In April 2007, Google launched a feature that, for the time, was very nifty: a free, fully automated 411 service called Goog-411 that would accept verbal commands to look up business listings. Today, after over three years of dutifully doling out free information to millions of phones, Google is announcing that it will be shuttering the service on November 12.
As Google alludes to in its blog post, the 411 service didn’t exist solely because Google wanted to help people out — it also gave Google a vast amount of voice data, allowing it to improve its speech recognition technology for the voice services that are now present throughout Android and on many other phones, including the iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia S60, and Windows.
In the blog post, Google also hints that we’ll be seeing much more voice functionality on the way:
Our success encouraged us to aim for more innovation. Thus, we’re putting all of our resources into speech-enabling the next generation of Google products and services across a multitude of languages.
Here’s how we described the service back when it first launched.
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.