by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
communications, voicemail

Is Voicemail The Next Thing To Fade Away?

from the moving-forward dept

I've noticed something recently: I rarely listen to voicemails anymore. If I know who called, I can simply call them back, or get in touch with them through other means. The whole process of calling in to my phone and actually listening to the voicemail is quite a pain -- and I've actually found myself annoyed when I felt the need to actually listen to voicemail. Apparently, I'm not alone. The NY Times is noting that many people are tiring of voicemail, noting that other options are a lot more efficient and effective for leaving messages for people. And it's not just anecdotal. The NY Times report above quotes a study that found over 30% of voicemails "linger unheard for three days or longer." Of course, some of that annoyance may be the user interface for traditional voicemail -- dialing in, listening to each message, remembering which button to press to delete... Newer visual voicemail solutions, like those found on the iPhone, may alleviate some of the pain. In fact, in a separate study that basically states the obvious, most people preferred visual voicemail over traditional voicemail.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    zcat, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 1:12am

    My voicemail is email..

    when someone leaves a voicemail it gets turned into an mp3 attachment and mailed to me. Very convenient! I even get the caller-id in the subject.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Matt, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 1:51am


    Anyone who has Vista should try the Callwave Visual Voicemail gadget - completely free and voicemails automatically show up on your desktop, then just hit the play button and listen while you are doing other things on the computer. Screw calling in and actually listening through each message.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Cro, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 2:31am

    Was this not always a con?

    I thought voicemail was more to do with establishing a connection whether the call was to be received or not, so that a connection charge can still be taken from the caller.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Paul G, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 2:53am

    Re: Callwave

    Unfortunately (fortunately?) my phone does not run Vista. I spend most of my day away from a PC so retrieve messages from my phone.

    I think the majority retrieve messages the same way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Tyler!, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 3:29am

    Callwave (Redux)

    Firstly, you do not need Vista for Callwave to be the best thing to ever happen to voicemail. Matt was only explaining that the Vista gadget is particularly handy. However, here are some of the ways that Callwave helps you access your voicemail more easily:

    1. The Vista sidebar gadget already mentioned by Mike

    2. A small app that you can download that displays recent voicemails, the caller ID, and even lets you interrupt voicemails being left for you by unwanted callers (or allows you to interrupt voicemails being left if the call is urgent)

    3. Email's the MP3 of the voicemail to you. There's a transcript of the voicemail in the email subject line.

    4. Traditional from-your-phone access

    5. Text message caller ID and message transcript

    6. Web interface

    7. Works with multiple phones - not just your mobile

    And the sweet thing is that all these work together at the same time. I get a high volume of phone calls (and subsequently voicemail) in my line of work. Callwave has been a lifesaver.

    But enough about Callwave. Back to the subject...

    Most people I talk to would agree with the NY Times article. Traditional voicemail is cumbersome and clunky. It seems to be a pretty common practice, at least amongst people I know, to miss calls intentionally for one reason or another. Whether you know the caller and why they're calling, or you're in the middle of something important, or maybe it's just someone you prefer not to talk to, people seem to know that they're missing a call when the call goes to voicemail.

    With tools like unified messaging and visual voicemail now easily available, it almost feels archaic to have to dial in to a phone system, enter a password, listen to a soulless voice announcing your calls in chronological order, and then having to interact with your voicemail via dial-pad. If it's available to them, most people so seem to prefer something far more elegant. I, for one, don't think I can ever go back to traditional voicemail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    One Disciple, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 3:56am

    I have Visual Voice Mail

    I have the iPhone and still think voice mail sucks. Don't get me wrong visual voice mail is far better then the old way, but still just as annoying when it is from someone you do not want to talk to. I think that text from callwave sounds pretty good I might give that a go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    x, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 4:58am

    "google voice" is the answer. The user interface is as it should be. a perfect voice answering system. I adore it, sign up for the beta.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Duane, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 5:04am

