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1-800-Google Launches 123

Posted by Zonk
from the crying-with-information dept.
The Webguy wrote to mention a C|Net article talking about Google's newest toy - Local Voice Search. The service is dirt simple: you call a 1-800 number and, via voice recognition software, say the category of business you're trying to reach. You can also try for a specific name, though the C|Net blogger had some problems with that. The Google Blog has been updated with details as well: "Google Voice Local Search lets you search for local businesses from any phone and for free. If you're in the US, call 1-800-GOOG-411 and say what you want to find. Here are some of the features -You can find a business listing by category. Just say "pizza," for example. You can send the listing details to your mobile phone via SMS. The service is fully automated, so it doesn't rely on human operators. It connects you directly to the business, free of charge."
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1-800-Google Launches

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  • by bensafrickingenius (828123) on Friday April 06, 2007 @11:41PM (#18643125)
    "Nookie."
  • Cool! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Aminion (896851) on Friday April 06, 2007 @11:43PM (#18643133)
    Finally there is an easy way of calling 911!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by duguk (589689)
      Only in America. In the UK you have to call 0118 999 88199 9119 725 3!
  • Impressive (Score:2, Interesting)

    by QBasicer (781745)
    It's impressive to think the resources it would take to run this service. I wonder what software they use to do the voice recognition.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I wonder too because most voice recognition software (or at least, text-to-speech software) sucks balls. Technology has a loooong way to go before this stuff actually works half decent. I'm not sure about anyone else but whenever given the choice to punch keys or talk, I always punch the keys because I get fed up with the incorrect text recognition.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by The-Ixian (168184)
        I am surprised to hear someone say this. I have actually been very impressed with current voice recognition voice systems. I use HP, FedEx and Microsoft's voice recognition systems regularly and have only had a problem with recognition in very noisy environments.
        • by Da_Weasel (458921)
          I have to agree. PayPal has an excellent (and has had for quite a while) Voice Recognition system. But it all really comes down to who designs the IVR. A well designed IVR is a pleasure to navigate. But you rarely run into one of the good ones...
          • by timeOday (582209)

            But it all really comes down to who designs the IVR. A well designed IVR is a pleasure to navigate.

            I think the whole point is to eliminate navigation. At least that's what I like about google maps. I can enter "einstein bagels near university of new mexico" and it works. (I just tried that on yahoo maps and it also worked, so I guess they've caught up). I would assume this is what google is bringing to the telephone, not hunting down through a nested menu of listings. IMHO the future is searching a

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I wonder what software they use to do the voice recognition.
      Google has a lot of natural language processing and speech recognition researchers on their staff; I suspect that it is a home-brew solution.
    • by dysonlu (907935)
      Google uses Nuance Communications' speech recognition engine. Even though Google has hired a few folks from Nuance a while ago, it is NOT using homebrew technology, at least not as far as the engine is concerned. And even if Google had planned to build their own engine (they have no good reason to, really), it would have taken longer than a couple of years and much more than a handful of ex-Nuance engineers to be able to come up with a competitive speech reco engine -- the entry bar is high, even for Goog
      • by kmaclean (1011773)
        Makes sense ... the fact that Google released its n-gram models [blogspot.com] (a training corpus of one trillion words from public Web pages) last November (for a nominal price to researchers) seems to support the assertion that although Google might have a few people working on Speech Recognition, developing their own engine is not part of their core strategy.
      • Creepy voice (Score:3, Interesting)

        Anyone else think the voice is creepy? It's more realistic than other automated voice systems, but still doesn't sound human. Maybe they hit the uncanny valley.

        The voice was a guy though; perhaps that's what I think is wrong. All the other automated voices I've heard (local transit system, 1-800-free-411, etc; have all used female voices. Perhaps the softness of a female voice helps gloss over the realism flaws in the voice?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by the_povinator (936048)
        Dyson, can you reveal how you got this information? Did you recognize the setup or something? Or do you have a mole?
      • Google uses Nuance Communications' speech recognition engine.

