Lycos Counters Yahoo! with Voice Portal

One day after Internet powerhouse Yahoo! rolled out a free Web-based telephone service, rival Lycos (Nasdaq: LCOS) launched its own voice-powered portal that will allow users to tap into a suite of information services.

The service, which is offered under the Lycos Anywhere brand, will initially be available in only five markets: Boston, Massachusetts; the metropolitan New York area; Chicago, Illinois; and the Bay Area and Los Angeles regions of California. Dial-up numbers for these cities are currently available.

Built with voice-recognition technology from wireless applications developer Mobilee, Inc., subscribers to the service will be able to access e-mail and other free content — such as news, stock quotes, weather and horoscopes — from its network of sites through verbal commands.

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

Getting Personal

Users of the new service will also have the option of building a customized Web profile to tailor their information-delivery needs.

“Personalization will continue to be one of the cornerstones of our wireless delivery strategy because of its positive impact on user experience and acceptance,” said Lycos wireless strategies director Jason Pavona.

In addition, Lycos executives said that the company could expand its services “potentially around the globe” by allying with telecommunications carrier partners.

High Stakes Field

Lycos’ launch comes on the heels of an announcement by Yahoo! that it entered into a deal with Net2Phone, Inc. The joint venture will allow remote Yahoo! e-mail account holders to get Internet content over the phone, as well as to place free calls from their personal computers to telephones.

Unlike Lycos’ offering, Yahoo! said it will not begin using voice-activation or speech recognition technology until the well-known kinks plaguing the service have been ironed out. Instead, Yahoo! subscribers must first punch phone buttons for its text-to-speech transformation technology to then deliver e-mail and related content.

Lycos and Yahoo! are the latest entrants into the high stakes field of Web-based telephone services. Although many analysts acknowledge that such mobile data delivery systems are still in a developmental stage, a host of tech companies are banking on the technology’s potential, believing it will grow into a viable and lucrative industry that will eventually be employed by mobile devices.

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