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04. 10. 2007

GOOG-411 is free and fancy


Google has launched a service providing free directory assistance calls, and the features offered will spur some serious competition in the 411 market. Goog-411 is accessible via a phone call to, unsurprisingly, 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411 or 1-877-466-4411). The system currently only handles Yellow Pages style business lookups, and it's entirely automated. There are no operators standing by to assist, but the experimental voice prompts are working pretty well.

Besides being a free service that automatically makes the connection to the listing; the beauty of Goog-411 is the added features that the system offers. Call up and say "47591, Pizza" and the system will read off listings of pizza parlors in Vincennes, IN. Say "Detail" while hearing the listings and you'll get the address of a specific parlor, but say "Text Message" and you'll instantly receive a text message with the business name, address, and phone number! Read the Goog-411 FAQ to get all the commands from the cheat sheet.

Thanks to Google all the cellular providers will need to offer this great feature in the future to stay competitive. If you prefer your free 411 calls to be staffed by a live operator in case of problems there's always the ad supported 1-800-FREE-411 (800-373-3411). I've been using their service for the last year, and it comes in very handy. There's no excuse beyond profiteering for phone providers to charge us outrageous rates for directory assistance calls (anywhere from $1.00 to $3.00 each), but there are all kinds of new businesses rising up to provide free information access via phone call or SMS. Try out Zypsy, 411SMS, or GylleSMS. ;-)

Update: As a lark this morning I sent a message to the Zypsy mentioned above. "What's the average rainfall in the Amazon Basin?" and I just received this reply via SMS:

Average rainfall across the whole Amazon basin is approximately 2300 mm (or ~7.5') annually. In some areas the rainfall could be double this number. Information from (projectamazonas.com)

Those kids at Zypsy aren't kidding when they say that they'll do the searching for you. It may take a couple of hours for a reply, but I can't argue with their execution. Good job, guys!

Posted by Johnny    Category: on the web
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Comments (5)


Thanks for the mention.

We do our best to repond within 20 minutes. Also, unlike the traidtional 411 services, we focus on shopping questions. We do answer the general questions, but give higher priority to the shopping questions.

Hahvahd Yahd:

It's true that the Google number does have a few bells and whistles, but it's slightly troubling that what is most badly needed in a voice-prompt system -- live customer support -- is missing. Did the Google people think this too primitive? I, and pretty much everyone I know, will always end up choosing what's most functional. This explains why the Google number will get some buzz for a while, but when things calm down people will still be using 1-800-Free411 for business, government, and residential info (Goog-411 only has business info), and whenever something is confusing or hard to pronounce, there will be a human there to assist with the call. Since 1-800-Free411 started doing category serach, there's just no need for the Google number.

Once the voice recognition catches up there won't be a need for a live operator at all. The technology has made incredible improvements in the last few years, and an automated system will be cheaper in the long run than a live attendant.

Free411 also uses voice recognition, but after a couple of bad attempts it forwards to a live operator. Google's service is currently in testing, and they might add live operators if there's a problem.

The big excitement about Goog-411 is the text message integration. It's a logical advancement that will eventually be implemented by everyone as they change business models to stay competitive.

And as more and more free 411 offerings come to the front we'll see the dinosaur telco providers start to offer the service for free as well. Technological improvement is all about turning a luxury into a commodity. As 411 service becomes cheaper across the board we'll start to see it given away by everyone. When it's all done the consumer will be the winner.

You guys are missing the absolutely best part of the GOOG-411 service. It is incredibly quick-&-easy to use. Basic need of most normal humans – immediate gratification. We don’t like to wait. And certainly not for a voice response service that is intent on jerking us around. I tested GOOG-411 against Verizon 411 for a half-dozen local listings. GOOG-411 was ringing the number while Verizon 411 was jerking me around with it’s “Sorry, I didn’t hear you” or “Sorry, I’m not finding that listing” nonsense. GOOG-411 simply blows away Verizon 411 on all counts. It is so much more efficient than Verizon 411, that you could go to Verizon 411 only in the rare instance when the GOOG-411 speech recognition (not voice recognition) did not nail it. GOOG-411 could do this for you. If it doesn’t recognize the request, it offers an option to connect to Verizon 411. 1-800-FREE-411 is a bad joke. It is slow-&-ugly. The speech recognition is bad. Businesses that GOOG-411 nailed on the 1st whack, the Jingle Networks service did not get and gave me the “did you mean” stress test. This service is awful to use, even if you ignore the ads that the caller is FORCED to listen to.

The Google GOOG-411 service is a breakthrough in the voice user interface.

Hahvahd Yahd:

I, for one, have never had the problems with 1-800-Free411 that Walt is describing. Verizon 411 may be awful, I'll believe that, but I've been using 1-800-Free411 (and hearing its short, not-annoying ads) for a while now, and it's worked well for me. What would I do with the Google number if I wanted a residential or business listing?

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