Now Pitching: The Key to Unlocking Your Memories

SAN FRANCISCO (01/27/2000) - Listening to a groovy song on the radio, but don't know the artist or song title? Forget waiting for the announcer - just aim a little gizmo at the stereo, click a button and automatically store information on what is being played at that moment.

Later, you connect the gizmo - a keychain-like device - to your computer, and upload your "tags" to a personalized Web page so you can get information on the tags you've made as well as links that lead you to places where you can purchase CDs, concert tickets or products.

Xenote is a one-year-old company that aims to help boneheads remember what they hear on the radio. Right now, the company is letting consumers test-drive its iTag product, a gadget that looks like a car-alarm key-chain remote. They cost Xenote less than $5 to produce, and they'll be free to consumers.

Those eager to try out iTags can register to be part of the listener trials on Xenote's homepage. But early adopters, beware: You'd better like Top 40 if you are in Houston or smooth jazz if you are in San Francisco, because those are the only formats on stations currently signed up in those cities. Xenote has distributed 500 iTags to date.

The pitch: Memory on your keychain.

The presenters: Xenote's Mark Kaufmann, VP of marketing, was accompanied by two PR representatives, Jessie Brumfiel and Jeremy Pepper of Brumfiel & Etienne.

What they're really selling: A hardware device with an Internet tie-in that will allow Xenote to get referral fees from online retailers. Xenote is also thinking of letting or CDnow co-market batches of devices that would steer users to their stores first.

How they did it: Over coffee at Starbucks, they let me handle a sample iTag gizmo and assured me that my very own iTag was on its way.

Best line: "Radio as a medium has great reach, but lousy response," said Kauffman. "This is like [a] reader service for the 21st century."

Worst line: "We let you literally bookmark the real world. Future devices will let you tag products - you know, using barcodes - and even people."

What happened: I fondled the demo iTag device and heard of its wondrous promise. But it's hard for me to have faith in things unseen. We were nowhere near a radio, so I couldn't really tag any songs or ads. However, Kaufmann showed me a demo on his laptop of "control central," where customers will go on the Web to manage your tags.

Baffled journalist's main problem: I like the concept of this doohickey, but it poses some puzzling questions: If you are driving in your car, can the iTag on your keychain aim at the radio at the proper angle to capture the frequency? If the future means that people can tag each other, do I want the future? Plus, I never got my gizmo, so I wonder how well the darn thing actually works.

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