Yahoo! By Phone

Santa Clara-based Yahoo! announced availability today of Yahoo! by Phone, a new free dial-up text-to-speech engine for retrieving Yahoo! Mail text messages from any phone. The move follows portal giant AOL’s recent push into the text-to-speech offering, and tapers behind several Silicon Valley companies who launched pure “voice portal” plays earlier this year.

Developed by Boston-based SpeechWorks International, the new Yahoo! by Phone service includes a surprisingly natural-sounding synthesized voice, but lacks much of the voice-interaction capabilities pioneered by voice portal developers like Be Vocal, Tellme, or Quack (see Be Vocal! Tell Me! Get to the Vocal Point, You!). After signing up for their own ID and password, for example, users of Yahoo! by Phone have to punch in a pass code with their phone’s keypad to access their email, rather than simply by spoken commands, as is possible with the aforementioned voice portals.

Despite the technological limitations, both AOL and Yahoo! are hoping their existing user base will make up for lost time in the voice portal arena.

“People will try the other voice portals [like Be Vocal], but many of these people already have their profiles listed on the AOLs and the Yahoo!s, so if they can retrieve personalized information by voice through those existing plays they’ll probably go there,” says Megan Gurley, a Yankee Group analyst. “Why would I want to fill in all the information again?”

In a double move to raise its voice, as it were, Yahoo! also announced a deal today with Internet calling company Net2Phone. Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! will use Net2Phone’s voice over IP network to offer free PC-to-phone calling through Yahoo! Messenger.

“Yahoo! has established one of the most popular communication networks in the world, and these new voice offerings are the most recent additions to that,” says Jeff Mallett, president and COO of Yahoo!.

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