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Focus on... Screaming Mouse 

There's a small software company in Spokane -- actually, it may only remain small for a short while longer -- that's been generating a lot of buzz lately. The name of the loft-based outfit, Screaming Mouse, doesn't give away much about its product (there are no tortured rodents involved), but the people behind the keyboards are eager to fill you in.

"It's pretty simple. What we have developed is the new standard for media delivery via the Internet," says Barton S. Cooke, owner of Screaming Mouse. "This product replaces streaming of audio and video, it will replace RealVideo and RealAudio as we know it today."

The quality of the video and audio you get through Screaming Mouse is pretty incredible, but it's the software's invisibility that's the real seller. Screaming Mouse is a dream tool for the millions of companies that already have Web sites, but are struggling to customize them to visitors of varying age and nationality.

"Screaming Mouse empowers Web site owners to speak to people anywhere with any dialect," says Cooke. "Imagine visiting Pepsi's Web site. With our software, a 16-year-old from Atlanta will get a different audio than a 40-year-old from Michigan. Or let's say you speak Arabic, well, then the site will talk to you in Arabic."

Not only will this make Internet shoppers feel more at home on their favorite sites, Screaming Mouse will also allow site owners to cater to a wide range of target groups from the same site, with very specific audio and video messages.

But how does it work? When you log on to the Web site, Screaming Mouse pops up and asks you a few questions, about your age, first name and zip code. Your privacy remains protected -- the Web site owner never knows who you are -- but from now on, every time you visit, the site will load with a language, music and video style that fits you, no matter if you are Chinese, American or Italian.

"Today, nobody can do that," says Cooke. "Nobody can convey a different audio message to a 12-year-old and a 25-year-old from the same Web site, but we can make that happen."

Screaming Mouse was started in 1993 and received a business incubator grant from SIRTI in '96. Before then, several projects such as a talking mouse pad were being developed, but the new software hitting the Internet today is the culmination of work that began in 1996. Today, its offices are in a funky building on the reemerging East Main part of downtown Spokane.

Screaming Mouse has applications not only in Web site design and targeted advertising, but net meetings and other Internet based means of communication may be significantly improved by the new technique as well.

Several international software, computer and engineering giants, as well as e-commerce businesses, are on the brink of signing contracts with Screaming Mouse. But Cooke won't reveal any details just yet.

"It's been amazing, the last couple of months. It all really began when we were invited to present in Las Vegas at the National Association of Broadcasters' convention in a [sales] pitch contest, and we tied for first place," says Cooke. "There was an NPR correspondent there, who told the L.A. bureau chief about us, and they did a story on us. At the same time, someone from Media Corp. in Singapore saw us. He went back to Singapore, realized what we can do with this software, quit his job and is now starting up Screaming Mouse, Asia."

In the meantime, the NPR story generated more than 1,000 phone calls and 500 e-mails from people interested in the software, regardless of the fact that NPR never mentioned any contact information.

"It's kind of funny. Nobody knows jack about us in Spokane, but we are getting to be huge in Singapore," says Cooke with a laugh.

Aside from a couple of six-digit private investors -- one of which is local -- Screaming Mouse is self-funded, and its Spokane staff can be counted on one hand.

"I don't know, there is no venture capital here. I mean, there's no way we'd get more money out of Spokane," he says. "Anyway you look at it, in our case, there is more money in Singapore than there is in Spokane." That's also where the major part of today's software and computer giants roam, but don't expect Screaming Mouse to move completely from Main Street to Asia any time soon.

"Screaming Mouse, U.S., will be a stockholder in Screaming Mouse, Asia, that's how that's going to work," says Cooke. "But mainly, we are just so excited. This software can do so many things; it truly is the culmination of what we have done so far."

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