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April 20, 2007

(800) GOOG-411

Posted in: Mobile Culture, News

GOOG-411 Logo
This month, Google Labs released a new service called GOOG-411. A toll-free call will get you in touch with a friendly, natural-sounding robot asking you for your city, your listing or category, and then offer to connect you, give you address details, or send all those goodies to your phone via text message. The voice recognition is impressive and the overall flow is fairly speedy, though there are certainly redundancies that lengthen the overall process for the sake of usability (which in this case earns them points in my book). Luckily, there’s a cheat sheet for advanced users to blast past some of the menus.

GOOG-411 is a clever development effort on Google’s part as all of this infrastructure — maps, text messaging, business directory search — is already part of the Google suite of services and this mashup recipe sets them up with a solid core experience. Building on this service is only a matter of choosing which pieces will add to the user experience and not overly complicate its current simplicity. For example, I can easily imagine saying “Directions” and having step-by-step instructions of how to get there from where I am while leveraging my phone’s location data.

With advertising such a huge selling-point for Google’s services, are there successful models that can be incorporated into a voice-driven interface like directory assistance? In the web world, it’s easy enough for Google to slap a Sponsored Link on top of a Search Results page with minimal intrusion to the user. In the very linear world of voice communication, users are a captive audience and while a voice ad may become more valuable here, so is the time it takes for users to get out with what they came for.

One of the Google database assets that may help to set up an appropriate context for ad-based monetization is the incorporation of ratings. I would love to say “Recommended” and get the top rated businesses that are closest to me (currently, the responses are only sorted by distance). In this context, sponsored results may seem more appropriate. How to make this new ad model compelling and help boost their presence in a voice environment without turning off users, or if there is in fact an entirely different strategy for incorporating ad revenue over voice-based services, is a design challenge worthy of some deeper investigation.

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