Goodbye Typing, Hello Recording: Rev Finally Makes Transcription Painless

How good can Rev, a $1-a-minute transcription app, really be? Read a transcription with the CEO's quotes, processed through his own service.

Typing is still the chief tool of the digital age. You can ask your iPhone little questions, or dictate emails to your tablet, if you speak like a nervous, semi-sedated translator. But getting your spoken thoughts, interviews, and meetings into text still requires transcription work. Now, however, the web has made affordable, fast, and easy to use transcription a rather convenient thing to obtain.

Rev, an audio transcription and translation service founded by early employees of online work marketplace oDesk, hits all those qualifying marks, and provides some assurances about its workforce, too. Getting your voice files to Rev is easy through its website, and nearly effortless if you use their recently launched iPhone/iPad recording app. Record through the app itself, fling the files to Rev with the speaker names attached, and the guaranteed turnaround for an hour of non-complex audio, with 98 percent accuracy, is 48 hours, for about $1 per minute. The results are mailed to you as a clean Word document.

I know this because I interviewed Rev CEO Jason Chicola, recorded the two-way conversation through Google Voice, and uploaded the 28-minute MP3 to Rev's own servers shortly before 3:06 p.m. on a Tuesday. At 12:22 p.m. Wednesday, Rev emailed me to let me know that my 4,000 words were ready. On another occasion, I took a four-and-a-half minute "note to self" about plans for a future e-book, and received the transcription back in 23 minutes.

What does 98 percent accuracy on a transcript look like? I'll use only Rev's non-corrected transcription to quote Chicola for this post. In an interview, he noted that Rev's price/accuracy/speed were pretty good by industry standards, but not record-setting—not yet, anyway.

"We named the company Rev because we know that it’s not possible to be too fast, and so we’re doing a lot of stuff in HQ to make this faster and faster," Chicola said. "We expect that the (turnaround numbers), while they’re true now, we’ll probably be twice that speed by the end of the year."

Most of the non-enterprise transcription options on the web function as front-ends for global commission marketplaces, like Amazon's Mechanical Turk. In the few times I've sought out interview transcriptions, I've come to services like NoNotes or Speechpad, among others, only to hesitate when faced with a week's turnaround time, the higher prices for 48-hour jobs, or a general uncertainty. Rev's simple pricing and convenient recording app are competitive, but it is the backend efficiency and upfront labor practices that take up the team's attention.

More than two-thirds of Rev's screened transcription workers are native English speakers—not a requirement, Chicola said, but a result of the firm's proficiency requirements. Hired freelancers use Rev's custom-built tools for transcribing: text editors with built-in shortcuts and automation tools, audio playback tools with fine-grain rewind and advance powers, foot-pedal integrations, and more.

There are a wealth of computer-powered services, free and paid, that offer quick transcription. Chicola doesn't see Siri, Evernote, Google Voice, or similar offerings as Rev's competition.

"First and most importantly, the technologies that are out there tend do work extremely poorly when you have multiple speakers," Chicola said (and Rev transcribed). "Technology that can be effective for one speaker is not effective for two speakers, and that’s an important distinction because nearly everything we transcribe is multiple speakers."

The real challenge is expanding the market. Chicola said Rev's market is segmented almost evenly between academia, lawyers, doctors, marketing firms doing surveys and panels, and journalists. More jobs that haven't traditionally had transcription services can think of Rev as a secretary, and the Rev Recorder as a kind of Dictaphone. Chicola and Rev have to get programmers and artists to consider transcription for calls with clients, and small boards of directors to send over their meetings for much more detailed minutes. To that end, Rev has an API that can automate the process even further.

Rev must, in other words, get people to trust that they can speak at length, by themselves or with others, and very quickly get those words back as text they can copy, paste, and run with.

"The bottom line is we realize it’s an enormous market and nobody was squarely focused on it," Chicola said. "We saw the opportunity to really turn the market upside down."

[Image: Flickr user Abulic Monkey]

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  • Marti Barletta

    What I don't understand is - isn't the "speech to text" problem virtually solved already via software? The iPhone's "speak instead of type" option (available any time the keyboard comes up, i.e., the little microphone icon) produces excellent transcriptions. I use it often for texts, emails, and with lots of apps for capturing lists, drafts, etc. Its only idiosyncracy is the inability to pause and continue. And you can't dictate formatting (bold, font, underline, etc.) 

    But it's much easier to use than any of the Dragon/Nuance versions I've tried, because it doesn't require any training to deliver really remarkable results, whereas Dragon requires tons of training for the software to recognize your voice and intonations; and still screws it up more than the iPhone does. Plus, I find learning and using all the punctuation and formatting "in process" very intrusive and derailing to my train of thought. I'd rather go back and do that afterwards anyway. 

    Am I missing something? Is there software/an app that has the functionality for use on a Mac, say, instead of on an iPhone? 

  • danzee

    Article seems more like an ad than a review of the service. I get the idea that Rev is using technology to streamline the transcription process, but the fact that it has about 12 staff members who are not typists, and is charging $28 for a 28-minute interview, not to mention about $1 per click-through advertising on Google, seems to me the company is either losing a great deal of money or paying their typists a lot less than minimum wage.  I've seen transcription companies set up by high-tech operations in the past, such as before the Internet bubble in 2000 exploded, and they've collapsed because of pricing.  I think the reporter should have been a bit more critical of what he was told by the company, and perhaps should have looked behind the curtain to see if this business plan is fair or has a chance of succeeding. 

  • Danielle Vales

    I started doing transcription work with Rev a few months ago, so I can definitely help with answering this question. Our pay depends on the quality of the audio and also on your level within the company. There are three basic levels within their company. You start off at level one (where I am), and your pay is between $.38 to $60 per minute of audio. After transcribing a certain number of hours at a certain quality, you are upgraded to the second level. With that comes a $.10 increase. You have to maintain this quality for every 60 day interval. The final level also allows you to review (instead of transcribe) as well. I'm not sure what the pay scale is for that, though. I have heard they pay well below most other companies, but they also hire much more entry level transcriptionists.

  • C Muelhausen

    I actually contacted the author on this company shortly after Rev sent out an email blast with the links to 3 different reviews. I sent Kevin the same message.  I did received a reply from Kevin thanking me for the feedback.  I actually tried out FoxTranscribe-the name before they became REV-because of the extraordinarily low pricing.  I have had a transcribing company for 21 years and pay my transcriptionists almost double of what REV is charging their clients.  I gave them an easy 15 min interview which was non-medical, paid upfront and received back an inferior transcript.  I called and spoke to a rep from FOX and told her that there were several inacurracies in the transcript.  She told me she would "look into it."  That was the last I heard.  Because I was still in their database I received the email blast.  It is another instance of you get what you pay for.  REV has big dollars behind them but what about the product.  Will that be sustainable?  But I guess..."How good is good enough" it seems.  I know my clients demand the best. 

  • Tinu

    What Rev could do is educate the marketplace on where we're going to be in three to seven years with talking to our computers. They're doing what the future will be, now. IF things continue as they are, why would you type if you could speak, and get those results back fast? I use SpeakWrite now, because I get my transcripts back so fast, and because of the workforce they use. 

    But it's a little rich for my blood when I just want to capture thoughts that may not be for public viewing, so I rely on Fiverr a lot too. 

    Rev fits right into that gap - if I could I would use voice transcription for a lot more things if the price was right.