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Passive-aggressive phone-tag from Slydial

July 22, 2008 |  4:24 pm

Called Here’s a dilemma: You’re just too popular. You owe phone calls to a lot of people –- your wealthy great-aunt, your best friend from space camp, your just-married roommate –- but you don’t actually want to talk to them. You just want to call them and leave a message. Tag. They’re it in the phone-tag game. 

There's a new solution out there today. A service called Slydial lets you leave messages on people’s cellphones without their phones actually ringing. Of course, they don’t know that (well, unless they read this blog), so they'll think you tried to call while they were on the other line or driving through a tunnel or counting piles of money in their vaults.

Boston-based MobileSphere stumbled across the technology that powers Slydial while looking for a way to let customers get roaming voicemail in Europe, proving, as co-founder Gavin Macomber says, that "the greatest and simplest ideas are found when you're working on something else." Kind of like penicillin.

Slydial is one of the many services supported by in-call commercials, a growing medium ...

... in which captive callers have to listen to an ad before they get something for free. Jingle Networks, which offers free 411 information for callers who listen to an ad first, has soared in popularity, and said last month that it had become profitable. Google offers a service called GOOG-411. The spate of ad-sponsored phone services has even angered consumer watchdogs.

The Slydial ads are about 30 seconds, but that's nothing compared with the long phone conversation you would have to have if great-aunt Millie actually picked up the phone and started asking what you think about that Obama guy. She hopefully won't pick up -- when I tried out the service earlier today, the recipient's phone rang a few times before it went straight to voicemail. Macomber said that some carriers, such as AT&T, show a missed call, and the phone might ring once or twice -- although he said even if the phone rings, the caller wouldn't be connected. Others, such as Verizon, won't ever ring.

Slydial suggests a few ways to use its service: calling in sick without hassle from your boss, staying in touch with a significant other without missing the big game, breaking up with someone the easy way. Or, if you want to be even more passive-aggressive, Slydial someone who has Slydialed you.

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers marketing and the L.A. tech scene.

Photo: Sameer Vasta via Flickr

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