        That's interesting and I'd like to know where that information comes from. To me, it seems like something in-house that's in its very early stages. The "I'm thinking" noise sounds like a recording of somebody quietly mumbling, imitating the "I'm thinking" sounds that systems powered by TellMe make. I think toll-free directory (1-800-555-1212) uses TellMe. In my (brief and unscientific) tests, that service compared favorably with Google's in recognizing the stuff I was trying to tell it. Of course, sin

        • by dysonlu (907935)
          The voice user interface in general and the recording in particular are by no means a good indication of the maturity or sophistication of the underlying speech recognition engine. It's similar to the 3D graphics engine in the videogame world; companies using the best 3D engine might still come up with a crappy game -- I'm not suggesting that Google's 411 was crappy). Google's 411 speech reco application is likely to be in its early stages, but not the engine itself.

          And by the way, seems like very few peo
    • It's impressive to think the resources it would take to run this service. I wonder what software they use to do the voice recognition.
      Well, my phone company has the same service, so I don't think it's "use an entire datacenter" intensive.
    • In the last couple of years Google has been hiring a lot of people with speech recognition expertise. I know because I used to work with some of these people before they moved to Google. They have been building their own technology in-house. I am impressed by how fast they have been able to do this. Dan
      • Oops - just noticed someone else is claiming Google is using Nuance technology - in which case perhaps my claim that Google made their own stuff is wrong - this was just speculation on my part.
  • I wonder... (Score:4, Funny)

    by had3l (814482) on Friday April 06, 2007 @11:44PM (#18643143)
    I wonder if it recognizes "Escort Services".

    *sigh* who am I kidding?
  • One Question... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sunami88 (1074925)
    Why? Doesn't Google do enough? Is anybody but me reminded of the dot-com boom? Big companies doing too much at once, gaining money/people at an alarming rate, and then inevitably crashing and burning. With every "BETA" they release I get more and more afraid one day I'll go to open my GMail and get a "Google has gone into Chapter 11" message or some such.
    • Re:One Question... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by poliopteragriseoapte (973295) on Friday April 06, 2007 @11:51PM (#18643177)
      One difference is that in the dot-com era, you saw companies valued billions operating in a market that was worth a fraction of that - in the hope that in the "new economy" there would suddenly be billions of new dollars pouring into all possible sectors of the economy. In contrast, Google is profitable, this service must have been set up with a smallish (50?) number of employees, and the DA 411 market is worth some 8 billion dollars per year - and that is before advertisement is taken into account. So your comparison does not run very deep.
      • One difference is that in the dot-com era, you saw companies valued billions operating in a market that was worth a fraction of that - in the hope that in the "new economy" there would suddenly be billions of new dollars pouring into all possible sectors of the economy. In contrast, Google is profitable

        Sure. Google is profitable, but the bulk of it's revenue stream comes from a single source - web advertising.
        • by rm69990 (885744)

          One difference is that in the dot-com era, you saw companies valued billions operating in a market that was worth a fraction of that - in the hope that in the "new economy" there would suddenly be billions of new dollars pouring into all possible sectors of the economy. In contrast, Google is profitable

          Sure. Google is profitable, but the bulk of it's revenue stream comes from a single source - web advertising.

          As with Microsoft and their Windows and Office products, no?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by GunFodder (208805)
          Right. So Google, like every other company that dominates a particular market, worries about saturating that same market. Even successful companies have to try new things if they want to keep growing. Google has thrown a lot of stuff at wall to see if it sticks, and this is yet another effort to establish an profitable market.
        • by synx (29979)
          You said:
          > Sure. Google is profitable, but the bulk of it's revenue stream comes from a single source - web advertising.

          I used to think this was a problem, but I don't think it is anymore. There are many industries with a single revenue stream - Toyota for example. Or TV - yes, TV, it's all advertiser supported - a single revenue stream supporting hundreds and thousands of channels, with a zillion employees and so on. All dependent on a single revenue stream.

