I’m such a pushover. For weeks now, a publicist that I’ll call Davida (because that’s her name) has been hassling me to write something about her client, a new unified messaging startup called eVoice.
I resisted because I’ve never been too keen on all-in-one messaging “solutions” that often end up creating problems for busy travelers. I’ve always felt that if you’ve found what works for you, you’re probably better off skipping the newfangled telephony-based messaging services online.
Besides, a good many readers of this feature already use more robust corporate messaging services offered by the likes of Key Voice, Lucent and Active Voice.
Which isn’t to say that I haven’t written about the alternatives. Onebox.com and Jfax.com have gotten a lot of coverage in this column over the years. Evoice’s other competitors, including Shoutmail and myTalk were ignored in favor of more engaging – and honestly, more meaningful – topics like hotels telecommunications surcharges or cell phone use by drivers.
But you know publicists. Earlier this year, I couldn’t say “no” to a press agent named Madonna who wanted me to cover a product called WindowBlinds. And now, after being on the receiving end of more than a dozen e-mails from Davida, I’m caving in once again. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the technology publicists of the world are sharing notes about “that columnist who will write anything if we bug him enough.”
Yeah, that might be true, but my friends in the PR business should be careful. I might not like their client.
To say I didn’t care for eVoice would be something of an exaggeration. I think it’s a cute idea, but I’m not sure it’s right for road warriors. Basically, eVoice offers free voicemail and it claims to be the only nationwide service that can answer your phone. The service allows you to pick up messages from another phone via a toll-free number, by e-mail or on the Web.
As with anything “free” there’s a catch: in exchange for the service, you have to listen to a brief advertising message every time you check your voice mail.
Subscribers like Tim McMurray, a San Jose, Calif., software engineer, don’t mind the ads. “Sometimes,” he says, “They’re kind of interesting. And to me, they’re not all that intrusive.”
For end-users such as McMurray, who tapped eVoice to consolidate his home answering machines, this kind of service is truly useful. McMurray likes the way eVoice answers his phone when he’s surfing the ‘Net at home and then e-mails him the message, so if it’s an important call, he can log off the single phone line he uses for his dial-up service and can return the call.
But will eVoice work for business travelers? I wouldn’t count on it.
First, the good news. If you can live with its flaws – and there are a handful of them – then eVoice can save you some money. This should appeal to the SOHO set and entrepreneurs among you who can’t justify the big bucks that an internal unified messaging system would cost. McMurray estimates that he’s saved upward of $40 a month in long-distance bills because eVoice offers toll-free access to his messages.
“I’ll be on the road in Santa Cruz, for example, and I won’t have to use my phone card to call in for my messages,” says McMurray.
Another user, Keith Shaffer, echoed his sentiments: “I don’t understand exactly how they can offer it for free, but I’m not complaining.”
Now for the not-so-good news. EVoice isn’t really nationwide. I tried to set up an account here in Annapolis, Md., and it wouldn’t let me. Seems an agreement with my local carrier, Bell Atlantic, is still in the works. So I tried the next-best thing – a “Web Voicemail” account that wasn’t connected to a phone number. The Web site allowed me to register, but try as hard as I might, I couldn’t access the mailbox or send myself a message afterwards.
There have also been problems with the messages – when they are sent – taking upward of 24 hours to reach the intended mailbox (eVoice says those bugs have been fixed.)
But even if my problem is a fluke, that still leaves the ads. Let’s be honest: ads are okay for the home user, but when we’re at the airport and time is money, the very last thing we want to do is listen to 15-second promo for a new product. Add to that my own experience of the toll-free number being busy about 30 percent of the time when I tried to dial it and you’re looking at the kind of service you probably wouldn’t want to rely on while you’re away.
What frequent travelers need is a no-nonsense, reliable unified messaging system that runs without glitches – or gimmicks. Services like eVoice may someday become that, but for now they’re just toys that are a lot of fun for home users.