Internet company e-Now is attempting to further integrate the Net's "killer app"--email--with its low-tech counterpart: the telephone.
The company already has a service that allows users to pick up their messages over the phone. Tomorrow it plans to announce that users now will be able "complete the loop" and respond to those messages via telephone as well.
A user's response is recorded on the phone and sent to the recipient as a .wav file attachment within an email message, said Thomas Wagner, president of Ojai, California-based e-Now. The email message is delivered in roughly three minutes.
Wagner said the company is planning a speech-to-text option as well, in which users' responses will be converted to text and sent as regular email messages. That option is planned for later this year, he added.
The company is in talks with several other ISPs, though Wagner declined to disclose which ones. He said the deals will be structured so that e-Now will split its $14.95 set-up fee with the ISPs and will pay them a small percentage of the service's $12 monthly fee.
The monthly fee includes 20 minutes of toll-free access to e-Now's call-in number; beyond that, users pay 25 cents per minute. Wagner projected that the speech-to-text conversion option will cost users an additional 75 cents per message.
In exchange, the ISPs will promote the e-Now service to users. Wagner noted that the ISP deals potentially could eliminate the company's two biggest barriers: the cost of promoting the service and the extended customer service time necessary to sign users up for the service.
"Getting the information necessary to sign up users--a password, login name, and the name of their mail server--sometimes takes half an hour on the phone," he said, adding that many users are not aware that their login name can be different from their screen name, for example. "With the ISPs, that information is all taken from the ISP, not the customer, so the process is streamlined."
Also, the service is available only to users with POP3 (Post Office Protocol) access, and most ISPs offer such access. Online services such as America Online do not offer POP3, he said, adding that some free Web-based email services now are charging users a fee for POP3 because users do not view advertisements, which support the free email services.
He noted that some Web-based email services, such as Yahoo Mail, do not offer POP3 because they rely on users coming to the site and viewing ads to generate revenue.
Wagner said the service is aimed at two types of business users: "Road warriors" who travel constantly and rely heavily on email and laptops but don't always have Net access handy; and those who travel occasionally and rely on email but don't want to carry a laptop. He said just under half of e-Now's users exceed the service's allotted 20 minutes each month.
Along with listening and responding to their email, e-Now's service allows users to listen to a summary of their messages, so those who are short on time or have a large volume of messages can sift through them more easily.
Wagner said the company's next project is a forwarding option, which will let users choose up to five email addresses to which they send material often (such as that of a supervisor or assistant), and the user will be able to push a number on the phone to forward a message to one or all of those accounts automatically. He did not give a time frame for implementation of that feature.
E-Now is not the only company to integrate communication services. Another company, VirtualOffice, for example, says it offers similar services. Its package, which costs $24 per month, "provides you the ability to access your voice and fax mail via Web browser, in addition to a touch-tone phone." It also notifies users via pager or cellular phone when email, voice, or fax messages are received.