Invite with Phonevite

* The telephone is still one of the most reliable ways of getting a message circulated to a group

The idea that most people are on e-mail and that they actually read their e-mail and, given those predicates, are organized enough to schedule something based on a message is still, sadly, fiction.

You know what this is like: You’re trying to get people together for a meeting or a social event and you send e-mail messages and what happens? Half the people apparently never see it or if they do apparently immediately lose their minds and forget all about it.

The answer? The telephone. Yep, that trusty old-school tech is still one of the most reliable ways of getting a message circulated to a group short of actually standing in front of each person and shouting at them.

Today’s focus is Phonevite a Web Application that makes contacting groups of people by telephone really easy and cheap, and for small groups of up to 25, free!

Once you’ve registered you can set up your message by using either Web-based recording or Phonevite’s Phone Recorder, which lets you initiate a telephone call from your account to yourself to record your message using your phone. A couple of minor issues appeared here: The first time the service called me there was just silence then it hung up and when it did work the prompts are not clear (opening with “Press star to save …” when you haven’t recorded is not logical).

You can create a contact list or load your contacts from services such as Yahoo and Gmail – another problem here: I tried to use the latter but Phonevite kept saying it couldn’t log on.

Once you have your content you can schedule call outs and you can have recipients receive your audio invite via an e-mail message. Recipients can, at the end of calls, press 1 (yes), 2 (no) or 3 (not sure). Phonevite tallies the responses and you can check the statistics via the Phonevite site along with all of the other details - number of completed calls and, for premium accounts, costs involved.

You can have Phonevite send messages using your own number as the caller ID and the service can detect answering machines and voicemail services and leave messages on them.

What I think is particularly interesting is the Phonevite has an API (currently in limited beta) that allows for the integration of other Web applications with the Phonevite service.

As I noted above the free service only allows for a maximum of 25 recipients and calls may be delayed as premium accounts get priority. The free service also adds a “blurb” about Phonevite at the end of the call.

The premium service, priced very straightforwardly at 5 cents per successful call, offers priority delivery (although exactly what that is and how you can tell the difference from non-priority delivery isn’t clear). You can also buy calls ahead of using them and get rate discounts as high as 20% for a $200 purchase (that allows for more than 4,800 calls). Nonprofits and schools are eligible for a further 20% discount.

I found the service very easy to use despite the minor problems I’ve mentioned. A small gotcha in practice is that there’s a problem with recipients who are impatient (like several members of my family who I invited to dinner using the service) and who don’t wait for the end of the message and therefore don’t get around to confirming or otherwise.

I like this service a lot, and bar the minor issues I’m sure will be fixed in short order, I think it’s a winner.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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