antirez 2963 days ago. 208725 views.
I’m aboard of a flight bringing me to San Francisco. Eventually I purchased the slowest internet connection of my life (well at least for a good reason), but for several hours I was without internet, as usually when I fly.

I don’t mind staying disconnected for some time usually. It’s a good time to focus, write some code, or a blog post like this one. However when I’m disconnected, what makes the most difference is not Facebook or Twitter or Github, but the lack of text messages.

At this point text messages are a fundamental thing in my life. They are also probably the main source of distraction. I use messages to talk with my family, even just to communicate between different floors. I use messages with friends to organize dinners and vacations. I even use messages with the plumber or the doctor.

Clearly messages are not going to go away. They need to get better, so I usually tend to thing at topics related to messaging applications. The following are three recurrent thoughts I’ve about this topic.

1. WhatsApp is not used in the US.

Do you know what’s the social network that is reshaping the most the way we communicate in Europe? Is the WhatsApp application. Since it is the total standard and an incredible amount of the population has it, “WhatsApp Groups” is changing the way people communicate. There is a group for each school class, one for the children and one for the parents. One for families, another for groups of friends. One for the kindergarten of my daughter, where teachers post from time to time pictures of our children doing activities.

WhatsApp is also one of the main pains of modern life. All this groups continuously beep. However what they are doing for the society is incredible: they are truly making every human being interconnected. This magic is possible because here in Italy, and in most other EU countries, WhatsApp is *the standard* so everybody assumes you use it.

To me it is pretty incredible that this is not happening in the US, the place where most social applications are funded and created. Given that in the US there are both Android and iOS phones I wonder what’s stopping this from happening. My guess is that it’s just a matter of time and a unified messaging platform will happen there too.

* Why voice recognition is not used more.

For people that can write text fast into a real keyboard, the software keyboard of the phone is one of the most annoying things ever. Similarly, teenagers excluded, many other people have issues writing long text messages with a phone keyboard.

At the same time, the voice recognition software of Android, powered by the Google servers, reached a point where it rarely does errors at all, so why just a few people use it on a daily basis? My theory is that the user interface to activate and use the voice recognition feature is so bad to be the main barrier to make this feature a big hit.

First you have to find how to activate it, and usually is not a prominent button on the keyboard. Then there is this delay and it emits a beep and starts to listen, and it’s not clear exactly how to stop it, especially if the environment is aloud. The whole thing looks like if you are suffering from the servers latency, but voice is voice. With delays and non clear experience you kill the big advantage of talking to your phone. This should be just a “push the button while you talk” thing. When you push the button, the system starts to record your voice immediately and connects asynchronously to the servers. As text arrives back, it is shown to the user. When the user releases the button the voice thing is done. As simple as that. At the end, the words that were inserted in this way could be shown in some special way (like a different gray) in the text area, so that one can tap individual words and select alternatives if there are errors.

Please Google freaking do that. I wonder if it’s any better on iOS, I don’t use it for some time at this point.

* Auto transcription of text messages.

Since the phone keyboard is such a mess, people are using more and more voice messages, especially with WhatsApp. It is very convenient for people writing messages, since there is the “push and talk” experience that there is not in the speech to text feature. However it is not always very convenient for the people receiving the message, that may be in an environment where to listen to the conversation is not easy.

However there is something that could work in that regard, that is, the WhatsApp (or whatever) servers, should automatically translate the message to text, so that the user can both play the message or just look at the text, if it’s clear enough. When there are doubts on given words, the text can be highlighted in some way to show the user that it’s better to listen to the voice message since there are non clear words, however this could easily make 95% of messages promptly available to the user just reading.

This way the feature would be friction-less both ways, for the users writing (dictating actually) and for the user receiving the messages.

TLDR: Messaging is everywhere, make it better.
🚀 Dear reader, the first six chapters of my AI sci-fi novel, WOHPE, are now available as a free eBook. Click here to get it.
blog comments powered by Disqus