BY KATHERINE BOEHRET
Despite spam and other problems, email is highly useful and effective. You can quickly send and receive messages, delete or forward them, and save them for reading at a later time. A glance at your inbox can tell you a lot about each message, including its subject, sender and the time it was received.
But voice mail lags behind in key ways. A voice mail still doesn't tell you the caller's name or reason for calling unless you listen to at least part of it. You usually can't reply to a voice mail with a message of your own, as with email; instead, you must call the person back. And you can't easily jump from the most recent voice mail to the10th without listening to every message in between.
Still, voice mail has its place. A phone call is much more personal than an email, and lets you use vocal inflection to express your point, whereas email expressions can sometimes be misinterpreted. And it's often easier and faster to speak your message than to type it out.
This week, I tested Pinger, a free messaging service that tries to make voice mail more usable by emphasizing its strengths and making it a little more like email, or like a cellphone text message. This new service comes from Pinger Inc, a Silicon Valley-based company started by former Palm Inc. employees.