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Goodbye to GOOG-411 and Biddy-Biddy-Boop

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Google (s GOOG) today announced it is shutting down its free U.S. and Canada directory assistance service, 1-800-GOOG-411, to put its focus on its other speech-recognition services and extending them to new languages. At one point, Google had billboards for GOOG-411, which was an unusual spurt of advertising for the company and seemed to signal it was a larger project. But as of Nov. 12, the number will go dead. The company didn’t give a real reason for why it is shutting the service down besides a tightening of focus.

GOOG-411 launched in 2007, and I’ve had it in my contact list ever since. When compared to paid directory assistance or pre-roll ad-supported ones like Jingle Networks’ 1-800-FREE-411, it was an easy choice. Now, Google’s only providing free voice search for users with an Android phone or an iPhone (s aapl), BlackBerry (s rimm), and Nokia S60 V3 (s nok) with the company’s Google Mobile app. For folks without smartphones, Google invites them to “send a text message with the name and location of the business to 466453 (‘GOOGLE’) and we’ll text you the information” — which sounds onerous — or to use Gmail’s new free calling service.

Google had long said that GOOG-411 was a way for the company to amass data for experimenting with speech recognition. Marissa Mayer said in a 2007 interview:

The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. … So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we’re trying to get the voice out of video, we can do it with high accuracy.

Now, Android phones with the latest operating system not only have voice search, but also “Voice Actions,” where users can give the phone more complex commands to complete various tasks. Those apps are great and all, but GOOG-411 had one killer feature — the human “biddy-biddy-boop” sound that played while the service fetched responses to users’ queries. For more on the much-loved sound effect, see Chris’ 2007 interview with its creator, Bill Byrne.

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13 Responses to “Goodbye to GOOG-411 and Biddy-Biddy-Boop”

  1. Jeff Baker

    Google’s idea of toll free service was innovative and it is sad to see it go down. Recently I came across a toll service by Justdial and the difference between the 2 services is vast. Justdial (1800-500-0000) boasts of human assisted service, one ring pick up and answers your queries within 60 seconds which 1800GOOG411 did not offer. This service is simply mindblowing.

  2. Mahdi Shafiee

    And yet another great service is going to shut down, because of lousy marketing department in Google! The big problem with Google is that they don’t know how to market their great technologies and make money out of them. In this case their objection is that since they developed native apps for smartphones they don’t see any advantage in Goog-411 and therefore they won’t continue the service. I guess they should look into numbers, even in US the majority of people still use regular phones rather than Smart phones. So this is not a good excuse to abandon this great service.
    Whit this attitude, Google is going to lose its customers, especially now that they step into Enterprise with their Google Apps. With this attitude, there is no guaranty for businesses to switch to Google and layout their needs on Google Services, because Google might withdraw those services with or without any reasons. i.e. Just in May, 2010 @Google IO they announced that they are opening Google Waves for Apps’ users and couple months later they retired Wave! It’s hard to trust on experimental technologies, and that is why Google hasn’t been able to make money on most of its products except the search.
    Google! Please change this attitude!

  3. George Martin

    These days toll free services are very important to keep information close to you. I am not happy seeing 1800GOOG411 being shutdown. Although recently I tried another toll free service by Justdial that offers one ring pick up and provides information within 60 seconds. This is amazing simply because your calls are received by real people unlike GOOG411 where machines answered your calls.

  4. Whaaa?! End of an era. Luckily there is something better to take its place. The guys over at 1800-500-0000 have a human powered service… someone answers your call within a single ring, and then answers your question in a jiffy.

    I was already using them… guess with the GOOG gone, all my queries will go to these guys.

  5. David McMurray

    This is a cool service, and they should keep it for that reason alone. If Google is worried about money?…. Just put in 5 second micro ads so it will pay for it’s self, it ain’t that hard.

  6. dementer

    No Google!!! This service is so handy on a phone with out texting or a data plan.
    I probably use this service once every week to call some business. Its easier to call Google than to save each of them in my phone.

    :sad panda: