A look at a new service that allows users to access Web pages with a common telephone by translating data to voice.
By now you've probably heard that making information available on-line is a good way to service customers. That is, if your customers are on-line; many of them probably aren't. But in the Web spirit of inclusiveness, now there's software that lets your customers listen to your Web pages over the telephone.
Developed by NetPhonic Communications, based in Mountain View, Calif. (888-NETPHON; http://www.netphonic.com), Web-On-Call translates Web pages from text to speech and transmits them over ordinary phone lines. Your clients simply dial a phone number of your choosing and listen; the software talks them through the various links, allowing them to use Touch-Tone buttons in place of a mouse. The computer's synthesized voice is akin to that of the Lost in Space robot, but if that's a problem you can prerecord the Web pages--or an abridged version--in person.
For those who are new to the system, a familiar voice-mail-like interface facilitates voice browsing. So, for example, callers might be told to press 1 to listen to an entire Web page. If they want to view the page, they can press 2 and then request a copy via fax, snail mail, or E-mail. If they want the pages sent via snail mail, the program will even tape-record their name and address. Pressing 3 takes the caller to a list of your links.
Although some callers may be tempted to spend long periods of time browsing the Net by voice, the novelty wears off fast. The best use of Web-On-Call is probably for quick access to small bits of information, like stock quotes or news headlines, or to request a brochure through the mail.
Maybe the biggest downside? After you've finally come up with a catchy Web address, you may need a catchy 1-800 number, too.