Google launches free 411 (beta)

Om Malik reports on Google’s beta free 411 service. Call 800-GOOG-411 to get free business listings.

The service uses voice recognition technology to let you search business listings. Unlike Jingle’s 800-FREE-411, you can choose to be connected to the business you get the number for. That alone is enough to get me to switch.

The voice recognition worked well in my tests. It’s great for in car use. (With a headset or Bluetooth of course.) The text-to-speech technology that plays back business information isn’t the best I’ve heard, but it’s serviceable.

You can say “text message” when a listing is being played to get an SMS with the business information. (The service doesn’t detect whether you’re calling from a mobile phone, so it’ll say “text message sent” even if you’re calling from a landline.) The text message includes the name of the business, address and phone number. So far, no link to a WAP page with maps, directions, reviews, etc.

Right now there aren’t any ads on the service, but it’s easy to imagine ads inserted into the call flow and text messages. Jingle already has voice ads, many of which are overly intrusive and irrelevant. For example, a search for a nearby restaurant played an ad for Girls Gone Wild. Google is likely waiting to develop a user base and attract relevant advertisers.

I expect we’ll soon see Google include 411 requests in your search history, making it easy to retrieve numbers you looked up on the phone.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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