by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
ads, free, phones

blyk, pudding media

'Free, With Ads' Phone Calls Trying Yet Again

from the at-least-on-the-company-side dept

At the height of the dot com boom, there was talk of how just about any business model could be shifted to the "free, but with ads" business model. That resulted in the ability to get free computers, free DSL and even free cars... as long as you were willing to put up with ads (or in the case of the cars, cover your car in ads). The concept died down a bit, going back to the traditional areas where such a business model made sense (newspapers, television, etc.). However, it seems like the idea is making something of a comeback in the telco realm -- at least on the company side. Whether or not users actually buy into it (or, rather, view enough ads to make it worthwhile) remains to be seen. First up, is Blyk, a company that we discussed a year ago, but which is finally launching. It doesn't appear that they've adjusted their business model (free mobile phone service and they put ads on your mobile phone) since we panned the whole concept. Similar efforts haven't gone very far, so it's difficult to see this suddenly getting much traction.

Perhaps even more interesting (though even less likely to get anywhere) is another company, named Pudding Media, that wants to offer free phone calls in exchange for displaying contextual ads on your computer. Yes, the company is claiming that it will use voice recognition to listen in on your calls, determine what you're talking about, and then pop up relevant ads on your computer screen as you talk. The obvious comparison is with Google's contextual AdSense (specifically within Gmail). However, early on people were pretty creeped out by the contextual email ads, and it would seem like people are even more likely to be creeped out by voice recognition systems parsing phone conversations. On top of that, there are so many options now for people to get cheap or flat-rate calling plans, that you have to wonder if this type of solution will really attract many users. The company is likely going to focus on bolting its contextual ad solution on top of other providers, but that really depends on how well it actually works. It appears the company is launching at DEMO this week, which I'll be attending, so I'll try to test it out and see.

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  1. identicon
    Ajay, 24 Sep 2007 @ 1:59pm

    1995 Called They Want Their Marketing Idea Back

    I don't get it. I was making free voice phone calls online back in 1998, and people smarter than me were doing this as far back as 1995. They weren't even ad-based; they were just plain free, the earliest versions of voice-over IP and Skype.

    They're too late in the game. Back in 1998, I was the only person I knew who owned a cell phone. They were so hard to get; if you didn't have perfect credit, you couldn't get mobile phone service. Now everyone has a cell phone, even homeless people living on Skid Row. Back in the day, the concept of a free cell phone supported by advertising would have been fantastic.

    T-Mobile already offers this as a feature for prepaid cellular customers. If you're willing to listen to and watch commercials online, you get credit for free cell phone minutes. Some wag pointed out online that the problem with this marketing concept is that anyone who needs to work for free cell phone minutes probably isn't your ideal customer. Either they're too cheap to pay for anything or they're so poor that either way, they wouldn't be interested in the products that are being advertised.

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