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AT&T, Lycos let users chat--for real

The telco's Chat 'N Talk service lets users invite other chat participants to share a conference phone call while also chatting online.

AT&T today launched a new version of its Chat 'N Talk service on Lycos, tying together one of the more popular communication features on the Internet with the standard telephone.

The service essentially gives users the option to put a voice behind the chat.

The Chat 'N Talk service will become a feature in Lycos's chat rooms, where users can invite other participants to engage in a live conference phone call on an open phone line.

The service allows a host to invite up to six guests from the chat room, which is an upgrade from being able to invite only one in the previous version.

Software firm eShare Technologies provided technology that enables Lycos to host AT&T's Chat 'N Talk software.

To use Chat 'N Talk while in a chat room, a user clicks on the screen name of another chat participant. The guest then receives a dialog box invitation to join the phone conversation. If the guest accepts the invitation, the prompt then asks for a phone number. Once the phone number is entered, the service uses the IP network to connect the two parties, who will then be able to talk on the phone while still participating in the chat room.

The service is billed by credit card, which the service asks for each time someone chooses to use it. The host who initiates the conference call is billed for 25 cents per minute, and each participant is required to pay a 50 cent set-up fee. All calls are limited to the United States.

Users on each end are required to have two phone lines--one for Internet access and one to receive the phone calls. In addition, AT&T recommended that members use 486 or higher systems, running Windows 95, with at least 16 megabytes of memory, and use either Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator versions 3.02 or 3.0 and higher, respectively.

The release of Chat 'N Talk on a Web portal such as Lycos underscores the convergence of two communications tools. AT&T also has been very aggressive in forming partnerships with portals in hopes of leveraging their widespread audience to promote its own products and communications services.

AT&T ISP WorldNet has already formed partnerships with Lycos, Excite, and Infoseek to bundle its Internet access service with the portals' popular interfaces. In each of these deals, AT&T also benefits by featuring a link to its Communications Center, a page that offers a variety of AT&T communications products, prominently featured on the portals.

Further down the road, AT&T will move toward integrating voice and Internet access onto one IP telephone line instead of requiring users to have two phone lines to interact with Chat 'N Talk, said an AT&T spokesman.