RealTime IT News

Lycos Tries to Outshout Yahoo

A day after portal giant Yahoo announced its new telephone-based service, Waltham rival Lycos Inc. has rolled out its version of a voice portal.

The new Lycos service is being launched today in five markets, Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Built with voice-recognition technology from Mobilee of Boston, the service allows Lycos subscribers to call a local phone number to access portal content.

And, unlike Yahoo's service, which requires callers to tap numbers into a touch-tone phone, Lycos's service will -- thanks to Mobilee's technology -- allow callers to speak commands such as "weather" or "stock quotes" to get access to data.

"Unlike competitive offerings that rely on cumbersome touch-tone user interfaces, we allow users to simply ask for what they want," Ron Sege, Lycos executive vice president, said.

Users will be able to call for customized content by using a My Lycos personalization platform, making the data downloads faster.

Sege said Lycos plans to extend the voice service to other U.S. markets before year's end, and, once the company's merger with Terra Networks of Spain is completed, around the world.

Jason Pavona, director of wireless strategies and personalization, said, "Regardless of what type of access device our users prefer, we want to provide them with a consistent interface, and our My Lycos platform allows us to extend that interface through voice. Personalization will continue to be one of the cornerstones of our wireless delivery strategy because of its positive impact on user experience and acceptance."

Boston-area Lycos users can get access to content by calling 617-848-9888.

The announcement has been expected since August, when Lycos first announced its agreement with Mobilee to create the service.

The fact that Mobilee's server network allows users to access content with local phone calls rather than over a toll-free number is a big benefit for Lycos, since it doesn't have to pay for expensive 1-800 lines.

And the company has improved its voice-recognition software, developed in cooperation with Nuance Corp., to free users from punching e-mail addresses into small keypads. The voice-activated service also delivers information as streaming audio rather than solely as text-based messages.

America Online is also developing a voice-access system, in cooperation (like Yahoo) with Boston voice-recognition software maker SpeechWorks International .

Smaller voice portals, including TellMe, BeVocal and Audipoint, are also competing for the burgeoning market of users tapping into Web content over wireless phones.