- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO | Ask.com hopes to persuade consumers who are fond of discount Web sites to bring their bargain hunts to its search engine.

Ask is rolling out Ask Deals, a service that will let visitors search for online coupons and bargains that it indexes from several dozen popular coupon Web sites, retail Web sites, message boards and blogs.

Ask, which is owned by Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, will be integrating the deals with regular search results on Ask.com — denoting deals with special icons — and making them available on a separate page devoted to bargain hunting, Ask.com/deals.

Ask Networks President Scott Garell said the company decided to focus on bargains because so many people use coupons. According to coupon-processing company Inmar Inc., use of electronic discounts and coupons more than doubled in the first half of 2009 from the same period last year, as overall coupon use rose 23 percent. Electronic coupons now account for more than 3 percent of all coupons used, up from about 2 percent last year.

Ask wants to save frugal consumers time and money, he said. The company determined that existing sites vary in quality and comprehensiveness, with some containing coupons that are fraudulent or invalid.

To make sure Ask Deals isn’t posting out-of-date deals, Ask will use software to filter the results, Mr. Garell said. An editorial team will also point out special deals and help determine bargains are valid.

There are plenty of sites out there that sift through the best deals — shopping is one focus of Microsoft Corp.’s retooled Bing search engine, for example. But Mr. Garell thinks Ask’s plan to aggregate bargains from many places will lure savvy consumers.

Apps cut calling costs for iPhone, BlackBerry users

NEW YORK | Vonage Holdings Corp., a pioneer in Internet-based home phone service, is launching applications for the iPhone and BlackBerry that undercut the international calling rates of major wireless carriers.

The free programs let users place calls that are routed over Vonage’s network, at least for the international leg.

The calls are placed as local wireless calls, using up minutes on the cell phone plan, although the iPhone will use Wi-Fi instead, if that’s available. (That works as well on the iPhone’s sibling, the iPod Touch, which goes online only with Wi-Fi.) Vonage then carries the calls to their overseas destination.

Vonage will carry a call to Colombia for 5 cents per minute. AT&T charges $2.19 per minute, or 17 cents per minute if the caller has signed up for a $3.99-per-month international calling plan.

The fact that the Vonage application for the iPhone can use the cellular voice channel is unusual. Several other voice-over-Internet Protocol, or VoIP, applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch can already place calls over Wi-Fi. But Google Inc.’s Voice application, which is designed to use the cellular network, has not been approved.

Google says its Voice program was rejected by Apple Inc. for duplicating the built-in functions of the phone, and the Web search company implies that Apple is protecting the revenue stream of iPhone carriers such as AT&T Inc. by not approving the application. Like Vonage’s application, Google Voice provides low international calling rates.

Apple says the Google Voice application hasn’t been rejected but is still being reviewed for inclusion in the App Store. The Federal Communications Commission is probing the disagreement.

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