          While I suppose your point was that Google'
    • Re:One Question... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by daeg (828071) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @12:19AM (#18643337)
      There's a few key differences. First, Google is already profitable. Second, Google adds services over time, whereas many of the dot-com rushers tries to do everything at once. Google has the brand recognition and strong history to even the most novice of Internet users required that none of the dot-com guys, even with their tens of millions of marketing dollars, had.

      With Google being a public company, they have more incentive to retain services than other service companies. They have far more to lose if they close a service than if, say, Webmail.us folded, since e-mail is all Webmail.us does. That reason alone will force them to keep large, successful services like Gmail alive, even if it is eventually in a reduced form.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ystar (898731)
      Google may see it as an investment in basic search technology - voice recognition might serve to "listen" to YouTube videos for time-sensitive ad-placement (see Google, i'm full of ideas, so hire me! =D ) If thousands of people try it and don't like it, they try to learn why, potentially improve it, or they have one of arguably several ideas that never went anywhere, and may or may not see the light of day again. Few bucks lost, price of research, etc. If it takes off, they stick local ads in it. I doubt th
    • So, some major differences between Google and the dot-com boom are a) Google actually makes a considerable amount of money b) The Internet is substantially more stable than it was (initial fervor has subsided and things have shaken out and consolidated since then c) Google is packed full of the best people We had a visitor from Google a while ago (Pablo Cohn). The guy reports to Peter Norvig [berkeley.edu] and has taught machine learning summer school to Guido Van Rossum [python.org]. These guys are literally the modern superstars
    • by rm69990 (885744)
      Google has $11 Billion in cash and short term receivables, and $18 Billion in total assets. This has nothing to do with stock price, but actual things they own. Furthermore, their revenue and profit has been doubling yearly for the last five years. They made $3+ billion in profit last year. They also (like it or not) own patents and other "intellectual property" (I hate that term) to license to make money. The search ad market is growing, and Google is gaining share in that growing market.

      I'm not too worrie
    • > Why? Doesn't Google do enough?

      Call them up and ask for "Brand Dilution" :-)
  • by 8127972 (73495) on Friday April 06, 2007 @11:47PM (#18643153)
    .... just how does Google plan to make money from this? Sure it takes away business from traditional directory based searches, but I still fail to see how the cash that those services would get end up in Google's pocket. I'm sure that if I'm missing something that /.'ers will point out what that something is.
    • by Animats (122034) on Friday April 06, 2007 @11:48PM (#18643163) Homepage

      It's their answer to Microsoft's acquisition of TellMe. (1-800-555-TELL). Presumably, like TellMe, after a while they will add ads.

    • by aarku (151823) on Friday April 06, 2007 @11:53PM (#18643189) Journal
      Well, one idea is that they could sell what company shows up first in your area when you ask for "Pizza." That ought to be worth a lot.
      • Google wouldn't do that unless they were desperate (provided they play by their current rules). After all, if they gave you some pizzeria that was all the way across town, that wouldn't be very useful so people wouldn't use the service.
        • Google wouldn't do that unless they were desperate (provided they play by their current rules). After all, if they gave you some pizzeria that was all the way across town, that wouldn't be very useful so people wouldn't use the service.

          OTOH, if you live in a college town it's not impossible (or unlikely) that there will be three or more pizza places within a couple of blocks, let alone a couple of miles.
      • "Well, one idea is that they could sell what company shows up first in your area when you ask for "Pizza." That ought to be worth a lot."

        The question then becomes how they indicate that it is a sponsored listing. I would hope they would notify you in some way that the person at the top PAID to get there rather than being the most relevant.

    • by networkBoy (774728) on Friday April 06, 2007 @11:56PM (#18643199) Homepage Journal
      sure. you pay to have your business listed preferentially.
      If no business is preferential or there is a "tie" then the user gets a short voice advert "while we find your numbers" and gets connected.

