SAN FRANCISCO (03/17/2000) - If you make heavy use of your modem and have only one phone line, you know the problem: When you're online, nobody can call you.
One answer is a second phone line. But you have a free alternative in BuzMe.com Inc.
BuzMe offers free, Internet-based voice mail that tells you right away when someone calls. And if you're willing to pay a small monthly fee, you can even answer the phone.
When you're not online, BuzMe sounds like any other voice mail service -- well, almost. Before callers hear your greeting, they hear a cheery voice that says, "Your call is being answered by BuzMe's Internet call waiting." The message is fine for personal calls, but probably not the most businesslike first impression.
Once callers leave their messages, BuzMe notifies you by e-mail. Thanks to caller ID, you even get the caller's phone number. You can listen to the message over the phone or by logging onto BuzMe's Web site.
But the good stuff happens when someone calls while you're online. If you've installed BuzMe's free software, you get a pop-up message while the caller is still on the phone. You can then let them leave voice mail or hang up on them.
That's with the free version. If you opt to pay US$4.95 monthly for extended service, you get several more options when someone calls.
Screen Your Calls
You can send them a generic recorded message, such as "I will call you back in five minutes." You can type a short message that BuzMe's server will read to them (the voice sounds reasonably good, although emotionless).
Best of all, you can break your Internet connection and speak to them. Click a button, and BuzMe tells your caller to hang on for a moment. Your modem disconnects, your phone rings, and the two of you are talking. The extended service is free for the first 30 days after you sign up.
Despite its cleverness and utility, BuzMe lacks some voice mail basics. You can't specify the number of rings before it answers, and it doesn't activate a stutter dial tone like most telephone company message centers. Consequently, if someone leaves a message when your computer isn't on, you may not know about it until you next check your e-mail. BuzMe.com is working on adding these features, but since this involves phone company cooperation, it may take awhile.
Even if you don't use your modem with your voice phone line, free voice mail with e-mail notification is tempting. But if you do use one line for both jobs, and people complain about the busy signals, this is an inexpensive and workable solution.