Blog Post

Google launches 800GOOG411

Updated: Ever since Microsoft bought Tellme Networks, the big question is what would Google do in response? It became a little clearer today when Google announced a free 411 service, which is a fraction of what TellMe-Microsoft has to offer. More details here.

I had been mucking around with this service last night, and didn’t end up writing about it because it is something that has been speculated for a long time. There were reports of 877-520FIND earlier. Google had hired a few folks out of Nuance, a speech recognition technology company last year, and perhaps the new launch is a culmination of their efforts.

Initial tests of the experimental service are like any new Google offering: they have promise to get better. The barrier has been set quite high by Tellme-based offerings, though they are not ad-supported. There is nothing to stop Microsoft from launching an ad-supported 411 service. Still, Google’s new ad-supported 411 service is an attempt by the company to extend its search-and-advertising franchise to the voice domain, indicating that the company has grander ambitions. (Or delusions, if you are a skeptic.)

The new offering is also a way for Google to needle the incumbent phone companies (not exactly a new fight for the search giant) by hurting the lucrative 411-business. Regardless, this is negative news for free 411 start-ups that have been building ad-supported 411 services. It is hard to figure out if anyone is actually making money on these services.

PS: Sorry for not offering more analysis right now, since I am judging the enterprenuer idol at UC Berkeley. See where I was on Justin.TV.

41 Responses to “Google launches 800GOOG411”

  1. In the end, free411 and google are exactly the same–placement (for businesses) will be determined by the all might dollar.

    I had a free411 marketing guy stop by my business trying to get me to signup–too pricey….

  2. Interesting that no one is really comparing the Goog-411 number with the established free 411 company, 1-800-Free411. Goog-411 has business listings, while 1-800-Free411 has business, residential, and gov’t listings. Both run on speech-recognition technology, but only 1-800-Free411 has live operator support in case what you’re searching for has a very unusual or hard to pronounce name. AND, 1-800-Free411 is doing category search now: http://www.free411.com/about/pressreleases/p20070320

    I understand that people get excited when Google rolls out with something new, but in this case their number is nowhere near the best in the free 411 field.

  3. Just a note: Nuance and Tellme are not necessarily mutually exclusive; Tellme has been using Nuance technology from day-one and is still using it, though it might change in the future.

  4. Ron Perry

    On a related note, I heard about an interesting company in LA that has a beta call connections service that connects calls to Google and Tellme free-of-charge. The service seems to be accessible at 800-555-5555 for callers in Southern California, and at 310-800-5555 from outside that area. They also have an interesting travel connections portal if you say “travel”. Call their number and check it out.

  5. Om–well; depending on whether or not Microsoft/TellMe and/or Google/Nuance decide to assert them (which wouldn’t be surprising given the obvious importance of this space); it looks likely that another “IP war” is likely to be waged over this/these technologies.

    TellMe has no fewer than 12 issued patents; while Nuance has 31.

    Also wouldn’t surprise me if others have applicable patents–both issued and pending–as well.

  6. Entirely voice activated sounds better than the 118 services in the UK, some of which are outsourced to Asia. Nothing wrong with this in principle, except some operators haven’t heard of Scotland.

  7. Randy H

    It will be interesting to see how Google’s new free-411 service competes against AT&T’s 1-800-YellowPages. Two giants going against each other. Google has Internet coolness and lots of cash, but AT&T has a world-class telecommunication infrastructure, great partners (VoltDelta & Apptera) and trained operator back-up.

    I wonder how all the other phone companies are going to respond. Will they just watch their paid-411 volumes slip away or will they all get into the game and we’ll have a dozen choices for free-411? Good for consumers and more targets for advertisers. Everyone wins!