Under an agreement with Mobilee, a Boston-based company that provides speech recognition technologies, Lycos said the new voice portal will be available by the end of the year. The service will let people call a local access number and use voice-activated commands to retrieve stock prices, weather, movie listings and other information over the phone from Lycos' network of Web sites.
The market to offer such services is already filled with competitors ranging from early-stage start-ups such as Tellme Networks to giants like Lucent. But analysts say Lycos has a jump-start on its rivals because it already has developed an audience, while start-ups are just beginning to attract customers.
"The competition is crowded, but it's not crowded with the existing major portals so far," said Joe Laszlo, analyst at Jupiter Communications. "Lycos is kind of an innovator, but it remains to be seen just how much consumer demand there will be for this kind of service."
According to Cyber Dialogue, 25 percent of U.S. adults said they would use the Internet with a wireless portable device, but only 3 percent plan to buy cell phones with Internet capability. Currently, only 4 percent have such phones.
"Usability is the main issue...You don't want to frustrate consumers," said Cyber Dialogue analyst Idil Cakim. "The early adopters are testing it now. If it passes through their usability, then it's going to expand to more mainstream audiences."
Lycos said its strategy is to reach people who are not online, including those who do not have PCs or are physically disabled.
"We're extending our user base to different devices," said Jason Pavona, director of wireless strategy and personalization at Lycos.
The service delivers information as streaming audio rather than solely as text-based messages. Customers will also be able to choose the information they want to receive.
Cakim said that since Lycos has many customers already, the service gives it an edge by making its content available through different devices. She added, however, that because the service is free, it remains to be seen how Lycos will generate revenue.
"The question is: Will they be able to translate this later into an e-commerce or subscription-based (model)?" Cakim said.
Lycos also announced today that it has launched a Webcasting and voice chat service with technology company Evoke.