    Unified Messaging FTW

    I want to have just two phone numbers, one for business, and one for pleasure. I want both of them to follow me intelligently from my desk phone to my mobile to my home phone. After work, I want calls to the business number to go to voicemail, or to someone else who may be working at that hour. Voicemails should show up in my work and home email inbox, but disappear from work if I listen and delete at home, and vice-versa. I want the option to tailor my outgoing message to the caller based on caller ID and contact groupings, with the options for how to contact me tailored accordingly. Perhaps I don't want anyone who calls to be allowed to leave me a message. Call handling in general should be tailored not just for what number was dialed, but who was doing the dialing, so that important clients who call me when I'm away from the office will get someone live who can assist them. Speech to text should be an option, either for me to have voicemail converted to sms or email, or at the caller's option to send me a sms. When listening to a voice mail or reading an email/text, I should be presented with all the options of how to reconnect with the other party. Oh, and since we're going to need presence information for all this, which was basically invented for Instant Messaging, we'll have some of that too. People I like should be able to have their IM's turned into text messages, which I can reply to without doing anything different than a regular SMS. Please, please mobile carriers, erase the lines which divide SMS, MMS and email. I want all three of them to work and act just the same. Pick the transport mechanism based on the address and content if you must, but as a user, I don't need the distinction any more.

    And all my wishes will come true, when purple pigs fly to the moon. Mobile carriers don't want to pay what it would cost to develop these types of features, because they don't see a way to charge me each time I use them. Nobody else can make much headway without their cooperation. Maybe some Android developer will come up with some of this stuff. Be interesting to see if it would be allowed to stay in the marketplace.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 5:18am

    I use voice mail on my iPhone because it is really easy to see who called, when it came in, and how long the message is. Also, you can play the messages in any order. But I have to admit, I don't even remember how to check voice mail on my home phone any more. I haven't checked it in years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Alexander, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 5:20am

    Everyone hates the phone co

    Voice mail on pots is doomed primarily due to the overwhelming quantity of telemarketing calls, even if you are on the ncl. Voice mail on cell is headed in the same direction even though the teleM is not suuposed to spam cell. Visual voicemail is for those who have fancy phones and do not mind paying a lot, not sure that will last.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Ima Fish, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 5:34am

    The problem is not with voicemail, but with the way most people use it. And by that I mean, most people should not use it. If you call someone, they know you called, and they can call you back. 99% of the time there is no reason to leave a message.

    The only time you should leave a message is when it's an emergency or when the recipient asked you to leave a message. "Hey, what's figures on that Harley contract?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    R. Miles, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 5:53am


    How funny this article appears just a day after thinking the exact same thing while checking VM.

    Callwave, huh? I'll look into that one. Sounds like a nice tool to use.

    I should now update my VM to the following:
    "Thanks for calling but I'm unavailable to take your call. No need to leave a message, as my caller ID informed me you tried. I'll get back to you as soon as I can."


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    David P., Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 6:21am

    Re: Callwave

    I agree, Callwave is a great service. I used it up until I got an iPhone and then had native visual voicemail. I recommend the service to everyone, even without Vista.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    vastrightwing, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 6:23am

    Re: My voicemail is email..

    Yes, except you still have to synchronously stream it. Better. But not good enough for me to actually use it. Convert the voice to text where I can scan the message? Then I'd actually use it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    vastrightwing, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 6:32am

    voice mail is out

    The real problem is time: it takes time to listen to a synchronous stream. If the voice mail could be converted to text, you could process the message in fractions of a second and decide how to act on it.

    Someone pointed out that often there is no need to leave a message. I do this all the time: I will call, wait for voice mail and hang up knowing they have my caller ID. It saves me time having to leave a message I wouldn't listen to, so it saves them time not listening to it.

    I wish I could turn my voice mail off. My wife gets mad at me when I don't get her messages. I keep telling her not to lave me any messages!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Ken, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 6:40am

    Voicemail will never go away

    Through my virtual phone number service I have my voicemail delivered to my email plus I can speed dial in through my phone to play voicemails when I do not have internet access (or have them read through text to speech). Very quick and takes only a second or two. Not cumbersome at all. I can also reply to a VM with a live call by pressing one key.

    With voicemail you can hear the tone of the message being delivered. That is why I like it. This is often lost through written communications. That is why the human voice (live connect, voicemail) will always have a place in the way people communicate and will remain and work in unison with email, text messaging, etc.

    Using all forms of communications efficiently to fit the need at the time, is the trend in technology. Voicemail technology will continue to become smarter to fulfill its communication niche that it has established over the years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Ricky C, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 6:41am

    I thought it was just me!

    i for one despise voicemail. I hate listening to them, clearing them out, etc.. Especially when, like ImaFish said, they're ones that should'nt have been left, such as "hey this is ______, gimme a call back". waste of time.

    If it wasn't for my cell provider's hold times, i'd call and have voicemail removed. But until i decide to sit through that, these voicemails will sit there unheard. The icons been there for 2 weeks, i wonder how many i have...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Dimitrios, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 6:53am

    Re: I thought it was just me!

