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The History of Voicemail

The Voicemail Demand

In the later part of the 1970's the cost of making a telephone call rapidly decreased, which resulted in more and more business communications being done by phone. This in turn led to the explosive demand for voicemail. As companies grew and salaries increased the ratio of secretaries to employees decreased. This created difficulties for callers always being able to reach the person they wanted. In fact some studies suggested that only 1 in every 4 business calls resulted in a successful completion. This severely hampered the effectiveness of business communications and it decreased individual and group productivity, particularly if the issue was time critical.

The First Voicemail System

Voicemail was invented in the late 1970's by the late successful entrepreneur Gordon Mathews who formed a company called VMX (an acronym for Voice Message Express). He sold the first voicemail system to 3M. This ‘Voice Message Exchange' managed electronic messages in a digital format.

Initially voicemail systems were very expensive and consequently they were only available to the largest companies. However, with the introduction of PC based voice processing boards manufactured by companies such as Dialogic, software developers were able to develop voicemail software that would work on industry standard personal computers. This meant that voicemail systems could be produced at a fraction of the cost.

Until 1988 telephone operators and the newly formed mobile (cellular) phone companies in the USA were barred by law from offering voicemail to their subscribers. The FCC did this to protect the telephone answering businesses in the US. On March 7, 1988 a ruling by Judge Greene reversed this barrier and the phone companies were allowed to offer voicemail services, although they were still barred from manufacturing the equipment needed to provide voicemail services. Once the phone companies were allowed to offer voicemail services it really caught on, particularly for mobile (cell phone) subscribers.

The Future of Voicemail

By the beginning of the Millennium voicemail had become an ubiquitous feature on business PABXs, mobile (cellular) phones and residential subscribers.

More recently though, voicemail is becoming an anachronism in the wake of the explosion of email, SMS and IM all of which are text based. This is because it takes much longer to listen to a message than to read it. And voicemail is usually outside of our typical workflow, making it hard to forward or reply to easily.

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- The Death of Voicemail
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- Voicemail Etiquettte


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