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The coming of voice portals

October 2000

You've got to try Tellme--if you haven't already done so. And forgive me for yet another geewhiz column. As much as I've used new technologies I always end up being astounded by something that comes along. And today it's Tellme.

Tellme isn't a web site, it's a "voice portal." As you know, the term portal has come to refer to sites like Yahoo that offer lots of features such as news, weather, e-mail, searching, shopping, and more. Voice portals similarly give you access to a wide range of information, but you access it by calling an 800 number and simply speaking choices from a menu. Tellme can be reached by calling 1-800-555-TELL.

And it's a surprising amount of fun. How to describe it? A friendly voice comes on and makes it easy to speak your choices. You always know where you're at and what to do next. In my test the system was flawless and understood perfectly what I said. The main menu offers some 18 categories, including weather, time, movies, sports, stock quotes, news, and elections.

If you select news, you can choose from a range of selections such as top stories. If you select that, you then hear a CNN newscast not unlike what you'd hear at the top of the hour on the radio. Select weather and it automatically recognizes what city you're from and offers you the current conditions and forecast. If you want it will also tell you the extended forecast. You can request the weather for any city.

Sometimes these sorts of services just have information for larger cities, but in this case it was able to tell me the weather for Fairfield, the movies that are playing at the Co-Ed Theater, even the restaurants available in town. You can tell it what kind of food you want, such as Mexican, and it will tell you the name and location of the restaurant and then offer to connect you.

Sports seems to be limited to professional level, so I didn't have any luck getting the results from the regional college football games. The stock quote feature worked well, offering up-to-the minute quotes on stocks that I'm interested in. I have to admit that this is a lot faster than logging on to my online broker if I just want to get a quick quote.

The elections choice offered recorded messages by Al Gore and George Bush on a range of issues, including economy, education, health care, taxes, and social security. You simply speak out the issue, and then it plays each candidate's message in turn.

The phone booth selection on the main menu simply lets you place a free, two-minute, long-distance call.

© 2000 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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