    LOL. I usually let voice mail linger on my phone for a week. We have a very nice VOIP phone system here at work and the caller id immediately lets me know who called. Instead of listening to someone's voice mail message I just call them back asking what they needed. I wish there was a way to delete my voice mail messages without having to dial into the voice mail server.

    I hate calling into the damn voice mail servers. I hate having to change my stupid password every 60 days. I hate having to listen to the message before deleting it, 3 -3 FTW. I hate seeing the stupid red light telling me I am ignoring someones stupid voice mail message. Personally I wish that our voice mail system was as smart as the voice mail system on my iphone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    pr, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 7:15am

    Network phones

    I've always hated the klunky interface to voicemail. Part was the limited bandwidth of a 12 key kepad, but the byzantine menu trees on top the limited interface made it bad squared.

    I'll agree that the voice will never go away, but the practice of recording voice messages and listening to them at a later time probably will. The recorded message rarely conveys more information that "call me." It takes more time to compose and hear it than it's worth.

    We recently got network phones at the office. Voice messages go to email, so we can listen to them on any .wav player. Much better. Even better is the caller ID makes most of them unnecessary. When you come back from lunch you see who called and you call them back. It's only a waste of time to have to listen to the message. Most everyone has figured that out now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Yakko Warner, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 8:19am

    Not for me.

    If I see that someone called but did not leave a message, I figure they didn't have any reason to call anyway (or maybe they mis-dialed -- considering how many wrong numbers I get being one digit off from a local restaurant, it's a distinct possibility). Caller ID doesn't tell me enough, because people may call from their work and I don't immediately know where everyone works. So, no voicemail, no return call.

    I'd also much rather check it from my phone than from my computer. The interface is a little clunky, sure (which is probably where the annoyance factor of voicemail comes in, having to listen to the voice read off the message details and the list of commands in that mechanical, halting voice over and over again), but it's always been harder for me to hear a voice conversation over a computer. Usually because I have the volume set to listen to background music, and I have to adjust it to hear voice clearly, pause my music, plug in a headset, etc. It's just easier to pick up the already-preconfigured telephone handset.

    I still get as many phone calls as emails, so in my contact circle, there hasn't been a total shift from voice to text. Cell phone text messages, I don't even accept, not at 20¢ per message (and I'm not paying $5/month/line to avoid paying 20¢/message, partially because I'm cheap but mostly because I'm annoyed).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Sean Henry, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: My voicemail is email..

    Cincinnati Bell AT&T released that feature about 3 months ago. To advertise the new feature ($$) they left a quick voice mail and after about 2min it converted the message to a txt message. I would use the feature if it was free, but some times I like to hear voice mail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    PRMan, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 8:31am


    Just wanted to point out that Vonage also has a free option to e-mail you all your voice mails, to forward your phone to any other phone free, to simultaneously ring another phone (such as a cell) along with your "land" line, etc.

    Lots of free features for $25/month unlimited calling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    nasch, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 9:06am

    Re: Not for me.

    If someone in my phone's contact list called I will call back but otherwise I'm like you. Why would I call back to some number I don't recognize if they didn't even bother to leave a message?

    What annoys me is people who don't check their voice mail. If you're not going to listen to your voice mail, your greeting should be, "Hi, this is . I don't check my messages, so don't bother." That would save me from leaving a message that I then have to repeat when the person calls me back without listening to the message.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Ryan, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 9:29am

    So true

    I find myself doing the same exact thing. I feel like I don't have time for voicemail. I would much rather give the person a quick ring back and talk to them. Emails are what voicemail is for; leaving a message for someone to peruse at their leisure.

    Thanks for sharing your insight :)


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    The infamous Joe, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 9:40am

    Re: Unified Messaging FTW

    You just described Google Voice.

    Check it out. I use it now and it's pretty awesome. (There are some things I'd change, of course)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Jeff, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 10:21am

    Just convert it to text

    Why not use one of the many services that convert voicemail to text? Google Voice, Phonetag, Voicecloud, Youmail etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    greg, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 10:37am

    Re: Just convert it to text

    It's half-baked, unfortunately. A lot of names are always mangled. Numbers too. It's a nice try and it certainly is a lot less painful than the serial access of listening to a voice message.

