Group Messaging Works Both Ways

Group2Call added a new feature that allows users of its Message Center group messaging service to capture responses to outbound messages.

Called Visual Reply, the feature allows broadcast message recipients to reply by speaking into their phones. Group2Call then takes those responses, transcribes them to text using Nuance Communications’ speech recognition and text-to-speech technologies, and displays them as emails sent to the message’s originator. The person who sent the original group message can view the responses as text messages or hear the recorded voice file.

Group2Call first launched its Message Center service about two years ago, primarily as a way for schools to communicate with parents in the event of an emergency on campus. The service offers a way for teachers or school officials to type a message or record a message by phone through a toll-free number, and then have that message sent out to everyone in a pre-established contact list as a voice, SMS, or email file.

The problem with these applications has typically been that they are largely limited to one-way communications, says Alan Lougher, CEO of Group2Call. There are a handful of services—including Group2Call’s Message Center—that have allowed users to respond with numbers pressed on a phone keypad, "but they typically limit you to keys 0 to 9, and then you have to remember what keys 0 to 9 mean," Lougher says.

"We’re already transcribing the outgoing message to text, so why not do it the other way too?" he asks. "And if you send out 100 messages, you probably don’t have time to go through 100 audio responses, so the best way to get the answer is a text or email."

Lougher expects the Visual Reply option to be particularly useful for search and rescue teams to coordinate team member locations out in the field. In fact, a number of such teams are currently testing the product.

Though it is available right now, Group2Call will start promoting Visual Reply within the next month or so, "once we’ve cleared the bugs and seen how it works when scaled with a large number of users," Lougher says.

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