New York's Trusted Source for Pediatric Ophthalmology & Adult Strabismus

H. Jay Wisnicki, MD
"I'm only here for one reason: to help people see better. If your eyes have a problem, I want to help."


Dr. H. Jay Wisnicki has over 20 years of specialized care in pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus.

He frequently volunteers with Orbis International to save the sight of children in developing countries.

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Voice portals let you access the Internet on the go

Tech Talk

Technology can help you find a restaurant, book a flight, hail a cab.

Published in the Ophthalmology Times

Your flight is an hour late. You miss your connection and the line at the service center stretches past three gates and into another concourse. You are exhausted and your nerves are thin but not as thin as your chances of catching the next available flight.

So what can you do?

Use a lifeline and phone a friend.

Well, maybe not a friend, but calling a voice portal to the Internet could provide you with the information you need to get on the next flight out.

Voice portals allow you to use toll-free numbers to access the Internet from a telephone without an Internet connection. One number will allow you to access information on flights, stocks, sports scores, weather, restaurant reservations, and more.

BeVocal voice portalCompanies such as,,, and are banking that voice portals will be the next wave of technology services that explode. They are putting the infrastructure in place to provide as complete a service as possible at this early stage in the technology's life.

For instance, has listings for more than 450,000 restaurants across the country. The company also claims it called every major taxicab company in the United States to determine if they dispatch by phone. The result is that with one call, subscribers can select a restaurant, make reservations, summon a cab, or get directions without calling an expensive information number.

The driving technology behind voice portals is voice recognition technology, which allows the service to recognize spoken commands or choices off a menu. Saying "BeVocal Driving Directions" at any time while connected with that service will send you to that specific area of BeVocal's service.

On Tellme's service, callers can find a restaurant, hear a review, and, if they are still interested, be connected to it by saying "connect me." All from one phone call, without the use of a computer.

Internet voice portals are hoping to capitalize on two distinct groups 'the nearly half of American households that do not own a computer or have an Internet connection, and those people who have connections, but are unable to use them because they are away from the keyboard such as at an airport.

Subscribers to voice portals receive information for free. The costs are absorbed by advertising that plays for the caller while he or she waits for the site to respond to the Internet request. Some portals will allow the user to bypass the ads for a fee, generally 6 to 10 cents per minute of connect time.

Even the ads allow subscribers to ask for further information, contact a sales representative, or place an order while on the phone.

You can sign up for portal service by calling the servers or visiting their Web sites. After filling out a questionnaire, subscribers get a toll free number to use to contact the service. They are also provided with a list of voice commands for navigating the service main menu easily, and they can get started.

Some portals, such as, allow users to customize their services create a list of topics they are interested in when they register for the service. On subsequent calls, simply say, "My Audiopoint," state your pass code, and listen to your selected information.

Audiopoint uses many popular services to provide its content Accu-Weather for weather reports, Screaming Media for sports scores, and SmartRoute for traffic reports. In fact, many portals are signing agreements with Internet service providers such as America Online and Yahoo! to provide content.

TelSurf Networks allows members to set up personal information pages, address books, todo lists and calendars, and Yahoo! accounts through its service. BeVocal uses MapQuest, recently purchased by America Online for its direction service, so traditional Internet Service Providers are paying heed to the new kids on the block. In fact, Tellme has a deal with AT&T to the tune of a $60 million investment in the company.

The biggest problem with such services has been the voice recognition. While most portals brag about 90% accuracy in recognition capabilities, certain strong accents, especially those decidedly foreign, are difficult to recognize. In addition, using the phone in a noisy environment, such as directly under a speaker in an airport, can cause confusion as well.

That said, portals are improving these capabilities constantly. Most trigger words are generic in nature, that is, they are not easily confused with similar words even with an accent. And some providers such as TelSurf are looking to branch into Spanish editions in the near future.

Voice portals will never replace the Internet as a means of information gathering, to be sure. Shopping is difficult to imagine trying to comparison shop visually over the phone. And long menu choices can be difficult to navigate. But voice portal providers and their investors and advertisers are banking on people needing more information on the run. And that is the niche they can serve.

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