RealTime IT News

Here Comes a Mobile 'Universal Communicator'

Email, instant messaging, social networks – the list of ways to connect to other people online continues to expand. And with that expansion comes distraction; the need to launch different programs, check for updates and manage your "presence" online.

Enter VoxOx, a new kind of universal communications service from TelCentris, a San Diego-based telephony company. "People now have contacts all over the place, so what we do is provide a single, global universal address book," Bryan Hertz, CEO and cofounder of TelCentris, told InternetNews.com in a briefing and demo of the service.

A beta of the free service, launched this week, brings voice, video, IM, text, social media, e-mail, fax and content sharing together in one interface. It starts with a software download available for either PC or Macintosh users.

The service provides a "meta address book" of contacts from a variety of ways users communicates online. Leveraging TelCentris telecom capabilities, you also get a free phone number and two hours of free calling time via VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology.

The idea is to use VoIP as a starting point for an array of services. You can, for example, manage incoming calls with custom voice mail messages, busy signals and a digital "personal assistant" that will route your calls to wherever you want them to go, cell phone, landline, or even have them all ring at once, or for a specific number of times, before going to voicemail. You can even keep certain callers at bay, or at least better manage your time, by specifying phone numbers that should go directly to voice mail.

Like Skype and other online calling services, computer to computer calling using VoxOx is free, while there is a surcharge for other calls to a cell or landline. The company is offering a range of incentives for signing up new members, clicking on ads and answering online surveys, that let users earn points. The points can be cashed in for phone time.

"Our objective is to help users never have to pay for a phone call again," said Michael Faught, president and chief financial officer of TelCentris. But a percentage of users will opt for paid services, including texting, and that revenue will help power the service.

Forrester analyst Sally Cohen said she's impressed with the service, but thinks it may take a while for the relatively unknown company to gain significant traffic.

"I think what they're doing is pretty neat," Cohen told InternetNews.com. "When you're talking about managing multiple online identities and screen names and a VoIP service, they've done a really good job with a graphical interface that lets you see who you are online with and when they are away, It's a very clean way to manage your digital life.

"But they could face a tough road because most consumers are not crazy about making calls from their PC."

That said, Cohen notes VoxOx adds useful management features that could appeal to anyone looking to better manager their online presence. "People have different buddy lists and social networks they're on both at home and work," she said. "VoxOx is a step in the right direction to managing this."