It's going to be an adventure to let your fingers do the walking under a new yellow pages program being launched by Bell Atlantic Corp., which plans to test a multimedia directory early next year.
The directory, stored on compact disc, will allow browsers to take a look at more than 1 million residential listings, 300,000 business listings and 1,000 display advertisements -- many of them with audio and video capabilities.
Graphics, maps and animation will also be part of the electronic directory, which represents Bell Atlantic's first foray into the electronic yellow pages market.
With a CD version of the yellow pages in hand, a person in search of, say, a romantic restaurant could call up pictures of the interior of the restaurant, complete with sound effects like background music and dining chatter.
Click another button and the person can see the head waiter and get a description -- in the waiter's own voice -- of the restaurant's selling points (quaint? home-made desserts? outrageous wine list?) as well as a detailed map of how to get there and where to park.
And, oh yes, the restaurant's telephone number is also available.
"Consumers expect an electronic directory product to do more than provide an on-line version of a printed product," said Robert A. Graham, president of Bell Atlantic Directory Services, the publishing unit of Bell Atlantic, the Philadelphia-based parent of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co.
Bell Atlantic isn't alone in its interest in the electronic yellow pages business. The six other regional Bells are also looking to parlay their considerable customer data bases into business opportunities, resulting in a number of field trials aimed at providing electronic versions of the yellow pages.
At the moment, however, company officials believe Bell Atlantic is alone in trying to put that information in a CD format.
For test purposes, about 300 households in Northern Virginia will be supplied with state-of-the-art compact disc players equipped play the CDs. Those systems, known as CD-I within the industry, will be distributed free for the market test, which is expected to begin during the first quarter of 1993. CD-I systems currently sell for about $1,500.
Most test participants will be supplied with conventional CD-I systems, which are connected to television sets and operated ++ by remote controllers. A few, however, might be supplied with portable models.
"You could stick it on the kitchen counter, the den, or take it with you in the car," said Ken Clark, manager of new business development for Bell Atlantic's directory services division. Current plans call for Bell Atlantic to test out the CD system for at least six months. There are no plans to update the CD during the test, but that probably won't be the case if Bell Atlantic decides to go to full-scale commercial deployment, he said.
Should that happen, he said, Bell Atlantic could "easily" update CDs monthly. Consumers probably won't be charged -- ever -- in keeping with the tradition of the phone company, which has always distributed the yellow pages for free.
"Customers are used to getting our product for free," Mr. Clark said.