      On a related note I got bored/frustrated with Delta airlines automated attendant some time ago and had lots of fun. Got into a sorta dialogue with the blasted thing then managed to end up in some sort of maintenance mode. Couldn't change any settings (required password, lord knows I tried) but I could monitor status.
      -nB
      • by PMuse (320639)
        If pay-for-position gets in the way of most-relevant-results, then it ain't google. Google's appeal on the user side has always been best results on clean pages. If they lose that, the service will tank.
        • What you've described is how AdWords (and AdSense) works. In both, the amount the advertiser is willing to pay is taken into consideration, so higher pay can lead to higher placement. At the same time, relevancy of the ad, and of the target page, is also taken into consideration. Both variables are multiplied by some coefficients, and the resulting score is how ads are placed. So the top ad in any box of AdWords is probably more relevant, or at higher cost to the advertiser (or both), than the #2 spot.

          Googl
    • by the_13th_saint (1076063) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @12:00AM (#18643215)
      I see it as a way for them to know what people are searching for, just like their google search engine. You'd be surprised to know how much that sort of information can be worth to companies.
    • Well, I've been able to reverse engineer about 80% of their business plan:

      1. Launch effective and popular online search tools
      2. Make money off of ads surrounding online search tools
      3. Launch phone-based search tools
      4. ...
      5. Profit!

      (No, but seriously, they'll probably get kickbacks from the phone companies for sms messages, or listed companies will have to pay for each time a searcher gets connected to them or something)

      - RG>
    • To me, it sounds like they are planning a slow takeover of VoIP by offering tidbits of functionality here and there, to regroup them all in the future as a mega-package...
    • Maybe the companies that they promote will pay some amount for every call?

      Or a percentage of the purchases that Google refers?

      Or even pay a premium to be on top of the results list?

      This would all be very easy to track, and it could be the reason that this specifically only focuses on businesses.
    • .... just how does Google plan to make money from this? Sure it takes away business from traditional directory based searches, but I still fail to see how the cash that those services would get end up in Google's pocket. I'm sure that if I'm missing something that /.'ers will point out what that something is.

      Similar Quote, from 1998 regarding google search:

      .... just how does Google plan to make money from this? Sure it takes away business from traditional directory based searches, but I still fail to see how the cash that those services would get end up in Google's pocket. I'm sure that if I'm missing something that /.'ers will point out what that something is.

    • My guess is that the monetization will be ... (surprise!) ... advertising!

      This is what an existing service does (1-800-FREE-411) where after you give 'em all the information, you hear a short ad, and then are given the option of connection to that advertiser ... or who you wanted in the first place.

      P.S. Bummer Google didn't release this on April 1st ... ;-)

    • Once people start using the service, it becomes fairly easy for Google to charge for placement within the results page, or even listings in general. If 1800GOOG411 becomes some sort of phenomenon, it'd be a cash cow to charge businesses something a month like the yellow pages...
    • I think it's been pretty clearly established by now that Google is not very concerned about the short term money-making prospects of most of the products that it launches. In the long term, ads can be added to anything, and there is probably even some less-tangible value to running a free service that people like and use. Besides, this was probably a 20% project that a handful of people got together and created in their free time--there's little to lose even if it turns out to be a catastrophic failure.
    • Well, the way I understand it, businesses would pay to be the first on the list. I'm sure than in any given suburb/city/whatever there will be more than 1 cafe, more than 1 pizza delivery. A list will ALL those businesses wouldn't fit in one SMS, or one hundred, so how does Google know which ones to send/show? Money from those businesses!
    • by dorianh49 (988940)
      "...just how does Google plan to make money from this?" Volume.
    • Possible motivations for Google:

      1. Further promote Google's value and brand in the minds of consumers and business owners alike. This is following in the same vein as the Google Local Business Center's completely free coupons that you can create for your business to appear on Google Maps. Call it good PR.

