Israeli website turns the mailbox into a chatterbox

More personal than e-mail: Voice-Me lets you speak.Have you ever been puzzled by the tone of an email you’ve received, or had difficulty deciphering exactly what an emoticon means? The strange new dynamic of computer-mediated conversation confuses many. Thanks to …

More personal than e-mail: Voice-Me lets you speak.Have you ever been puzzled by the tone of an email you’ve received, or had difficulty deciphering exactly what an emoticon means? The strange new dynamic of computer-mediated conversation confuses many. Thanks to one Israeli invention, however, such issues might soon be consigned to the past.

Voice-Me is a web-based service which combines the ease and convenience of an email account with a radically retro concept – the human voice. “It’s more personal than email,” says co-founder Ehud Shoresh. “And you can always be sure you know exactly who you are speaking to.”

Voice-Me, which is to launch its public-access website in a week, works just like a Hotmail or Gmail account, allowing users to register for their own mailbox from which they can send and receive messages. But whereas email accounts are text-based, Voice-Me employs the more intuitive mediums of videomail or voicemail. “We don’t think this will replace email,” Shoresh told ISRAEL21c. “But it’s an exciting and important supplement.”

Using a microphone or web-camera, the website lets users record a message from any personal computer, and send it to any recipient using an ordinary email address. If they additionally choose to register for a free Voice-Me account, they gain access to a host of extra functions, enabling them to create what Shoresh describes as “their own voicebook, just like Outlook” – with mail management features such as folders, address lists, and search functions.

The result, say the creators, marries the convenience of email with the intimacy, expressiveness and intuitive ease of a face-to-face conversation.

“We’ve already received comments about how it’s easier to use than ‘traditional’ email,” Shoresh explained to ISRAEL21c. “An elderly relative of mine doesn’t like to type – but with the voicemail application she can just speak normally, and stay in touch that way.”

The Netanya-based Voice-Me is the brainchild of three serial Internet entrepreneurs – Shoresh and partners Yaniv Oriel and Amit Kamisa. With previous high-tech experience, the trio was aware of the market gap for an application that not only allows users to record and send video and audio messages, but also incorporates mail-management functions. Importantly, the free application requires no special software download – an important feature, explains Shoresh, in enticing curious surfers for a taste.

And with Voice-Me soon to graduate from three months of restricted beta testing to public access operations, the site’s creators are excited about its potential to revolutionize the way we all stay in touch.

Future directions include the development of a desktop-based application or a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook which will make it possible to Voice-Me with the click of an icon. The company is also exploring ways in which such an application might be incorporated into mobile computing devices such as palm pilots – enabling users to dodge cell-phone fees by sending voicemails over the Internet for free.

But perhaps the site’s greatest impact will be felt on a more personal level, say its creators, envisioning enhanced versions of online matchmaking and blog websites with Voice-Me-assisted face-to-face connections.

“Or just think of an emailed holiday greeting sent to family overseas,” suggests Shoresh. “It’s sometimes difficult to write down what you mean. But a video-message, with a voice and a face… how much more meaningful would that be.”

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