Google Launches Free 411 Service

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Google threw a new product called Goog-411 into Google Labs today – a free telephone based information service that could replace toll 411 calls. About 2.6 billion 411 calls are made in the U.S. each year, and it is a $7 billion/year market.

Goog-411 can be accessed by dialing 1-800-GOOG-411. The product is completely automated and there is no way to talk to a human for additional or clarifying information. You tell it your city and state, and then ask for a specific business or business category. In my tests the product was excellent. Although the voice recognition was only working at about 70% efficiency, I just said “back” and retried when it didn’t understand what I said. Results are spoken back or text messaged back to you, and you are automatically put through to the phone number requested.

GOOG-411 is using Google’s normal local business information available on Google Maps and elsewhere. Businesses that want to add or correct data can do so here.

The product competes head on with Jingle Networks, which has taken 6% market share in the U.S. 411 business over the last year. AT&T is also experimenting with free 411 calls. None of these products come anywhere close to as good as TellMe’s rich client business information tool for mobile phones, but few phones support TellMe at this time (TellMe was recently acquired by Microsoft).

The paid 411 market is so dead. I’m betting these free alternatives take at least 50% market share within a couple of years.

Update: This is actually a product that Google’s been testing in various formats for some time. Steve Poland (a regular contributor here) is pointing me to some posts (and here) by Greg Sterling from last year that discuss this. The earliest reports on this are from October 2006, and the service may be from an acquisition of 1-877-520-FIND. More information here.

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