      2. Statistics. Useful not only to them, but to local business owners. Again, develops brand loyalty and is good PR.

      3. As part and parcel of 1 and 2, they hope that some of these local business owners will l
    • "free of charge..." to users

      It's the "Yellow Pages" business model:
      paid ads, free to users. Bigger ads cost more.

      The "biggest" ad is the one heard first. Adwords-like pricing (ie bid-for-placement). It's harder to skim audio than text, so ranking might be even more valuable in this medium...

      No need for "pure" search results, since users seek by known-categories, for a commercial service. Just like Overture, before they got killed by Google.

      • by Onan (25162)

        Just to pick nits, Overture is still very much in the game. They're still generating a few billion dollars a year for the company that acquired them, Yahoo. It's certainly fair to say that Google is pulling ahead in that race, but nobody's been killed yet.

        • I didn't articulate it, but I meant that Overture's business model got killed (ie, of listing paid results only, by position - with no search results at all). I believe that Yahoo now uses Overture's technology in the same business model as Google (ie, paid-by-position results alongside pure search results). Interestingly, "paid results alone" may be superior to "search + paid results" for a phone service - ie, Overture's business model may be revived here.
    • It's pretty obvious - if Google connects you through to the business you choose, then that business will ertainly pay through the nose for the privilege.
    • Supposedly Google has a lot of smart people employed that developed the voice recognition system from scratch. Once they get it out there and the public becomes aware of the technology maybe they plan to market it as a voice menu replacement. It appears to be much improved compared to the existing phone menu systems most other companies use. A friendlier phone menu system could cut down on costs and probably customer hostility as well. Companies will be all over this.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @12:08AM (#18643261)

    You can send the listing details to your mobile phone via SMS.


    Does this sign you up for phone spam?
    • by davef139 (790691)
      I belive there are different laws against telemarketers and such calling cell phones as to a land line so you prob be in the clear. I think Discover told me once they werent allowed to call my cell phone
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by pdhenry (671887)
        Telemarketers are allowed to call your cell phone but they're not allowed to use automatic dialers (the kind that transfer you to an agent after you've answered) to call your cell phone. Since just about all telemarketers use automatic dialers this effectively kills telemarkting to cell phones.
    • I use their SMS search service [google.com] to get info all the time and have not received any unwanted text messages, spam, or ads with my results.
    • Does this sign you up for phone spam?

      Of course not! Phone Spam is evil!

      Google would never be evil. [google-watch.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by michaelhood (667393)
      Nope. I've been using the SMS-based version of this (Send an SMS with 'pizza' or 'weather' to 46645 (GOOGL)) and haven't received a single unsolicited message. It's unfortunate that spammers have given SMS such a bad repertoire. Everytime I see an SMS-based service that seems legitimate I am still leery of using it because I don't want SMS spam waking me in the middle of the night.
  • by i_ate_god (899684) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @01:03AM (#18643567) Homepage
    I'm feeling lucky
  • interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cashman73 (855518) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @01:04AM (#18643575) Journal
    Tried the number, and I'd say it works pretty well. I searched for "pizza" in "Scottsdale, Arizona", and it gave me quite a listing. I was also impressed that I only had to say "Flagstaff", and it knew automatically that it was in Arizona also (although there is also a Flagstaff, Maine, but I think that's a ghost town these days) ...

    Google also recognized the term "brewpub", and located my favorite one, too! :-)

    Sadly, they didn't understand my search for, "beer and hookers." But my search for "prostitites" in Scottsdale resulted in a response of, "We didn't find any exact matches, but here are a couple that come close ..." I got a kick out of the fourth listing they provided, which was for the Alliance Defense Fund [alliancedefensefund.org],. . . (no joke ;-)

    An an unrelated note, if all of use call this number tonight, do you think it might be a first to "slashdot" a telephone? ;-) If we can slashdot Google's number, we should have CowboyNeal post a Telemarketer of the Week's number on slashdot ... try to bring down some truly useless and evil people,... :-)

