though, is their Vonage Visual Voicemail. (Nominally, a ripoff of Apple’s Visual Voicemail feature on the iPhone, but that’s a separate topic.) Vonage has been delivering audio files of voicemail for years. The new feature is that they also include a transcription of the phone call (probably done by human operators) in the email along with the audio file. That way, if you’re in a location where it’s not feasible or polite to listen to your voicemail, you can just read it. Also, people tend to blabber a bit, so reading is often significantly faster than listening. Text is more search-friendly than audio, too. I digress.

For the first month or so, the transcriptions were pretty good. The service worked as advertised and I didn’t think much more about it until I started getting strange textual perversions of the actual calls. My theory was that Vonage got hip-deep in the provision of this feature and then went, “Oh, wow, this is expensive! Let’s have someone overseas do it!” Can you see where this is going?

I’d like to provide Exhibit A and Exhibit B for your perusal. Two very real phone calls that I’ve received recently, one of which was actually made by me. Feel free to compare the text you see with the audio you hear, and enjoy the hilarious fruit of this comparison. I paid fifty cents for your laughter, and I’d do it again!

The first call was made by my parents on my birthday. Now you all know the shocking truth: they love me! Actually, they sing like this every time they call, it’s just not usually that song. Sometimes Dad will do a little Tom Jones. Mom’s always good for a little Dale Evans. My dad’s rendition of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails is just devastating. I swear, I cry like a little girl every time he croons, “What have I become?”

Audio of Exhibit A:

Text of Exhibit A: “Andy. Various pay to. A you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday d h Happy birthday to you. From mom and pop. very happy birthday we’ll love you sorry of issue. Well maybe try to call them but later or tomorrow or whatever but i hope is having a level of time. Even though you. Name you didn’t get your presence day. So i could help desk. Error. Or 2 weeks or 3 or 4 out of her or. Around you know. We love you and work. proud of you. Handle things are going well a few in with your lovely bride at all. She’s feeling better and not. Thing troubles with her tommy. That’s about it. Love you. Oh i thought i had.”

Take special note of the fact that the “Oh i thought i had” at the end there has no parallel section in the audio. A click and a pop? No, that’s not English.

The second call is one I actually feel quite guilty about in retrospect, having read my friend Ashley’s entry about the selfishness inherent in our reactions to the 35W bridge’s collapse. In all seriousness, I am very thankful to know all my Minnesota peeps are alright, but I just can’t imagine the pain felt by those families that lost someone in that disaster. If one of my family died there, I would… I would what? I can’t finish that sentence. Ashley admitted the guilt of her own initial reaction in her aforementioned entry. I’ll go one step further by letting you hear the actual moment my own sin was committed, in the hopes that you might learn from my mistakes. And perhaps laugh at Vonage. That too.

Audio of Exhibit B:

Text of Exhibit B: “Hey. How this josh. I just figured i would let you know that she just called in. Mom. after hearing my parents nowadays it you may have just try it because it was covered in the same way this 1 will they. And i. You know just to make sure that everybody was okay and they are. i am as far as i know there are no relatives or or other people that work. In. Degrades collapse. So you know i mean i’m sure people in different but we don’t. Know then. Hopefully anyway. To study do not update. Fights.”

To study do not update! Fights! Truer words were never spoken.

I have just a few guesses as to why Vonage would send such horrible transcription of otherwise-decent audio. First, I’m betting the people doing the transcribing are very rushed, and can’t stop to correct mistakes. I’m also betting they listen to the voicemail at higher speeds than we’re hearing it here, in order to transcribe each call in less time. I’m also wondering if it could be a computer, but I honestly doubt it.

So, this may be the end of Vonage for us. We’ll see.

One Comment

  1. Posted August 12, 2007 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Yah – the whole VoIP thing can be pretty frustrating, at least when you’re forced to send it over the internet. I was a SunRocket subscriber for about two years, until about a year ago when I was forced to go back to Qwest. Leading up to my unsubcription, we had been having more and more issues with dropped/garbled calls, and the Wife Acceptance Factor dropped off pretty quickly.

    Since then, we’ve been with Qwest, using our cell phones for long distance calls. That’s working fine, but sometimes it’s annoying to be forced to your cellphone for calls. So I’ve been thinking about implementing a hybrid POTS/VoIP solution.

    The high-level plan is to pick up a Linksys SPA3102. This little device has two phone ports and an ethernet port. One of the phone ports is an FXO port – our Qwest line would plug into this port. The other port is an FXS port – this would connect to my phone lines in the house. The ethernet plug would obviously connect to the network. I’ll also be signing up for a “usage only” account with an outgoing-only VoIP provider. You can typically find companies (Voicepulse, Teliax, VoipJet) that will give you outgoing rates at 1.5 – 2.5 cents per minute, with no monthly charges, so you only pay for what you use.

    Once this is all set up, local calls will continue going out our normal Qwest line. When the Linksys detects a dialed long-distance number, however, it’ll peel it off and send the call out to the VoIP provider. By doing this, you get the best of both worlds: consistent, guaranteed call quality for all local and incoming calls, along with very cheap long distance calls over VoIP. With this plan, if you have problems with VoIP, you can always fall back to your landline.

    So – that’s just one guy’s plan. If you end up ditching Vonage, you may consider doing something similar.