Google Labs Gets Into the 411 Business

Google Labs has taken the wraps off a new experimental service, Google Voice Local Search, or "Goog 411." The idea is to apply speech recognition and speech synthesis technology to offer local business searches via standard telephones: users just call the service, follow the automated system to enter their queries, and receive results. Goog 411 can even send search results to callers as a text message, saving them the trouble of trying to write down a critical address or phone number while on the go. And, although the service is experimental and may go offline, misbehave, or act strangely, it is available for free in English to U.S. callers. Searches currently cover U.S. business listings.

To access the service, users simply call 800/GOOG-411 (that’s 800/466-4411) from any phone and follow the automated system. The service applies speech recognition technologies to figure out what you’re searching for, and using speech synthesis to read the results back to you. Users can receive their results as a text message to their current number by saying "text message, and Goog 411 can connect users directly to a found business. Unlike some other automated 411 services, Goog 411 users can’t be connected to a live operator, so users searching for something the system doesn’t understand may have to get creative with their mispronunciations or try searching for general terms rather than a specific, mis-understood term.

Google isn’t the first to get into free 411 services—AT&T already offers its 1-800-YellowPages service, and Free 411 has been around for a while, but Google’s growing ubiquity increasingly means businesses are as concerned (or more concerned) with getting their information to Google than they might be about updating local phone directories.

Google hasn’t announced any plans for Goog 411; it may be safe to assume that the company might tie Goog 411 into the company’s advertising machine if it proves successful.

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