Pubcon Austin 2013

Google’s Free 411 Directory Assistance Service

(Legacy Article)

Google discontinued its Free 411 directory assistance service in November of 2010. We’ve left the post up as it projected many of Google’s current initiatives.

In April of 2008, Google quietly launched its computer automated free 411 directory assistance product, GOOG-411 (Available at 800-GOOG-411).

The system is entirely computer-automated. Surprisingly, the voice recognition is very accurate. What does Goog-411 offer? Directory assistance of business telephones anywhere in America with one definite difference: the service is entirely free.

The wireless carriers charge between $1.25 and $1.50 for each directory assistance call. Even low cost providers like “Easy411” charge $.65 per call.

The impact of this sea change takes a little imagination to appreciate.

First of all, GOOG-411 is linked to Google Local, which is linked to Google’s search results. This increases the power and range of Google’s data, makes listings in Google more important than ever, and will increase the number of searches by billions in a year. This change also further devalues traditional “yellow pages” and similar outlets–they just became hyper-irrelevant instead of simply irrelevant.

Second, Google has been hinting for some time that it intends to enter into the telephone service provider business. If Google’s tremendous ownership of the search engine market and pay-per-click advertising market is any indication of their likelihood of success, let’s just say I would not want to be AT&T right now. Google’s directory assistance service seems like a natural first step into telephone service.

Third, the cellular provider’s free ride in the 411 market is over–this is the most obvious change. Americans paid $7.9 billion in 411 charges in 2006, according to an industry analyst. Verizon can get $1.50 for a 411 call because they have captive phone customers. Once those customers put GOOG-411 in their speed dial, Verizon and thier ilk can kiss those billions in revenue goodbye.

If Google can keep GOOG-411 free, they will own the directory assistance market far more easily than they won the search engine market.

These are big changes, they are coming hard, and they are coming fast. Nevertheless, hardly anyone has noticed, except a few tech-savvy magazines and bloggers.

Phone companies: Beware, the end may be near.