Skype is an excellent VoIP phone service for telecommuters or company employees who travel a lot. You can make and receive calls from your computer for free, and get a personalized phone number, voicemail, and other upgrades for a small fee.
Skype announced a new fee-based feature this week, voice-to-text messaging, that's a great conceptual idea but isn't ready for prime time. The service already offers free email notification that someone is trying to reach you via the service, and will also send you an SMS notification if you have a voicemail message waiting, but neither give details about the message itself.
Now voicemails left for Skype customers can be converted and sent to users via SMS -- at 25 cents a pop. Longer voicemails will be broken up over up to three SMS messages, each billed individually. If three SMS messages still aren't enough you're out of luck because the rest of the message will simply be cut off. Words that can't be understood during the conversion process will appear as a question mark or space. If an entire message is too garbled to be understood, you'll still be charged for the Skype's effort.
Download.com's Seth Rosenblatt has more details. "Fortunately for the cost-conscious, there are several options for cutting down on quickly running up a massive bill. Users can configure which of their Skype contacts will have their voice messages converted, so it's not an all-or-nothing deal. Messages will also only be sent after a 10-minute delay, so you don't have to worry about getting a text if you walk away from your desk for a few minutes. You'll have the option of configuring a maximum number of voicemail conversions per day, too. An obvious problem with that is missing that must-get voicemail, but at least the option will be there."
I like that Skype is attempting its own version of visual voicemail, a option made popular by the iPhone and the free service messaging service You Mail. The 25-cent fee is reasonable for something that no-doubt costs Skype a fair amount to provide. I'm not crazy, though, about paying for a service that still needs its kinks worked out. Still, if you or your company relies on Skype to get things done, the new voice-to-text feature is a nice option to have.