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Free 411 Directory Assistance Print
Saturday, 14 July 2007 20:36

Directory AssitanceAfter just a little digging, the first fact I dug up was that there were about 2.6 billion 411 calls made in the U.S. last year. This translates into a $7 billion a year market. Jingle Networks one of the first to offer a free 411 service took a 6% market share in the U.S. 411 business last year, which appears to have attracted the attention of the likes of AT&T, Google, and Microsoft. Each has entered into the business, mainly by buying a competitor of Jingle.

AT&T purchased InFreeDA and changed the name to 1-800-YellowPages. Google is rumored to have purchased 1-877-520-FIND in October 2006 and officially launch Goog-411 on April 6th 2007. Microsoft purchased TellMe, widely known as the mac-daddy of 411. Jingle is still 1-800-FREE-411. Armed with these 4 champions, I set out to call each and see what all the fuss was about.

AT&T seems to be dragging their feet; calling their service gave me a message saying they are coming to my area code and to check back soon. Uh, like what if I wanted a number in another area code? Or perhaps I’m vacationing and looking for a pizza place? I’m inclined to think everyone gets this message regardless of what area code in which they reside.

Goog-411, like most things Google lays their hands on, is simple and it works. The product is completely automated and there is no way to talk to a human for additional or clarifying information. As it tests from my office phone, their voice recognition was about 90% effective in giving me the number I requested. If it doesn’t understand you, you can simply say “back” and try again. The combination of my wonderful southern accent and traveling down the road at 60 mph, however, dropped Google efficiency to about 50%. Another minus for Google is they currently only provide business listings, so you’re out of luck if you interested in a residential listing. On the positive side, Google had no ads and was the only one I’m aware of that can actually connect you with your intended party. Google along with most of the services I tried, will send the information to your mobile as a text message – it is much more convenient to actually go ahead and connect your call.

TellMe has more features than Goog-411 and just like Microsoft products, felt a little messier and confusing to me. TellMe’s voice recognition didn’t work quite as well for me. It worked better for some words than others. When saying “Mars Technologies”, it only recognized it about half the time, whereas saying “King’s Famous Pizza” was just about 100%. TellMe like Goog-411 only provides business listing. It doesn’t however connect you with the party you were looking for.

Jingle stands out from the competition by providing residential numbers and live operator support as a backup to voice automation technology. As a user of the service, the price paid for these extra features is having to listen to an advertisement. They are usually only about 10-15 seconds long, which is not so bad, but during my tests I was generally forced to listen to two of them; one occurred upon connection to the service and then another right before getting the number. I would rate their voice recognition on par with Microsoft’s TellMe, but having a live operator in a pinch gives them an edge.

I'm guessing the paid 411 market is dying and these free alternatives will take at least a 50% market share within the next couple of years. As for my favorite, Goog-411 clearly wins. In my book, they win solely because they connect you with your intended calling party automatically. Below is an audio recording myself looking up Mars Technologies in North Myrtle Beach, SC which could also be found by asking for “computer service” or “computer repair.”

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