[tabi] Fw: [VICUG-L] FW: Farewell, GOOG-411

  • From: "Lynn Evans" <evans-lynn@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2010 15:47:33 -0400

This was an active discusion on the VICUG list:

Farewell, GOOG-411 - NYTimes.com
Pogue's Posts - The Latest in Technology From David Pogue

October 14, 2010, 12:04 pm
Farewell, GOOG-411

Oh, it's a sad day in techland.

On November 12, Google will turn off 800-GOOG-411 forever.

It was one of the best, juiciest, most useful services in all 
It didn't cost anything.  It didn't require a smartphone.  Its 
was uncanny.

In case you missed it, GOOG-411 is a free, voice-activated
directory-assistance service.  You say the business name or 
category you
want-"Freestyle Gym," "taxi," "Sakura restaurant," "hospital,"
whatever-and the city and state.  In one second, the guy's voice 
reading a list of the best eight results.

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You interrupt him by saying, "number two" or whatever.  Then you 
can say
"details" to hear him read you the address and phone number.  Or 
you can
say "text message" to have him text you the information.  But if 
you just
hang on, he connects your call for free.

You never actually hear the phone number.  But why should you 
care? You
just want to call the place, right? It's like having a little 
dude back at HQ connecting your calls-and if you're driving, 
which you
often are when you use this service, never once did you take your 
off the road.  Or even write anything down.

People who knew about GOOG-411 adored it.  But Google is about to 
turn it
off forever.

The blog gives no explanation.  Instead, it simply says "Goodbye 
to an
old friend" and suggests that you use one of Google's 
voice-driven tools
on an Android cellphone instead.

Well, that's great if you have an Android cellphone.  What about 
the 95
percent of us who don't?

I asked Google why Google pulled the plug.  The PR person's 

"Our focus is to provide the most value that we can for our 
users.  In
this context, we see the combination of speech technologies with 
increasing growth of smartphones as a better opportunity to 
provide more
value for users, so that is where we've chosen to focus our 

I wrote back: "Thanks for the information.  But if Google's focus 
is to
provide 'the most value,' then certainly a service that works on 
100% of
phones provides more value than one that works only only 5% of 
Is there a more plausible reason?"

The reply this time was no more helpful: "GOOG-411 showed that a
fully-automated service could connect callers and businesses all 
the country.  We will continue to invest in voice recognition


The real answer was one Google search away.  Here's Google's 
Mayer, talking to Infoworld in 2007 , when she was Google's vice
president for search: "If you want us to build a really robust 
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 
people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off 
that.  So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of 
speech samples."

In other words, GOOG-411 was never intended to be a permanent 
it was a phoneme-harvesting operation for honing Google's voice

Anyway, if you intend to soldier on in the post-GOOG-411 world, 
here are
your options:

* Use Google's even older, text-message version of GOOG-411, 
which is
still available.  You can text, for example, "home depot dallas 
tx" to
the address 46645-that is, GOOGL-and you'll be texted back with 
information.  Unfortunately, that's nowhere near as quick or as
hands-free as GOOG-411.

* Use the Google Mobile App.  It's available for Android, iPhone 
BlackBerry.  You speak what you want, just as with GOOG-411 ("CVS
pharmacy San Diego"), and you're shown the best matches on a map,
complete with prominent, one-tap phone numbers.

Unfortunately, it's not hands-free and it works only on those 
three app

* Use Microsoft's competing service, 800-BING-411.

BING-411 is a renamed version of TellMe, which Microsoft bought 
in 2008
for about $1 billion.  (You can read about the service here .  Or 
read my
original 2001 Times review .)

It works very similarly to GOOG-411, except it also offers 
driving directions, news headlines, travel info, cheap gas, 
weather for any city, traffic, sports scores, movie information, 
and so
on.  (Say "Tell me my choices" at any time to hear this menu.)

This service would seem to be a natural successor for Google's
service-it works from any phone, for example.  It does, however, 
more steps to get to the information you want.  A typical call 
might go
like this:

Darby: "Bing 411.  Say a city and state." Me: "Cleveland, Ohio." 
"Cleveland, Ohio.  Is that right?" Me: "Yes." Darby: "OK.  What 
or type of business are you looking for?" Me: "Home Depot." 
Darby: "OK,
Home Depot.  What street is it on? Or say 'I don't know.'" Me: "I 
know." Darby: "I found nine locations.  When you hear the one you 
just say it.  Brook Park Road.  Center Ridge Road.  Mayfield 

(To get to this point on GOOG-411, you could have just said, 
"Home Depot
Cleveland, Ohio." It would have read you the listings 

Me: "Mayfield Road." Darby: "OK.  There are two numbers for Home 
Depot at
3460 Mayfield Road, rated 2 stars.  The first number is 
216-297-1303.  The
second number is 800-887-3395.  Now you can say, 'Driving 
"Share this listing' or 'Connect me.' You can also say 'Repeat 
the info'
or 'Start over.'"

And so on.

At least you can interrupt Darby at any time, cutting the 
short.  (Yes, that's her name.  I actually met her once.  She's 
the voice
of TellMe and about a million other voice-activated 
lines.) Also, you get a text to your cellphone automatically when 
identify the listing you want, which is handy.

Note that Bing lists (and identifies) advertised search results 
which is annoying (but may mean that this service will carry on).  
again, if all you want is a phone number (and are willing to 
listen to
an ad to get it), services like 800-FREE-411 are still around.
GOOG-411's fans will miss it dearly.  But BING-411 will get us 

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