Facebook Integrates SpinVox Speech-to-Text Applications

The online social networking community Facebook and Microsoft have a lot in common: college dropouts founded both companies, each started with a shoestring budget, and both have shown interest in speech applications.

While Microsoft has enabled speech solutions in many of its software products, Facebook will join the company in its launch of SpinVox’s speech-to-text (STT) applications. Microsoft should note the announcement, as it follows the company’s announcement today that it has purchased a $240 million share (a 1.6 percent stake) in Facebook. The networking site’s estimated worth is approximately $15 billion, according to market research firm eMarketer.

England-based SpinVox’s STT applications allow Facebook users to update their status (a message on their profile screen that tells users’ friends what they are doing); write on a ‘wall’ (comment boards), send messages to other users, and post blog-like ‘note’ entries to their profiles. The deal gives SpinVox an edge in the social network industry and has the potential to expose the company’s technology to Facebook’s 15 million registered users. Daniel Dulton, SpinVox’s chief strategy officer and cofounder, explains, however, that a free version of the STT application will be available to a limited number of users during early deployment stages.

"We’re offering an introductory three-month free trial period to the first 10,000 users, after which we’ll announce our plans to commercialize the service," he says. "One of the things we’ve noticed is that while people find it easy to understand the idea of speaking text, it is only once they have started to use it that they really appreciate just how much benefit they get from our services, so it’s important that they are able to try it for free and see how it integrates with their lifestyle."

His statements echo what could be a hurdle for SpinVox to overcome: achieving strong adoption rates among Facebook’s core audience of college students. While many Facebook users have mobile phones, the question of whether they will want to update their profiles through the service remains unclear. The site’s strong visual elements (user photos, profile information, friend updates, and extra applications) draw many users to Facebook in the first place; an STT application does not allow users to view visual information. But, Dulton says, the users’ ability to update their profile anywhere, at any time, is what will attract users to the service.

"It is compelling to be able to share the emotion as it happens, just by saying it and not having to wait until they’re back at a PC and online," he says in reference to the company’s Blogging Through SpinVox application.

Further, Dulton cites an 80 percent user retention rate among users of its Text Through SpinVox product, explaining that, while users may be reluctant initially, the application’s sheer convenience will make users stay with the service. For the Facebook venture, Dulton says SpinVox will depend largely on user feedback and word-of-mouth to market its product, and hope it catches on.

"We’re keen to let the community decide how best to share this service," he states. "We will be working with the community and the hosts themselves to make this as simple to get and use as possible."

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