Yahoo Launches New Voice Services

Yahoo Inc. Tuesday launched a new suite of voice services designed to enhance consumers' ability to communicate and access information on the Internet -- and it's free.

Sadhana Jolliete, senior producer for the enhanced voice services, said the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is offering three new voice services; Yahoo by Phone, Yahoo Mail and free long distance or local telephone calls from a PC to a telephone.

Jolliete said Yahoo by Phone allows users free access to personalized My Yahoo content such as stock quotes, weather forecasts and sports scores over the telephone by calling 800-MY-YAHOO (800-699-2466).

She said Yahoo Mail provides free voice mail and enables people to listen to their e-mail over the telephone. In addition, she said, a new version of Yahoo messenger allows people to place free telephone calls to anyone, anywhere in the United States from their PCs. There is no limit to how often a person can use this service, the company said.

The company said it will use Hackensack, N.J.-based Net2Phone Inc.'s voice-optimized IP network for its new voice services.

"These services will allow users to access content and services from anywhere, on any device," Jolliete said. "We're looking to release users from the tethers of their PCs. People are becoming more and more mobile and they're storing more personal information on the Web. [With these new services] they can [have access] to it when they're on the road."

Lisa Pollock, another senior producer at Yahoo, said, "Users are personalizing their content on Yahoo and we want to help them [access it] wherever they are and by whatever means is easiest for them."

Megan Gurley, an analyst at The Yankee Group Inc. in Boston, said Yahoo is trying to make itself more valuable to its subscribers. As people become more mobile, they will need more immediate access to the information they once accessed from their PCs, she said.

In addition, Yahoo is following the trend of giving users access to Internet content through voice portals. This is a trend, said Gurley, that was first indicated by America Online Inc.'s purchase of the voice portal Inc. AOL, however, doesn't yet allow people to access Internet content from a telephone.

She added that she thought Yahoo would release enhanced versions of this telephone-based service, ultimately enabling people to access Internet content using voice-activated technology.

"Yahoo has brought in this new technology to [appeal] to its broad subscriber base," said Gurley. "I think it will offer speech-enabled access going forward."

Jolliete confirmed Gurley's speculations.

"Right now there is a huge focus on useability," Jolliete said. "We have 156 million registered users and we want to make sure they can use [these new services].

Ultimately, Jolliete said, Yahoo will allow people to access its telephone portal using voice-activated commands.

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