Thursday, May 01, 2008

Farecast and Fonolo

From Dave Farber's IP, news of a new company called Fonolo: a ‘Google’ for phone menus. The basic idea is simple: spider all those annoying phone menus and make every point inside one a URL, which you can reach by having a bot navigate to that point for you, and then call you when it gets there. From the video it sounds like the spidering is done manually, and the navigation is done using ASR to check progress (since the menus change frequently).

Like Farecast this is a nice example of using AI to solve consumer problems, by mining information that is, in principle public (in one case airfare prices, in the other phone menus), but in practice, inaccessible. And like Farecast, it's not at all obvious that the companies controlling that information will be happy about that mining - especially if people end up using it as a souped-up version of GetHuman.

This feels like the thin edge of a wedge to me. I predict that within five years there will be open AI warfare between consumer-oriented bots and corporate-controlled information...then again, maybe this is just wishful thinking. After all, I'm in the AI munitions business.


Gustavo Lacerda said...

automated version of GetHuman:

Shai Berger said...

Thanks for the write-up!

Small correction: the spidering is not done manually, but rather as a hybrid process where an automated system (smart dialer + speech rec) does part of the job and a human does the rest.

Difference between Fonolo and GetHuman: We show you the whole tree, not just the "shortcut" to get an agent. Main flaw in the "agent shortcut" approach is that not all agents are equal. Getting a billing agent, when you have a tech support question is not really helpful.

Gustavo: (aka is similar to GetHuman in that it only dials the quickest path to a human.

Re "Open AI warfare": Yeesh, I hope not! I don't see Fonolo as something companies should fear or dislike. We help customers use their phone system with less frustration. Happier customers with zero effort on the company's part. That's win-win!

- Shai Berger,
Co-founder and President, Fonolo

William Cohen said...

Shai, I'm being a little sarcastic about "open warfare"'s only warfare if phone trees are not a poorly-designed UI for information access, but are a well-designed defense system intended to insulate customer service from customers. All too often I can't tell....

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