Updated: Ever since Microsoft bought Tellme Networks, the big question is what would Google do in response? It became a little clearer today when Google announced a free 411 service, which is a fraction of what TellMe-Microsoft has to offer. More details here.
I had been mucking around with this service last night, and didn’t end up writing about it because it is something that has been speculated for a long time. There were reports of 877-520FIND earlier. Google had hired a few folks out of Nuance, a speech recognition technology company last year, and perhaps the new launch is a culmination of their efforts.
Initial tests of the experimental service are like any new Google offering: they have promise to get better. The barrier has been set quite high by Tellme-based offerings, though they are not ad-supported. There is nothing to stop Microsoft from launching an ad-supported 411 service. Still, Google’s new ad-supported 411 service is an attempt by the company to extend its search-and-advertising franchise to the voice domain, indicating that the company has grander ambitions. (Or delusions, if you are a skeptic.)
The new offering is also a way for Google to needle the incumbent phone companies (not exactly a new fight for the search giant) by hurting the lucrative 411-business. Regardless, this is negative news for free 411 start-ups that have been building ad-supported 411 services. It is hard to figure out if anyone is actually making money on these services.
PS: Sorry for not offering more analysis right now, since I am judging the enterprenuer idol at UC Berkeley. See where I was on Justin.TV.