Dialing 411 isn’t cheap. Do you know how much we spend on them? (Answer after the ‘jump’). Thank goodness there are free alternatives. I tested four of them with this simple goal: Get the phone number for Starbucks on 17th Street in Santa Ana. Here are the results:
Jingle Networks (1-800-Free411): Not impressive. After a 10-second ad, the automated service didn’t recognize my query — Starbucks — and gave me a hardware store instead. Second attempt: It found Starbucks but when trying to narrow by street, it gave me four other Starbucks first. If you spend too much time waiting for the result, you’ll get another ad. Both times, I was informed that I had won a trip to magical Orlando.
Goog-411 (1-800-GOOG-411): From Google, the free and ad-free service also will text the information to your phone. Automated service had trouble deciphering my speech. I said “Santa Ana” but it gave me “Anaheim.” Much, much faster than Free411.
Microsoft’s TellMe (1-800-555-TELL or 1-800-CALL-411): TellMe doesn’t listen very well. It could not understand my repeated attempts to say “17th Street.” I almost hung up. At some point I said, ‘I don’t know’ and it started listing Starbucks locations. Once I found what I wanted, it offered driving directions and the option to send the message as a text to a cell phone. If you like the service, TellMe also offers news, maps, directions, traffic and weather. Microsoft’s Live Search 411 uses TellMe’s technology.
AT&T 1-800-YELLOWPAGES (1-800-YELLOWPages): AT&T’s free 411 spent a mere 2-seconds mentioning the sponsor of the call. Perhaps I learned from earlier attempts but I enunciated clearly and loudly into the phone and it pulled up Starbucks with no problem. I also liked how it narrowed down results quickly, finding two Starbucks on 17th Street. According to the FAQ’s, not every caller has to listen to an ad. For those keeping track, this used to be 800-411Metro.
Take the poll:
Amazingly, we spent around $5.8 billion on 411 calls last year — a number that comes from Saroja Girishankar, vice president of information services at market research firm The Pelorus Group in New Jersey. She tracks the directory-assistance industry for a living. There are reports in the $8 billion range, but Saroja feels that number likely includes more than basic directory assistance information.
“411 is a service that is very need based. When they want a number, they call right then. 411 is a brand that is so deeply etched in the brains of people that you can dial it in your sleep. You don’t think about it or think about the $1.25 fee (for wireless directory assistance calls),” she told me.
Out of curiosity, I decided to find out how much it costs to dial 411. Can you believe this:
This cash cow for the phone companies hasn’t been overlooked by entrepreneurs. In the past few years, a horde of free services sprung up. Jingle Networks, which operates 1800-free411, is the largest with about 90 percent of the free market. While you get information for free, you must listen to a 10-second ad.
Still, with all that money out there, Saroja estimates that these free 411 services have only attracted fewer than 5 percent of the market. That means most people out there are still paying the $1-and-up fee to get a phone number. The industry’s lack of marketing the free services is a major factor.
“It’s kind of baffling to many people why a free service like this has not gained popularity,” she told me. “In my opinion, free DA will have 20 percent of the overall market but right now, I’m hesitant to say that it’s more like 12 to 15 percent in the next 3 years. … Customer awareness is the problem. But even if you can program it into your cell phone, people don’t think about it.”
Go2 Media in Santa Ana offers free business lookup and more on cell phones — but only for mobile phones that can access the Internet or have WAP access. Just type wap.go2.com on your phone to search locally. Data charges from your cell-phone company could apply.
800oncall.com (1-800-MYONCALL) offers ad-free information but charges $4.95 a month for unlimited directory information.
FreeMobile411 (pictured on right) – A mobile phone program that is downloaded to the phone. Uses voice recognition to pull up restaurants, maps, directions, etc. Available only for certain phones.