RealTime IT News

If It Walks Like a Duck, Quack.com

America Online announced its land-grab of voice recognition portal Quack.com for an undisclosed wad of stock. The deal is a smaller part of the Web access giant's broader strategy to imbed its proprietary platform onto everything from desktops to mobile phones, key to maintaining its dominant position as the planet's largest on-ramp to the information superhighway.

Quack.com was scooped up ahead of a bevy of well-heeled rivals, not primarily for its voice portal. Rather, Quack was coveted for its highly sought after IT workers familiar with building such an animal that'll be brought in-house following the close of the acquisition. That's a good thing, because Quack's voice portal stinks when compared side-by-side with its competition in this space - namely BeVocal and Tellme - in that order.

The newcomer provides plenty of ammunition for skeptics of computing-by-voice with its limited local access points, oft inaccurate, slow, and bloated ad-filled interface. Lycos might have seen the same thing when it nixed a deal it inked with Quack back in May in favor of hiring privately-held wireless application provider Mobilee in mid-August to make the search portal's content available over the phone.

One thing that's clear when talking about America Online is that the Net bellwether can sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. If the company's smart, it'll bring the IT guys aboard and overhaul Quack's entire portal platform to create a warm and fuzzy user experience that AOL's so well known for.

With its half billion-dollar stock-swap acquisition of MovieFone early last year and its 1% in voice recognition software firm SpeechWorks taken last month, AOL has enough scattered resources to throw together a branded voice portal that would easily dominant the nascent space. And, there's no question that the big dog is headed over to the feeding trough with the upstarts nervously glancing over their shoulders right about now.

Any way you serve it up, I'm not a fan of voice computing just yet, beyond a handful of hands-free niche uses and the obvious benefit to the visually impaired. There are some fairly exciting services on the horizon that should be implemented in the next year or so; but in the meantime, there are better alternatives to barking orders into a phone. It's difficult to see how the voice recognition industry will find much traction in the short term with consumers, jockeying alongside more user-friendly methods of data retrieval.

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.com.

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