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Voice Portals

The emerging (as at Summer 2000) voice portals allow you to throw away your mouse and to obtain information from the net using voice commands - and you get the information presented to you by a human (or nearly human in some cases) voice. Several companies have launched such portals in the USA and they will be hitting the UK shortly. They use speech recognition technology to interpret your commands and text-to-voice technology to present information. Many of them also use the emerging VoiceXML standard markup language to prepare information for delivery via these new services.

It is not possible to surf the wider web but this is a useful technology for simple information requests - train and theatre times, booking a restaurant reservation (after hearing a review of the restaurant, perhaps) or a flight, and so on. (This is also the area that has been singled out for WAP phone application so it will be interesting to see which technology emerges as the winner.)

The US services are free to the user - the penalty is the imposition of advertisements within the messages, though, to be fair, these are kept at a non-annoying level. Of course, such portals will not be 'free' in the UK since we pay telephone charges, and since the services are most useful when you are out and about, and phone charges are significantly higher on mobile phones, there is a cost benefit analysis to be done by the user.

The great attribute is that they require the user to use only old-fashioned technology - the humble phone. This is therefore a very accessible service with great market penetration potential. Of course the existing services are used by very few users, yet. It is too soon to know whether the services are using truly scalable technology.

Of the US services, TellMe expects to launch in the UK by the end of 2001 and Audiopoint is in talks with potential European partners. Expect others!

To see what a voice portal is, and can do, see

see also the Topic : Portal Power

TellMe has opened up its voice recognition system so that users can develop their own applications. Developers sign up for the TellMe Studio and can then build, test and publish a voice recognition IVR system with only a web browser. The Studio includes a full set of development tools to allow developers to create VoiceXML code. Developers also get access to - and therefore help from - TellMe's developer community. Obviously, TellMe is not being altrusitic - they are hoping that they gain from such development either in providing the tools for the system to be fully deployed, or perhaps acting as a host via their own portal.


Many major players – HeyAnita, BeVocal and Tellme included – are now actively targeting the corporate market, because when there’s a strong business case, people are prepared to pay for convenient access to information. AOLbyPhone, for example, is a voice portal that’s already signed up hundreds of thousands of customers all paying $4.95 a month to access their e-mails by phone. Similarly, GM Onstar has launched a full in-car voice portal service that provides voice dialling services, as well as traffic reports, stock prices, directions, news and weather.

What these voice portal players are effectively doing is becoming ASPs. AOLbyPhone, using SpeechWorks speech recognition technology, and GM Onstar, using Nuance technology, are operating a ‘one to many’ model. This may be a trend - and we may shortly see other voice portal companies offering ‘one-to-one’ services, taking in-house unified messaging and IVR applications away from businesses and hosting them in the network. Redmond Software is doing this, providing its voice portal technology to an Argentinian car insurance company for quotations.

The economies of scale that can be achieved by such a move are huge. Natural language speech recognition technology is hugely demanding of both software and hardware resources, and the idea of being able to run numerous hosted corporate applications on a single platform is attractive.




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