ClickPick: SitePal.com

One of the things that online merchants lament about the Web is its impersonality. No matter how friendly or inviting a Web site, it's not the same as having an enthusiastic, perky salesperson give upbeat answers to customers' questions.

OddCast's SitePal product can put the aforementioned salesperson on your site. Using its online studio, Web site owners can create a virtual character - choose their look, customize their facial features and clothing, and add a background - give them some lines, and have them pitch their product on the site. The characters are cartoonish, but their movements are synched well with their speech, and when not talking, they idly glance around in a realistic fashion.

The voice can be added over the phone, through OddCast's text-to-voice technology, recorded using OddCast's audio software, or contracted using professional voice talent; the company offers a voice talent store as well. The process of adding the SitePal to one's site is fairly simple - once the character is created in the studio, it can be easily embedded in the HTML of the site, or it can be made into a flash video and uploaded onto the site. For eBay junkies, SitePals can even be embedded into online auctions. All of these options require a minimum in programming knowledge.

SitePal is offered in three packages: Bronze, Silver, and Gold, which cost $99.50 to $499.50 a year. Buying more expensive services ramps up the number of different SitePals you can have simultaneously, the number of times they can be streamed to customers, and the variety of models and backgrounds.

There are some downsides to having a talking virtual character on your site. If the character is set to begin talking immediately then a delay in loading time can lead to the character piping up after the user is already absorbed. Plus, after the character says its piece, it remains active, which can distract and act as a hovering, over-eager salesperson.