Data-Voice Technology Could Revamp Audiotext Services

By: Steve Outing

Newspapers' audiotext services seldom intrigue me. They remind me too much of voice-mail systems, where you have to key in numerous numbers and listen to a lot of recorded talk to get to the information you want. But it would be great if you could meld an online service with audiotext.

Recently I've been making the rounds of new media companies in Boulder, Colorado, my new home. The other day, I visited Radish Communications, which has developed a technology called VoiceView that allows you to conduct voice and data communications over a single analog (or digital or cellular) phone line. The VoiceView protocol and the software products of Radish have some potentially interesting applications for newspaper audiotext and online services.

Here's an example of how VoiceView works. A company that sells flowers online sets up a service that allows computer users to dial into its bulletin board system and view its offerings, price lists, etc. If both the flower vendor and the caller are using VoiceView-compatible modems and Radish's TalkShop software (for Windows), the caller can view photos of flowers on her computer screen and talk to a customer service rep on a standard phone (analog or digital).

In this example, the caller might find a flower arrangement she likes, but want to see it with different color roses. Talking to the customer service rep on her telephone, she asks to see the alternative arrangement. The rep sends a new photo which appears on the caller's computer screen. When the caller is ready to order, the rep sends an order form to the customer's PC; the caller fills it out and sends it to the rep's computer. All the while, both parties are talking to each other.

VoiceView, in a nutshell, is an "alternating" or "switched" voice/data integration standard. It's like having the capabilities of an ISDN (digital) phone line, but it works over a standard telephone line. A VoiceView certified modem (most new modems include VoiceView today) works in the background of a telephone call. When it "hears" data, it mutes the handset and begins data reception. When the data is received, the modem reactivates the handset and resumes "listening."

Implications for newspapers

Radish chairman Richard Davis, a Bell Labs veteran and founder of the company, wants to put his technology to use in the newspaper industry; so far, newspapers haven't worked with VoiceView. I can envision some interesting uses for the VoiceView concept:

Integrated audiotext/online system -- Imagine a newspaper's audiotext system merged with a dial-up BBS. Instead of punching down through several layers of voicemail on a phone, callers using a computer could find the information online, then listen to the information over a speakerphone. A newspaper's archive of music reviews could be stored on the BBS, each with an album cover and music sample attached. Click on a music track and hear it on your phone. (You might want to hook up a pair of external speakers to replace your tinny phone speaker.) The addition of online capability to an existing audiotext service could put some pizzazz into the audio offering.

Classified ad remote entry -- The age-old system of having operators take classified advertising orders over the phone is notoriously inefficient because many errors are introduced during the transactions. Customers demand that their ads be re-run because a typo was made when the ad was entered. With VoiceView capability, customers could enter the ad into a computerized form and be assured that it will appear as they want it. The transaction can still take place with the customer talking to a customer service rep, who sends a digital form to the customer's computer screen for approval.

Display ad creation -- In the future, we might also envision newspaper display advertising reps creating ads online while talking to the client. The two parties would send the ad proof back and forth to their computer screens, eliminating the need for couriers or faxes and speeding up the process.

Online shopping -- Because VoiceView works over dial-up phone connections, online transactions are secure. (No need for encryption to disguise transactions, as on the Internet.) If a newspaper online/audio service partners with local businesses, callers could peruse online catalogs and then be connected to a store's customer service rep who would take the order by voice. The newspaper can take a slice of the transaction in exchange for bringing the store a customer via the newspaper online service.

This is an interesting technology, to be sure. We are talking about dial-up connections, however, not the Internet. This is going to have the greatest impact on dial-up online services and audiotext systems run by newspapers. At least for now, you won't be able to incorporate this technology into your Web site.

Contacts: Richard Davis or Anthony Brittain, Radish Communications, 303-443-2331

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This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at


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