Google 411

Google's Free 411 Service Now Open to Toronto


Nobody likes paying $0.75 per call just to get a phone number while on the road and getting nickel and dimed all the way to the bank by the phone companies. For me, it's always frustrating when I just want to make a reservation at a restaurant and can't remember the number, having to resort to finding a nearby phonebook in an age where wireless data is so freely available.

Thankfully, Google are doing what they do best: giving free access to information. Right now, you can call 1 (800) GOOG-411 (4664-411) and get access to every number Google has indexed on the Web, and instantly be connected (for free) to any number of your choosing. This includes any number from Toronto to across Canada and the US. It sounds too good to be true, but Google has pulled it off in such a seamless, slick way that really makes you wonder how this service can be free.

Here's how it works from a highly enthused Google employee:


So to go over that again:

1. Call 1-800-GOOG-411
2. Say Toronto
3. Say a business name (for example, Magic Oven)
4. The friendly Google-tronic voice gives you the matches and connects you with the one you choose.

I've tested it out with a whole bunch of business names around the city, and it nailed all of them, with the exception of one - the CN Tower. Google also cleverly stores information about previous searches you make from your number to customize future calls.

So if you're calling them up constantly and trying to get the number for Pho Rang Dong and are constantly picking the second result among the plethora of other Pho-like numbers across the city, it will begin to offer that number up first (Google does the same sort of thing with its Web-based searches).


The real power of this service is that it will immediately connect you to the number you choose, so you pay nothing to make the call (even if the number's in San Francisco or New York). Presumably, pay phones will be fair game for the service as well.

So what does Google get out of this? Usage data and voice print recognition. They're a very forward-looking company, so being able to record and analyze millions of calls where the users of the system will tell you what they're looking for then offer up a free voice print of that name is extremely valuable to Google.

Photo by Adam Schwabe


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