A middleware company called OpenCloud (not to be confused with WLAN provider The Cloud) has been in touch to make us aware of a Dutch charity for the hearing-impaired, which is using its "device-agnostic" Rhino platform for a pretty cool service.
The charity, called AnnieS (Annie Sullivan was Helen Keller's private teacher), is using a real-time "talk-by-text" service developed by TNO ICT and operatored (is that a word?) by KPN. Basically, it lets you chat in real time, i.e. as you type a letter it appears on the other person's screen.
It can be used on a mobile phone (KPN's launched it on the BlackBerry), a PC - whatever (hello all you IMS folks out there). Simple, yet effective. As OpenCloud's VP of sales Simon Joles told me, it is "certainly more akin to the natural way one converses between two people". That is to say, it gives one the opportunity to interrupt the other party, which you can't do as such with straight IM.
For the deaf or hearing-impaired, it's brilliant - no more expensive textphone, no more having to get in touch with the family via a cumbersome text-to-voice translation bureau. Great in terms of accessibility, obviously, but as Joles pointed out it could even have enterprise - or even general consumer - applications. Now let's see if any operators over here bite.