Is This The Transcription App Journalists Have Been Waiting For?

Until transcribing audio is automated with any degree of accuracy, an app called oTranscribe can help ease the pain.

Ah, the hell that is audio transcription. For all the glorious efficiencies that technology has bestowed upon those of us who research and publish things for a living, the need to type out interviews hasn't gotten much easier. Expensive Mechanical Turk-powered sites like Rev.com do a decent job outsourcing the task—but what about an app that just helps you do it faster?

oTranscribe is a unified, browser-based app for transcribing audio. And while it doesn't do the heavy lifting for you, it does offer a comfortable place in which to complete your job's most tedious task.

At its core, oTranscribe is an audio player and a no-frills text editor stacked on top of each other. It's essentially the type of setup you'd use on the desktop, only it's self-contained in a single interface without the need to jump from app to app. The audio speed controls and keystrokes for quick formatting make the transcription process more efficient by reducing the need to remove one's hands from the keyboard.

Of course, transcribing will still be hellishly tedious. You'll still feel like you're ploughing through the interview, only to look up and realize that the audio timestamp has crept along at the pace of drunken snail. OTranscribe eliminates the tiny extra steps of switching between apps, using the mouse to rewind the audio and other tasks that require you to pull away from the keyboard. These little diversions can add up quickly, so the aggregate time savings in oTranscribe could be huge.

As a web-based solution, oTranscribe has some built-in disadvantages. We were pleased to find that turning off Wi-Fi didn't result in all of our hard work being lost (it saves everything as you go and has some offline functionality). That said, the minute you start clicking around the interface, you'll get a connectivity error. It works best with an Internet connection.

That also means that oTranscribe is just another tab, sitting alongside email, Twitter, and a flood of dinging notifications that can easily distract from the task at hand. For best results, we recommend giving oTranscribe its own window, minimizing everything else and, if possible, full-screening the oTranscribe window.

Here at FastCoLabs, we've had pretty good luck with Rev.com, which charges $1 per minute of audio, but oftentimes waiting 48 hours for a transcript means getting scooped by other outlets. We'll be taking oTranscribe for a spin.

Hat-tip: The Next Web

[Image: Flickr user Ak~i]

Add New Comment


  • Emily Saltz

    If you're looking for something in between a transcriptionist and transcribing from scratch, Pop Up Archive is a simple web-based transcription tool used by customers like KQED and This American Life.

    We create high-accuracy transcripts and tags with an hour or less turnaround time. You can correct the transcripts in sync with the audio with our in-site transcript editor. We have a free one hour demo, if you want to try it out: https://www.popuparchive.com/pricing

    Thanks! Emily, Community Manager at Pop Up Archive

  • Kasia Mychajlowycz

    Download ExpressScribe and you don't have to worry about connectivity. Not a particularly pleasing interface but it's been getting my jobs done since 2010 ( I do not make any money from them, just a satisfied journalist-user).

  • Jason Chicola

    Hi John,

    I’m Jason, the founder of Rev.com.

    Thanks for the shout out!

    Fwiw, our typical turnaround time for recordings under an hour is less than 12 hours. And we're getting faster every month.

    I’m glad you’re doing your homework and trying a variety of options. Here are few things to consider:

    1) We don't use Mechanical Turk. Rev has a network of tested, rated freelancers. Most have worked with us for quite a while and done hundreds of jobs. We accept less than 10% of applicants and maintain high performance standards. We do this to ensure high quality.

    2) We wish we could make the service free, but we have to pay the transcriptionists. Your decision of whether to do it yourself depends on how fast you type and how you value your time :-).

    3) We have an iphone app that lets you save time, by ordering the transcription as soon as you finish an interview:


    Good luck!