Lycos enters the voice portal market

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From: Adam Rifkin (
Date: Thu Aug 17 2000 - 16:50:22 PDT

Bonus points, Rohit: Lycos struck a deal with Evoke too...

Full circle: once upon a time, there was a phone. Then, there was a
phone directory. Then, someone thought to make the World Wide Web so we
could view phone directories from our PC's. And now, people are trying
to move the Web back onto the phone. :)

> Lycos to go mobile with Web site offerings
> By Gwendolyn Mariano
> Staff Writer, CNET
> August 17, 2000, 4:45 p.m. PT
> Lycos today said it will launch a free service that provides Web-based
> information over the phone.
> Under an agreement with Mobilee, a Boston-based company that provides
> speech recognition technologies, Lycos said the new voice portal will be
> available by the end of the year. The service will let people call a
> local access number and use voice-activated commands to retrieve stock
> prices, weather, movie listings and other information over the phone
> from Lycos' network of Web sites.
> The market to offer such services is already filled with competitors
> ranging from early-stage start-ups such as Tellme Networks to giants
> like Lucent. But analysts say Lycos has a jump-start on its rivals
> because it already has developed an audience, while start-ups are just
> beginning to attract customers.
> "The competition is crowded, but it's not crowded with the existing
> major portals so far," said Joe Laszlo, analyst at Jupiter
> Communications. "Lycos is kind of an innovator, but it remains to be
> seen just how much consumer demand there will be for this kind of
> service."
> According to Cyber Dialogue, 25 percent of U.S. adults said they
> would use the Internet with a wireless portable device, but only 3
> percent plan to buy cell phones with Internet capability. Currently,
> only 4 percent have such phones.
> "Usability is the main issue...You don't want to frustrate consumers,"
> said Cyber Dialogue analyst Idil Cakim. "The early adopters are testing
> it now. If it passes through their usability, then it's going to expand
> to more mainstream audiences."
> Lycos said its strategy is to reach people who are not online, including
> those who do not have PCs or are physically disabled.
> "We're extending our user base to different devices," said Jason Pavona,
> director of wireless strategy and personalization at Lycos.
> The service delivers information as streaming audio rather than solely
> as text-based messages. Customers will also be able to choose the
> information they want to receive.
> Cakim said that since Lycos has many customers already, the service
> gives it an edge by making its content available through different
> devices. She added, however, that because the service is free, it
> remains to be seen how Lycos will generate revenue.
> "The question is: Will they be able to translate this later into an
> e-commerce or subscription-based (model)?" Cakim said.
> Lycos also announced today that it has launched a Webcasting and voice
> chat service with technology company Evoke.

