Slydial Extends the Power of Voicemail

Idea for voicemail messaging drew from success and convenience of text messaging.

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The launch of Slydial touched a nerve, as the service's sudden popularity exceeded its initial capacity. It seems a lot of us want to leave a voicemail without risking an actual conversation.

The launch was helped by a good name, carefully devised after focus groups and surveys. The internal name was the simple "Straight to Voicemail." "It was sort of a snoozer," says Gavin Macomber, who helped develop Slydial.

The clever tag not only got the purpose across but added a beguiling tone: "It sounds sort of sneaky or surreptitious," says Macomber, a cofounder of MobileSphere. The name also helped draw press coverage, including from a British tabloid whose writer lamented that the service isn't available there—and therefore there is "no one not to call."

But as Macomber describes MobileSphere, the service is a natural extension of the company's efforts to expand the capabilities of wireless phones. MobileSphere also developed Joopz, a site that enables two-way texting between phones and PCs.

The Slydial idea came from texting's success, Macomber says. "We asked, 'What if you could send a voice message with the same convenience?' " Sometimes text is inappropriate, such as when driving or walking. Plus, voice messages can carry more meaning, emotion, or intimacy. In that sense, Slydial doesn't have to be sly. We can start viewing voicemail as a multipurpose service that extends beyond a missed conversation. More like true "voicemail."

Why not trade voice messages for more meaning but without the risk of a chat with its attendant niceties and tangents? Maybe even mark those messages differently to take out the sneakiness (but please leave the covert option, as well, for when we want to appear disappointed we couldn't chat!)

MobileSphere is talking with carriers about how they might customize Slydial-like services. The company also built in a few Slydial safeguards to avoid abusive sneaks. Callers can't, for example, leave a voicemail if their Caller ID is blocked.

The service hasn't always worked as advertised. Macomber attributes early hiccups to unanticipated volume, and says the system now runs smoothly. For one, the Pennsylvania phone company that hosts the Slydial number ran out of capacity. MobileSphere went to Pennsylvania's 267 area code because that was where it could find the numbers to spell "Slydial."

Just don't expect Macomber to explain how Slydial works. The secret sauce is now the subject of a patent filing, he says: "To go into details wouldn't be very sly, now would it?"


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