    But voice mails, to be effective, really need to be little more than a call-back reminder or short message. The rest should go in email, SMS, or whatever else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 10:53am

    Voicemail = Bad

    Agree. I have Vonage on all business lines, and love getting my voicemail as .wav files in my email. I can listen easily at my PC or my smartphone. I never access the messages that linger in the VM box, and Vonage just deletes them when they get stale. I don't care, I have them sorted in my email folders. They are easy to forward to my staff, or deal with, and sort into client folders.

    My home phone has a digital answering machine. I can't be bothered to check the messages. I usually get to them on the weekend.

    My mobile phone has the typical slow-access IVR interface, so I tend to not check those messages either. I do use the Caller ID and missed call notifications. About once a week, I'll get time to actually dial in and erase the messages.

    That doesn't make me the best communicator, but hey, there's email. Send me email, I'll get back to you. When I call someone, and they don't answer, I hang up and type out an email or SMS. If the conversation is going to be asynchronous, then let's use an asynchronous medium.

    Agreed. In the era of ubiquitous email, SMS, IM, and twitter, VoiceMail is slow, out of step, and old-fashioned. That's why so many tools are popping up like Vonage, Callwave, and Google Voice - all of which convert voicemail to something more useful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    TX CHL Instructor (profile), Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re: My voicemail is email.. has that feature. I don't use it, but I've found the other features of YouMail to be handy enough that I have switched entirely to that from GrandCentral.

    I actually have a hodge-podge of different VM services at this point, and the one I like the very least is T-Mobile's pathetic excuse for VM. YouMail has better integration with the G1 that GrandCentral, but now that Google has taken over GrandCentral, I expect that to change.
    -- (Thanks, BHO, for the fantastic stimulus you gave my business!)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Weird Harold, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 2:48pm

    I'll comment on this one in a few days when I get around to it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2009 @ 9:11am

    Re: Re: Re: My voicemail is email..

    now that Google has taken over GrandCentral, I expect that to change.

    Google took over GrandCentral over two years ago. The first thing they did was to start taking away features, so I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    Re: Callwave

    I have a voicemail gadget on my desktop that lets me just hit the play button to listen while doing other things too, but my computer doesn't even have to be on! It's called an answering machine! You should try one, they're great!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2009 @ 9:23am

    Re: Was this not always a con?

    You must be someplace outside the US. Here in the US they charge for calls whether they're answered or not anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2009 @ 10:14am

    Re: :)

    But many of us callers are wise to you guys, like big brother chkg on who is calling from where to later have the callers fone numbers misused or abused by 3d thru 33d parties. We inhibit the transmission of our caller ID's if we failed to permanently disable it when subscribing to the phone svc.

    The callee is then usually curious enough to see who'se calling to take the call. Indeed (unfortunately) many if not most TM calls either have caller-id's disabled, or transmitting false or fictitious phone numbers anyway.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2009 @ 10:28am

    Re: Just convert it to text

    Why not? Long list. Begin with:

    1. No svc warranty. All these gadgets, programs, and svcs are by start-up companies that are subject to fail and shut down at any time w/o notice OR they're by companies not offering any support. (800 numbers going to automated abuse machines telling you how important your call is neither support nor service -- just another means to waste your time.)

    2. There's neither computer nor internet svc available in most rural areas -- some 80% of the NA continent. Indeed most such [rural] areas don't even have cel svc available!

    Anyone with three cents worth of intelligence can enlarge the foregoing list SUBSTANTIALLY.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    MiSoFine, Apr 28th, 2009 @ 3:27pm

    Re: voice mail is out

    You CAN turn off your voicemail. I have AT&T and all you do is call them and tell them to remove your voicemail option. I have heard you can do that with ALL cell phone providers. You can also do it with all landline phones--if you still have one :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Ken Blackman, May 28th, 2009 @ 6:28am

    Voicemail to email

    There is a UK based company called VoxSciences that converts voicemail into text and sends the transcription as an email or SMS message. Their website is

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    laura, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 5:46am

    Re: My voicemail is email..

    Is that free?? My son is not into voice mail, I want to call my text to him, how do I do that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    carlos, Jan 7th, 2010 @ 9:23pm

    best solution

    Try ) Cellscribe will automatically convert your voicemail to text and send it, along with the recording, to your email and mobile device as a text message.for free with this code 2k87

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Voicemail, Jun 27th, 2011 @ 4:43pm

    Hey, I think Voicemail still has its uses!

    I think Ken got it right when he said voicemail will never go away. The intonation of the voice provides nuance to messages that text never could. What we need is to implement changes in technology and usage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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