> Voice portal companies overshooting demand
> By John Borland
> Staff Writer, CNET
> May 9, 2000, 11:20 a.m. PT
> A new generation of Internet companies has sprung up almost overnight,
> aimed at providing Web-like information to people who dial up an
> ordinary toll-free number over the telephone.
> But the explosion of new companies trying to enter this market--in which
> consumer demand is still untested, at best--is producing a case of too
> much too soon, analysts say.
> "There are probably too many people on the bus at this point," said Mark
> Plakias, vice president of voice and wireless commerce at the Kelsey
> Group. "There are only so many people that can introduce a
> first-generation product."
> That likely means a shakeout, an unwelcome idea for an industry that has
> barely taken its first steps into the market.
> The dozens of companies now involved in the "voice portal" market are
> hoping to get in on the ground floor of a wave of new services sweeping
> through the telecommunications industry, sparked as Internet features
> slowly filter back to the traditional telephone. Already the big
> telephone companies are adopting services such as Web-accessible voice
> mail and fax services and are looking for new ways to boost use of their
> networks.
> It's this hunger that many of the start-ups hope to fill. The "voice
> portal" companies are lining up at the big carriers' doors, hoping to
> win the right to become a kind of default voice-activated service on
> every telephone.
> The stakes underlying this effort are high, particularly for the smaller
> companies with solid technology but limited funding. Building a consumer
> brand in the niche, in which it's necessary to persuade listeners to
> call a toll-free number on their own, requires substantial marketing
> muscle, which could be difficult to come by in a day when Wall Street
> has curbed its enthusiasm for untested business models.
> The carriers say they're interested. But they're not yet giving any
> clues about which companies they might partner with, or when.
> "We're always interested in exploring any opportunity where we see there
> is customer demand," said Ashley Pindell, a Sprint PCS spokeswoman. "We
> definitely think people are interested in it."
> Although the game has barely begun, a few companies are rising to the
> top of the market. Tellme Networks, which launched its beta service last
> month, has spent a considerable portion of its initial $53 million
> venture funding in creating a service that sounds like real humans
> reading the information. That means high production costs, particularly
> for a service that plans to cover every movie, restaurant, sports event
> and weather pattern in the United States.
> Of all the services aiming for market, Tellme may be the most
> comfortable in declaring its independence from the telephone companies,
> at least for now. Chief executive Mike McCue says his long-term plans
> are to be "part of people's dial tone"--a goal that requires partnering
> with carriers. But for now, he's content to drive the consumer
> marketing campaign himself, he says.
> Others are springing up by the day, however. Rival BeVocal has its own
> well-stocked war chest, with a $45 million round of funding still fresh
> in its account books. The whimsically named has launched its
> own full national service and is getting valuable information about how
> people use its service. It's also beginning to bring this information to
> carriers.
> But some smaller players are taking an inside path. has
> partnered with giant Lucent, aiming to ride that company's connections
> and technology into the carrier world. Another start-up dubbed Voice
> Access Technologies is working with GTE to provide voice recognition
> services.
> While the carrier route may prove more stable in the long run--if the
> start-ups can break through the inertia of the traditional
> communications companies' buying cycle--analysts aren't confident that
> the deep-pocketed telephone companies can market any better than the
> start-ups.
> "Carriers are really not good at marketing enhanced services such as
> voice portals," Plakias said.
> The Kelsey Group has taken an optimistic look at the young market,
> predicting that advertising and transaction revenue for these "voice
> portals" will produce $5 billion in revenues by 2005 and another $6
> billion for associated hardware, software and Net service provider
> companies.
> But long before that time, the scores of companies now heading for
> market will have to be winnowed somehow, analysts say.
> "Fifteen of these guys are going to launch," said Jupiter Communications
> analyst Seamus McAteer. "But there's no room for more than two or three
> companies in this space."

> Start-ups dream of a Web that talks
> By John Borland
> Staff Writer, CNET
> February 8, 2000, 12:10 p.m. PT
> Eventually, the Internet all comes back to the telephone.
> That's what a handful of start-ups aimed at providing access to the Web
> over the telephone believe. With services aimed at people without
> computers, or who are between computers, the firms--such as TelSurf
> Networks, which debuted this week--provide services that read email,
> stock quotes, sports scores or even limited Web pages to their
> subscribers.
> The services are far from a replacement for a computer and a real Net
> connection. Trying to browse any Web page with pictures, video or even a
> large amount of text with this kind of interface is still impossible or
> wildly impractical. But analysts say the services could provide a
> critical on-ramp for people who need a quick burst of information on the
> road, such as a stock quote or news headlines, or for people who don't
> have computers at all.
> Already Web portal services such as Yahoo are beginning to look to this
> telephone access as a new means of reaching the masses of people not
> online, according to analysts.
> "I think this is the next step in the evolution of the portal," said
> Peter Bernstein, an analyst with industry consultants Infonautics
> Corp. "This class of company is going to fill a big niche. Potentially a
> very big niche."
> The navigation systems are a key to these companies and will likely
> determine their success or failure, analysts note. TelSurf--along with
> slightly scaled-back versions from companies such as BeVocal, VoiceMate
> and even a new service from BellSouth--uses voice recognition software
> that allows surfers to ask for the next thing they want, with commands
> such as "Stocks" or "Give me my stocks."
> If the companies can make this interface nearly as seamless as the Web's
> point-and-click, they've got a strong future, analysts say.


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