    • by cashman73 (855518)
      Whoops! "prostitites" should be "prostitutes" ... sorry! No pun intended! Really! ;-)
      • by mgblst (80109)
        Really, I think most people got the fact that you meant prostitutes. Also, the error you made is not a pun, according to the widely held definition of a pun, it is more a Freudian slip.
    • hittin it for scottsdale as well, I tried Papago Brewing and spinatos and it picked up my voice with no problems.
    • by Vskye (9079)
      Just checked it out also, and it works fairly well. It didn't pick out my favorite pizza joint out of the top selections. Voice recognition was good, although I didn't try out the hooker aspect, but it picked up on "automotive repair" and "cars". Not bad for a first look.
    • by mstahl (701501)
      I'm a telemarketer you insensitive clod!!! Naw I'm not, really, but I was for an afternoon once. Stayed at the job for 4 hours before walking off. Only time I ever did that.
  • I noticed the service automatically connects you to the business. Does this mean that Google pays if you are transferred to a long-distance number (i.e. since your call is actually connected to 800-goog411)?
    • Presumably... you've been able to initiate the same thing through Google Local for awhile now. Since everyone gets free long distance on their cell phones it isn't really that useful though...
  • Been playing with it and it responds to zip codes for better results than with cities and states.
  • Weird.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by theheff (894014) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @01:31AM (#18643707)
    When i asked for it to find porn in Oklahoma, it gave me the first three results:

    1. First Christian Church
    2. The local police department
    3. Animal Control

    Maybe it's just not the same as the real google.
    • by GreggBz (777373)

      find porn in Oklahoma


      System.Exception.StackOverflow recursive_search.c line 910
    • by mattluria (970921)
      Strange...when I tried it, I was asked if I've been saved yet. Then asked me if I'd give some pastor $10 million dollars to his church.
    • by PMuse (320639)
      Then, it is just the same as the real google local. I have seldom looked for something locally that I didn't get a lot of garbage in the top hits.

      Page rank does a great job when it has web link information to rate the hits. For local businesses, that link information is pretty much nonexistent. I think this phone offering is premature -- they need to improve the quality of google local search results first.
  • Free 411 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Esekla (453798)
    Seems very much like 800-FREE-411 but hopefully without the ads?
  • when i searched for pizza in my town, i got the same buisiness twice in a row as the top two results. they were also my favorite buisinesses
    anyone hear the weird squiggle thing? its funny
    i'm guessing that they would probably put ads as your search is being done.
  • YAY the 411 racket is no more!
    • by freepay (1051178) *
      Goog411 has been useful already - to locate coffeehouses in Philadelphia that I had not known about.
  • by gardyloo (512791) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @12:07PM (#18646867)
    ...
    *Bing!* "White House Operator. How may I direct your call?"

          Man, I *wish* that still worked.
  • Well, obviously it's going to take some time for them to work out the bugs. I asked for a place to get a hamburger. It thought I wanted to be connected to the library. <sigh>

  • I wonder if anyone has tried to use this service from a pay phone. If it connects you automatically, then the call should be free, right? ...I get blasted at the bar, lose my cell phone, need to call a cab....damn! no quarters. As long as I can remember goog-411 and the voice recognition software can recognize my slurring 'taxi' I should be OK. I realize nobody uses pay phones anymore, but as soon as I find one, I'm gonna give it a shot.
  • Google should add a 'I'm feeling lucky' option to the service, which would automatically dial the top-rated business for that category. That would be really exciting, especially if you're searching for something like 'escorts' and it dials the PD.
  • Do you think the "don't be evil" crowd has any idea that they're acting like Wal-Mart here? They're not just shutting down the phone carriers' 411 charges, they're also trying to cut into the market for 1-800-free411, a legit small business. Actually, come to think of it, Goog-411 only has business information, and doesn't have live customer assistance, as 1-800-Free411 has. Free 411 also has category search now, so as things compare, I don't think Google has the better service.

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