Just over a week ago, Google turned off 800-GOOG-411. This was a sad realization for me, because Google's phone service was one of the most simple and convenient tools I've encountered.
In case you missed it, GOOG-411 was a completely free, voice-activated directory assistance service, launched in 2007. The funny thing about GOOG-411 is that it actually worked better for me than a human 411 service. Using it was like having Data from Star Trek on call, always able to retrieve for me the exact information I needed. All I had to do was say the words 'GOOG-411' into my handy bluetooth device (which has recently reclaimed its title as my favorite phone tool) and say my city and state, along with what I was looking for – 'Austin, Texas, pizza delivery,' if you will.
Right away, the guy's voice started listing the eight best results, and I could interrupt at any time, saying the number I wanted, at which point I could direct him to tell me the details about the place, text me the information, or just wait for him to connect me. I could use this service while driving with my eyes never leaving the road.
Why would Google get rid of such an amazing tool, you ask? Well, Google had their own motives for creating this service. In an interview InfoWorld did with their VP of Search Products & User Experience: 'GOOG-411 is about […] getting a bunch of different speech samples...'. It turns out that, in order for Google to build an extremely accurate speech model, they needed to accumulate a bunch of phonemes, which is a syllable spoken by a certain voice with a certain intonation. GOOG-411 was how they accomplished this.
I don't have a problem with my voice being used to help Google create a top-notch speech model. My problem is that they're not using me anymore. Google's unofficial mantra is 'don't be evil'. While I don't know if I'd say them shutting down the service is evil, these people might. And I'm beginning to agree with them. I want GOOG-411 back.
Google tries to fill the void of GOOG-411 with voice-driven tools on the Android. But what if you don't have an Android? They also have a Google mobile application available on the Android, iPhone and Blackberry. But what if you don't have a smartphone, or want to utilize the service while driving? GOOG-411 was irreplaceable.
Google's reasoning that the success they achieved with GOOG-411 actually helped make a better foundation for similar services on smartphones, as well as the promise that they're aiming for more innovation, doesn't satisfy the empty slot on my speed-dial.
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