Residential Data Feeds, Inc.

Our home intercom has been connected to a computer for about fifteen years. The auxiliary input of the intercom is connected to the audio output of the server. We almost never use the other intercom inputs.

The computer has been supplying us data about the outside through canned announcements and text-to-speech. What sort of data? Here is a list of all the announcements I can think of:

You would think all this would result in a lot of clamor, but it doesn't. Occasionally an announcement comes at an inconvenient time, but we miss some of these services when we are away.

The job of announcing incoming calls is a special one. Some numbers are well known, and we play special recordings for them. For most of the rest, the text of the caller ID string is played, and usually works pretty well. These announcements have been very handy to identify the person who is interested in the call.

But there are a number of problematic numbers. Some are simply blocked, like our doctors. Others are unavailable for various reasons: maybe they are overseas, or something is broken, or some robo-caller is hiding himself with a bogus name. Until this week, we pretty much had to answer these, unless we recognized the particular scam string in the caller ID.

I've added a new feature: for unrecognized numbers, the program now consults one of those web complaint web pages and extracts a brief description if the number is a known creep. If so, the intercom emits a bronx cheer (which I recorded after a particularly annoying call) and the nature of the complaint (tonight, a security scam). This seems to be working well, and I think our lives will improve an epsilon.

There is a business, even a small industry, waiting to be invented here. Most of the data I use for these services are scraped from web pages, which tend to grudgingly supply these data, wanting me to read an ad in the mean time. Occasionally, one of my sources reformats the web page, and my service dies. This is currently the case for news headlines.

Someday soon, homes will want this data, doubtlessly supplied in XML format. I think a subscription of a couple of bucks a month would be about right: the cost of providing most of this data is near zero. Let's not get too greedy here.

This could provide a standard feed that could be used in other ways. Emergency weather notifications (tornado nearby!) and other announcements make sense. I'd like a service that told me if it is cloudy outside (to suppress astronomical reminders: a meteor shower is no fun on a cloudy night, unless it is a really intense shower. See emergency notifications, above.)

There's a chicken-and-egg issue here, but I don't think it would take much demand to build a little service that could grow. I always thought there ought to be a "Microsoft standard house" (okay, I'm not a marketing guy: you pick the name.) This is a small document of specifications that a builder or remodeler follows during construction. When done, the PC, running Microsoft House, is placed where it belongs, and services like these (and, of course, TV, VTR, etc.) are provided.

When I worked for AT&T they seemed interested in the general idea, but I couldn't seem to interest anyone in my take on the service. Telephone companies aren't geared for innovation.