In announcing the imminent end of 1-800-GOOG-411, a free by-phone directory service, Google got sentimental and called the service an “old friend.” I couldn’t be happier to see it go.
For me, the announcement served mainly as a reminder that GOOG-411 existed in the first place. Sure, I knew about it, but owning a smartphone pretty much renders 411 services obsolete. Looking up a business on the Internet is faster, and delivers better results.
For kicks, I just used GOOG-411, which won’t shut down until November 12, to look up my favorite bagel shop in Los Angeles. The automated directory took a minute to deliver results, and Google didn’t even have the eatery in its listings. Yelp does, so when I conducted a voice search with Google’s mobile app, finding the information among plain old search results took half the time.
Now, I understand that not everyone owns a smartphone or a feature phone with a data plan. For these folks, there’s still 1-800-FREE-411. And you can still ping Google by text message (“466453,” or “GOOGLE”) to get listings as text, which is arguably more useful than spoken directory listings, anyway.
The reason I’m actually happy, and not just indifferent, to see the end of GOOG-411 is in line with Google’s explanation: They want more resources to work on the next generation of speech-enabled services. Recently, Google introduced Voice Actions, which allow Android users to send text messages, punch in GPS directions and listen to music, all with speech.
I imagine that the initial purpose of GOOG-411, to harvest phonemes for other voice services, is now better fulfilled through these new services and Google Voice. If the end of GOOG-411 speeds the delivery of more speech-enabled features like Voice Actions, or perhaps makes Google Voice transcriptions less awful, I’ll shed no tears for Google’s Old Yeller.