'Web talk' to give e-biz personality: IDC

Messaging services offering voice communications to the Internet are expanding at astronomic rates, with e-commerce players looking for an edge in customer care propelling the growth, according to industry analyst IDC.

Dubbed Web talk, the latest service provider market is expected to reach revenues of $28.7 billion by 2004 from its current value of $362 million.

"Demand for Web talk capabilities is increasing from both Web sites and end users," said Mark Winther, group vice president of IDC's worldwide telecommunications research.

"Companies with e-commerce sites want to apply Web talk to improve poor customer service that is often caused by a lack of human interaction."

According to IDC, Web talk applications leverage the browsers, portals, and network structures already in place on the Internet.

"Interaction between e-commerce sites and the customer can be greatly enhanced via screen and voice integration," said Joel Martin, senior data communications analyst at IDC.

"The technology can also enable e-commerce companies to direct the customer to screens or products."

Initially, uptake of Web talk will be mostly among Web-centric merchants, such as dotcoms that are looking at cutting edge technology, Martin said. The ability to provide integrated Web and voice communication will pervade most industries, he said.

"We will see Web talk being implemented in retail, banking, financial and medical industries - just about anywhere you would pick up a phone."

With the imminent boom in Web talk services, opportunists have already crowded the market in the US, where more than 25 Web talk service providers have launched commercial offerings.

Among those with Web talk service offerings is Net2Phone, the first entrant on the scene, according Martin.

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