Several years ago, if you were out and about and needed access to a phone number you had two options:
- Call a friend and have them look it up for you
- Dial 411 to get the information you need from directory services
While the first option is certainly the frugal approach, it may wear on your friends if you are a frequent dialer. The later will wear on your wallet with 4-1-1 / operator calls ranging from $0.75 – $1.75 per call. Let’s say you make an average of 10 information calls per month and that costs $15. That converts to $180/yr just in directory assistance calls.
Here are 2 options for free directory assistance:
1-800-FREE-411 is a company operated by Jingle Networks. In exchange for their free directory services, you will hear advertising messages during the call. Ads are typically around 8-10 seconds and are played at the beginning of the call and after the directory request has been made.
If you don’t want to voluntarily subject yourself to the gigantic advertising industry, another option is Google 411. Google 411 is an ads free directory service powered by none other than the search engine giant. The number is 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-4664-411). A typical call to Google 411 is like this:
Voice prompt: This call is recorded…Google….say the business, and the city and state
Caller: Pizza Hut, O’Fallon, IL
Voice prompt: Pizza Hut, O’Fallon, IL …. Top 8 results…..number 1… Pizza Hut on US Hwy 50 O’Fallon, IL…number 2….
Caller: Number 1
Voice prompt: Pizza Hut on US Hwy 50, I’ll connect you….or say details or more results….
Caller: Connect me
The service will also send a text message to your phone. You have to speak clearly and slowly, if it does not understand what you say, it will ask you to say just the city and state, followed by the business name. You can also list a category, such as restaurants and search for results like that. So what’s that catch? What’s in it for Google?
Did you catch the first line? This call is recorded….
Yep, Google is using this service to enhance their speech recognition software. Here is what Google’s Vice President of Search and User Experience had to say about the service during a 2007 interview with InfoWorld:
You may have heard about our [directory assistance] 1-800-GOOG-411 service. Whether or not free-411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. I myself am somewhat skeptical. The reason we really did it is because we need to build a great speech-to-text model … that we can use for all kinds of different things, including video search.
There is a tradeoff to using both of these “free” services, but then again, there is no such thing as a free lunch….or is there? Not in this case! If you are OK with advertisements, and helping Google improve its speech-to-text model, then these services provide a great alternative.
Personally, I discovered Google411 before Free411 so that is the one I use. I have the number programmed in my phone and when I need to make a call I use it without hesitation.
What about you? Would you or do you use either of these “free” directory services?