My First Article Written (Almost) Completely Through Siri

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 20:02

I'm no stranger to the field of voice-to-text translation. Over the past decade, I've used several product iterations from a company by the name of DragonSpeak. Despite the claims of accuracy for anyone that takes the time to use the system long enough, I must be one of the outliers. Perhaps I speak too quickly or maybe I don't enunciate my words, because I found the error rates to be somewhere between five and ten percent no matter how much training I put in. As a result, the amount of time I spent correcting the many mistakes. This was not only time consuming, but it was more stressful than just sitting down and writing myself while trying to keep up with the speed at which I could dictate. This is unfortunate because I'm well aware of the benefits of voice dictation as it provides a different tone and different quality then manual writing. I also find talking out loud to be much more enjoyable process regarding thinking through a concept or idea.

Essentially, despite many attempts, I came to the conclusion that voice-to-text translation tools were just not a good fit for me.

Things changed after my daughter was born 20 months ago. I love her to pieces, but she is a handful! And the amount of opportunities that I have for continuous, uninterrupted writing in front of a computer is essentially nil. By contrast, it's easy to whip out my phone and record a 2-minute conversation while holding her or taking her for a walk in the stroller in the park.

You might ask why I don't just take that raw video and/or audio and post that up online. Why bother with the overhead of converting to a text article when that is a barrier to entry that prevents me from getting more content out there? It's a great question. The answer is that I'm a firm believer that text to still the dominant medium, particularly on the web. Yes, we're seeing an increase in popularity of video and photo sharing. However, videos are not as searchable and as scannable as the written word. The written word is also the most accessible format, consumable by those that are blind and deaf. It's also the most translatable into other formats and into other languages. In the end, very few things will forever compete with the power of the written word.

I must say that the latest version of Siri has been a game changer. I'm writing this right now while pushing my baby in the stroller and walking my dog using Siri on an iPhone 5s. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I didn't post this raw. I'm already 15 minutes into editing, but it's largely tightening up my stream of consciousness flow instead of trying to figure out nonsense statements like "troubled garbage down the tin roof sands". Now, if you've ever visited the site Damn You Autocorrect, you're familiar with the hilarity that can come about as a result of these unintentional mistakes. But it's not funny when they are so numerous that you can't decipher the original idea.

That, for me, has been the biggest gain with Siri. I've learned to not sweat the accuracy (which has arguably improved dramatically since I started dabbling in this 10 years ago), but instead focused on getting the intention and the meaning down. I can then focus on refinement knowing that I already have the necessary pieces. This lowers the barrier to entry and allows me to get more communication handled, even things that I don't publish on the web (such as emails to clients for work). And those "Damn You Autocorrect" moments? Well, they are always good for a laugh and sometimes a great idea.

My Setup

There are a couple ways you can go about it. I typically use a combination of Siri and an iPhone app called Plaintext. This allows me to quickly create a new document that saves to Dropbox so that I can easily pull it up (and clean it up) once I get to a computer with a keyboard. Alternatively, there are audio recording apps that have integrations with 3rd party transcription services. Your mileage may vary, but that is an alternative to Siri in that you can record one large chunk and then process in bulk.

In either approach, you can still record in chunks, which is perfect when you only have small moments of time, such as being on Daddy duty with a very active child! And while this hasn't been my preferred writing methodology, it has allowed me to work within the constraints of working long hours at work, being an involved father, and still trying to squeeze in little creative bursts here and there. And as I've learned in college in a creative writing class, sometimes constraints are a blessing in disguise. It's a constraint that limits the answer space in one way so that we may explore and be more creative in others.

In closing, I hope you find this article helpful, particularly if you face similar challenges with respect to your time. At the very least, maybe it's a content creation strategy that you can add to your repertoire to keep things interesting.

PS. 40 minutes of editing later, I have a published article! It's not perfect, but it's way better than not writing at all.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.