GOOG-411 isn't what you think

GOOG-411 isn't what you think

Summary: Google's free 411 service (1-800-GOOG-411) lets you find and call local businesses, but the service isn't exactly as it seems. On the surface, it looks pretty straight forward, but spending lots of money advertising a service that has no clear potential to make money should have seemed a bit suspicious.

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goog411-logo.gifGoogle's free 411 service (1-800-GOOG-411) lets you find and call local businesses, but the service isn't exactly as it seems. On the surface, it looks pretty straight forward, but spending lots of money advertising a service that has no clear potential to make money should have seemed a bit suspicious.

In reality, Google's 411 service is about training a powerful speech-to-text engine that will one day find itself in things like video search. The more sample audio they have (people looking for businesses), the more accurate their system will become. Marissa Mayer did an interview with Infoworld in October where she explains what GOOG-411 is really all about.

Whether or not free-411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. I myself am somewhat skeptical. The reason we really did it is because we need to build a great speech-to-text model ... that we can use for all kinds of different things, including video search.

The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. ... So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we’re trying to get the voice out of video, we can do it with high accuracy.

This technique almost reminds me of the Google Image Labeler. On the surface, it appears to be a game, but in reality it is a way for Google to get a bunch of really great meta-data about pictures that would have otherwise never been available. Can you think of any other Google services that are actually a front for something more interesting?

[via Google Blogoscoped]

Topics: Browser, Emerging Tech, Google

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21 comments
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  • Image Labeler

    The following statement is made at the bottom of the Image Labeler page under the title [b]What do you need to participate?[/b]:
    "Just an interest in helping Google improve the relevance of image search for users like yourself."

    At least they are honest about their goal here. Since I have not used their 411 service, I do not know if they are similarly honest about their goals.
    l_g_johnson@...
    • RE: GOOG-411 isn't what you think

      @l_g_johnson@...
      ZD Net nailed it right on the head. The service is no longer available. Edan Aharony
      EdanAharony
    • RE: GOOG-411 isn't what you think

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  • So What...

    Google wants mega-data. So what. The sky is falling too.
    Narg
  • non-evil, useful, and dual purpose - neat

    I think that's an excellent way to go out these kinds of things - as
    long as both of your purposes are not evil.
    Htalk
  • RE: GOOG-411 isn't what you think

    Maybe it's evil, maybe it's not. What IS FOR SURE is that Google is preparing to absolutely run the information marketplace, and they are steadily amassing a wealth of consumer information about you, what you search for, and what you buy. They do this because their core business model deals with advertising, and you are their demographic. You are the end customer on way or another.

    Google is smart, that is why they have innovative and cost-effective strategies such as this.

    The US government is also smart. And the US government has much less of a profit motive than does Google. And the US government has a history of advancing the wealth of US citizens steadily for many generations.

    Google is a publicly-traded company with a clear profit motive and a fiduciary duty to earn money above all else. Capitalism is not a problem at all, but it is foolish to blindly trust some new corporation simply because they have successfully marketed themselves to younger, tech-savvy people as some sort of benign giant.

    Evil is as evil does. Think of how much you would like it if the US government was so eager to monitor and archive your Internet habits.
    robromano
    • For the most part...

      For the most part, I agree with you. However, no one should use rhetoric misleading as you do unless you're willing to bring in some powerful evidence. For all the readers know, you work for Yahoo and see Google as a threat on your business. This is why evidence supporting your claim is required to build credibility.

      The only people that need to be careful about giving away information as benign as where the closest pizza-joint is are criminals, the lazy (people who don't protect themselves) and clandestine agents. Everyone else shouldn't worry too much.

      Simply put: If you're worried about Google's information-gathering practices and the pseudo-altruism that they display then don't use their products (including, of course, their search). However, if you've nothing to hide then you've nothing to worry about.

      The more paranoid you are about the world, the more the world is paranoid about you. Trusting people don't typically do damage to physical or intellectual property. Your rhetoric is less damning to Google than it is to yourself. Take it easy; unbeknown to some, there are some companies who are smart enough to not only turn-a-buck but to help the world out in the process.
      ezflow321
  • BTW

    ZDNET seems to be a shady company. Their sign-up process is invasive, atrocious, and annoying as all h*ll.
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  • RE: GOOG-411 isn't what you think

    Regardless, if it allows us to connect to a company which may be too cheap to offer a toll-free #, I'm happy to help in their research.
    vev46
  • RE: GOOG-411 isn't what you think

    Oh, no! Are you saying that we actually have to contribute to Google's vast, free technology?

    If Google asked me to help them out with something so trivial I'd be happy to oblige.
    ezflow321
  • RE: GOOG-411 isn't what you think

    GOOG-411 is saving me considerable toll charges. I just hope they continue it ad infinitum.
    vev46
  • RE: GOOG-411 isn't what you think

    Personally, I think that their meta data collection schemes are brilliant. they could as easily ask for volunteers (being google I'm sure they would have gotten many with the promise of a bumper sticker or some similar incentive), but instead they've given us a "you help us, we help you" scenario where everyone wins. Another of their free and useful products, and at the same time they get research material for a future (knowing google, ad-driven but free to the consumer) product.
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