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NotifyMe dials up new messaging option

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Two-way, interactive messaging that leverages the plain old telephone is the focus of a new Internet marketing services company with a heady pedigree.

NotifyMe Networks, backed by CNET Networks Inc. founder Halsey Minor and Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff, this month launched a service that provides companies with Internet marketing, customer service and human resource applications designed to trigger a telephone call based on predefined events. For 10 to 15 cents a message, NotifyMe will place telephone calls that can receive a telephone dialpad response and update an Internet application.

The emergence of NotifyMe gives marketers another interactive messaging option, analysts say. Large call center operators such as Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Rockwell Electronic Commerce Corp. are introducing an ever-growing arsenal of Internet tie-ins to their physical call center businesses. And such leading independents as Adeptra Inc. and Categoric Software, both U.K.-based, provide similar messaging services.

NotifyMe CEO Chuck Dietrick, a longtime Microsoft Corp. executive involved in enterprise computing, said the ability to mesh interactive Internet applications with standard telephones is his company’s big advantage. Competitors use wireless or beeper protocols to send messages, which means a business customer accessible through a landline telephone can’t be reached, Dietrick said.

The CNET news service, Next-Jet Inc. and ServiceStop Inc. are the first companies to tap Notify-Me services. CNET is using the system for its computer auction area. When a bidder is outbid on a technology product, the system calls the bidder and offers the opportunity to raise the ante. CNET stands to benefit from higher overall commissions, Dietrick said.

Airlines could use the service to notify a customer when a flight is delayed or cancelled and offer alternative flights, Dietrick said.

"We’re turning the telephone into an Internet appliance," he said. "It enables recipients to be untethered from their computers and interact with businesses wherever they are."

New economy antithesis

Such services as NotifyMe provide potential benefits to Fortune 2000 companies, but they are the antithesis of what the new economy is about, said Bob Stimson, director of computer and distributed-services equity research at Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., San Francisco.

When the Internet became a commercial business medium, the idea was that standard Internet protocol communication of voice, video and data and open computing systems would make companies more responsive, Stimson said. NotifyMe instead is trying to make old technologies fit with new, he said.

"This is one of an ever-expanding group of services on the Internet that take different technologies never meant to work together, and makes them work together," Stimson said. "To make things work in the future, global Fortune 2000 companies need to rethink the way they work.’’

Drew Kraus, voice-communications industry senior analyst with the Dataquest unit of Gartner Group, said NotifyMe has a place in a company’s marketing platform. Companies such as IBM Corp. have been able to develop their own systems that place telephone calls off of Internet applications, but few companies could afford the expense of custom development.

"Having NotifyMe do this work ahead of time opens up these types of services to a lot of companies," Kraus said. "They aren’t going to rethink communications, but they have a niche."

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