Back in 2007 Google launched 1-800-GOOG-411, a telephone directory assistance service for the U.S. and Canada powered by voice recognition technology. Now, the company has announced it will be shuttering the service on November 12, 2010—it’s apparently served its purpose, which was to serve as a technological foundation for what eventually became Google’s voice input technologies, including Voice Search and Voice Actions.
Google launched the voice-powered directory assistance service as an honest entry into the phone-based information services market, but the company was very open about its other agenda with the service: gather as much voice data as possible so it could train its phone-based speech recognition technology. For speech technology to be accurate, it needs to build its systems from a large number of speakers using a variety of different sounds, accents, and pronunciations—and, for Google, it’s even better if those calls come in over the low quality of a telephone voice connection. Google anonymously recorded calls to the GOOG-411 service and used them to refine its speech recognition technology.
Google will still provide directory assistance services for non-smartphones: folks can sent a text message to GOOGLE (466453) with the name and location of the business they want and get a text back in response. Gmail also has new phone-calling features built in, and smartphone owners can get a free voice search applications from Google via Google Mobile.