A German Internet services company has developed a way of enabling people to navigate the Web using telephones, with the help of text to speech translation software.
Talkingweb - a joint venture between German services company, Cyberlab, and Mannesmann Arcor, Germany's second largest telco - demonstrated a late beta version of its eponymous service at Internet World in Chicago this week and will launch it commercially in Germany next month.
The offering will enable users to access information such as weather reports, daily horoscopes and traffic news, from the Web using voice commands.
Hans-Jurgen Croissant, Talkingweb's chief executive, said the service would be more effective than using mobile phones to access the Internet because customers would not have to press any buttons. "This is safer especially if you are driving and you live in Germany where there are no speed limits,” he joked.
Talkingweb will be hosted by Mannesmann Arcor, and content or Web site providers will provide the host with keywords that users need to say to access their sites. The content providers decide which pages they want customers to 'listen' to and content is read out to them using text to speech software.
Talkingweb claims it takes about 30 minutes to translate content once and updates are automatically translated after that. Although the voice is computer generated, the system can also link to sites with their own radio services.
Croissant said: "The benefit is that the content provider does not have to change their Web site. They just have to provide HTML tags to define which areas can be read or not."
He added that Talkingweb was in discussions with telcos from 20 countries about licensing the software, but had already signed up BT and Demon in the UK.
The company is currently fine tuning the computer generated voice that greets callers and reads the Web content, and is developing ways of securing transactions using voice identification methods. It is also testing how the system will cope with handling large numbers of calls simultaneously.
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