Dial In to Web-based Call Recording and Transcription

Wednesday Oct 6th 2010 by Kenny Schiff
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Cogi.com, a Web-based service, lets you focus on your meetings instead of taking notes, and then emails you a full transcript within 24 hours.

Like any small business owner, I wear many hats. On any given day I may be working on small business marketing communications, project management, business operations and sales activities. These often involve a seemingly endless cycle of conference calls and meetings that are chock full of information that I need to refer back to with accuracy.

Whether I'm defining customer requirements, updating project progress, or writing interview-based articles, capturing multi-party conversations while recording key details can be challenging. Even when I take good notes, compiling and distributing the information is a time-consuming task.

In search of a Web tool that would let me focus on the meetings and not on taking notes, I recently discovered Cogi.com, a service that provides Web-based applications for call recording and transcription.

What is Cogi and How Does it Work?

Cogi subscribers can record phone calls, conference calls, personal memos and meetings from any phone or from an iPhone app. They can then choose to transcribe the entire call (or meeting) or just the important moments.

Choosing what gets transcribed involves clicking a button within the application or using the keypad of a phone that is registered to the Cogi system. An iPhone application lets you record the audio from live meetings, along with the same transcription workflow. There's even a way to use any speakerphone to record live meetings.

You can operate Cogi from its website and your phone alone without installing any software (the iPhone application operates separately and distinctly). As a subscriber you have the option of installing a cross-platform Adobe Air-based application to manage and trigger calls, which nicely initiates the call to your own telephone (desk phone or cell phone), and then to the receiving party (which you can pick from a list), and bridges it all together.

Even though Cogi manages the call, your recipients still receive your normal Caller ID.

Cogi uses a combination of technologies to produce accurate, fast-turnaround transcripts regardless of the source. Cogi does not use speech-to-text technology alone (not sure how it pulls it off are doing it, but there may be human beings in the mix), and promises to produce transcripts that are 99 percent accurate (more on my experience later).

It's important to note that transcription is not handled on the fly, or by your device, and processing can take up to 24 hours. Subscribers get alerted via email when their completed transcription is available.

Cogi subscribers can review recorded audio and transcripts in an online portfolio where they can easily search for words within call transcripts and share conversations with anyone. Once a session is captured in the portfolio, it's easy to print transcripts and copy the captured text to email and other applications.

Service Details

Subscribers can opt for three different monthly plan levels with no long term commitment. Cogi Lite costs $4.95 a month; Cogi Standard costs $24.95 per month; and Cogi Premium costs $49.95 a month. Each plan includes a baseline of call and transcription minutes, along with a pay-as-you-go rate for additional calls or transcriptions. The Premium Plan brings calls down to $.08 minute and transcription to $1.00/minute.

If your phone system or conference call service handles call recording (mine does), or you have a digital recorder that can output in standard formats (e.g. .MP3, .AAC or .WAV), you can use Cogi's standalone transcription service @ $1.50 per minute (less for volume).

The iPhone application is available in the App store for $1.99, along with inexpensive packages of transcription minutes. Cogi offers a free 30-day trial, which includes 300 calling minutes and 20 minutes of transcription.

Transcribing from an Existing Recording

Publicity is important for any entrepreneur, and I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed for a local radio show, a piece that really should be on my business website. Audio recordings are great; however, search engines like Google or Bing can't access all the rich keywords that pepper audio-only interviews. For search engine marketing purposes, it's smart to post a transcript.

While I could have hired a traditional transcription service, or painstakingly transcribed it myself, there had to be a better way. To get my radio interview copy online, I used Cogi Transcribe (the transcription-only solution).

Less than 24 hours after uploading the 28 and a half minute .mp3 file I received from the radio show's producer, I had a blow-by blow-transcript that was remarkably accurate. It cost $42.60.

It then took about 30 minutes for me to clean up the interview (mostly proper names and removal of non essential filler words). The entire process was clean, simple and a good value.

Using Cogi for Call Recording and Transcription

The second project was a one-on-one telephone interview with Brent Lang, president of Vocera Communications, which was the basis for an article that appears on one of Small Business Computing's sister sites, EnterpriseMobileToday.com. I used Cogi's call recording and transcription feature and its desktop application for Brent's interview.

Before the call, I entered Brent's contact information into the Cogi Web app, and a few clicks later we were talking and recording. As with the radio interview, the results were impressive. The 30-minute interview produced a nearly 5,000 word transcript, which I had in my hands for editing within 24 hours.

Having the audio and transcription completely in sync within the same Web browser window was incredibly efficient. As I constructed my article copy, I was able to easily move back and forth between sections and properly capture the nuances of our recorded conversation. No fast forward or rewind.

There were some minor inaccuracies in the transcript, but no worse than traditional transcription services I've used. The added benefit to Cogi managing the call was that the two speakers (me and Brent) were properly attributed throughout the transcript.

What You can Expect

What you notice upon reading a Cogi transcription is the number of filler words. Cogi's transcription magic is going to capture every "uh," "um," "like," and "you know" scattered throughout the captured session. If you need to deliver a finished product to a customer, ridding your document of these empty words is easy enough in your word processor of choice.

In practice the transcripts were amazingly accurate; however, the 99 percent rate Cogi advertises is an impractical promise because your recordings are likely to include specialized terminology, proper nouns and filler terms. Still, being able to easily manage the entire recording and transcription process through a self-service mechanism is a powerful tool to have available.

The weakest part of my Cogi experience was moving the transcript from the browser to Microsoft Word, which I handled via old fashioned cut-and-paste. While this is definitely not a show stopper, I did wish I could convert the transcript into an editable format in one step.

The transcription-only service is available on a pay-as-you go service; however, the call-recording component requires an on-going subscription of at least $4.95 a month. Finally, the combination of call recording and transcription can quickly get pricey for a small business, so the call recording begs for a pay-as-you-go plan, too.

All in all, Cogi's service worked as advertised, and it greatly improved my productivity on two important projects.

Kenny Schiff is a regular contributor to Internet.com's EnterpriseMobileToday.com. He is also the founder and president of TPC Healthcare, a specialty provider of real-time location and point-of-care communication technologies to hospitals and health care organizations.

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