The top entries for applications on Google’s new mobile platform were announced, and one in particular struck me:

Locale – Locale is one of 7 Android applications submitted by MIT students. It enables you to set up location- and time-based profiles for your phone, so you can make it shut up when you’re at work, forward calls to your landline when you’re at home. Clare Bayley, Christina Wright, Jasper Lin, Carter Jernigan.

It’s a smart idea, and one we’ll see much more of, now that geolocation is all the rage. (See: Brightkite.com) But it’s also an idea that’s not at all new.

Back in the day, I tested a product called “Wildfire.” This was a telephony service that used voice recognition to “listen” to your commands, and act as a personal assistant. I did some searching, and found this article from 1994, describing the service:

Wildfire Communications has taken a fresh look at the act of communication and has created an elegant and useful speech-recognition interface that helps expedite and simplify phone use, yet is positioned to move beyond the telephone. It is one of the most creative designs of a communications interface that we have seen. Think of it as a glimpse into the future that isn’t a wishware video.

Wildfire uses a session approach. Instead of placing a call, hanging up, then placing another call (and fumbling with all the phone numbers and contact information between the calls), you dial once into your Wildfire assistant from your desk or the road. You don’t need any special equipment to call in. Any ordinary phone will do. Once you are connected to Wildfire, it…well, she — the current Wildfire system has a woman’s voice, and people naturally personify it — can place multiple calls for you.

Funny, it was a “glimpse into the future” that, 14 years later, for the most part still hasn’t happened yet, at least not on a large scale.

What Wildfire did well, though, was location-based calling. You could tell Wildfire where you were, at the office for example, and “she” would know to direct your incoming calls to your work number. Or, if you were working late at night, you could have Wildfire take a message, unless it was your wife calling, in which case the call would go through. To a certain extent, the proliferation of cell phones and the decrease in phone numbers we have to manage has “solved” this problem. But tying location to your phone was something of a revolutionary and, yes, futuristic idea at the time.

And about that “she”… Using it, I can attest to how “lifelike” the interface was, responding to your requests to “Call Joe.” The company had a toll free number that had a demo, providing customers with a taste of what this service was all about. Curious, I gave it a call today — sure enough, the number still works.

Give it a shot: 1-800-WILDFIRE.


One response

  1. […] of utopian, tech-driven bubble-makers at the time is something I’ve written about before: Wildfire. This telephony-based virtual assistant remembered your schedule, and could forward calls to the […]

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