hardware/girlonphone.jpgCall me cheap, but for many years, when I needed to find a telephone number, I pulled out a telephone book rather than incurring the charge imposed for dialing 411 for directory assistance. On rare occasions when I used 411 recently, I have been really aggravated by the tag line, "and we can dial that number for you for an additional $.50". Or perhaps they are charging even more now. Alleluia! Now you can get good 411 service for free.


For the informed consumer, the days of dialing 411 are numbered. Google recently entered the directory assistance arena with their new service called Google Voice Local Search or Goog411. You simply dial 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) to find any business listing in the US. After Goog411 finds the telephone number for you, they will offer to connect you with that number. The call and the connection are both free. The clincher is that the voice recognition and service are both outstanding.

 I've tried using the Internet to look up telephone numbers. That works, but I am not always near a computer and it can take a bit of effort to type in the information you want and click until you find it. I've also tried 1-800-FREE-411. Their service is free, but it only seems to recognize my voice half the time. On top of that their automated menu system is somewhat aggravating and you have to listen to commercials before you get the number you want. AT&T has also been experimenting with free 411 assistance, but last time I looked at their service, it was available only in certain cities and the call itself was free only if the business had made arrangements with AT&T to pay for the call.

 Goog411 does not have any of these faults. You simply dial the 800 number, say the name of the city and state that you want, then state the name of the business or service you want. I called requesting "Computer Help" in Pinehurst, NC. My own company, Computer Living Corp, was the second listing. I said the number "2" and was immediately connected. I also had the option of getting more details about any of the choices listed. You can also say the zip code to locate the business you want and you can, if you prefer, type the letters into the telephone keypad.

When you dial 1-800-GOOG-411, you will be greeted by a voice that says, "GOOG411, experimental". Google says that the service is in testing stages. It is currently available only in English in the US and only for US business listings. In spite of the fact that they say it is experimental, you will find the service is fully functioning for US business telephone numbers and addresses. Currently there are no advertisements to listen to and the entire service, including connection to the requested number is free.

 You can also get free calling to businesses from Google online. Just surf over to www.google.com/maps. Click on the "Find business" tab and enter the city, state, and business name or type of business. Once you see the business you want to connect to, click on the word "Call". You enter your telephone number and click on "Connect for free". Google will call your telephone and make the connection to the telephone number you want to call. Both local and long distance calls are free. You can even keep a list of the phone numbers you want to call in this manner so you can call again later. Although I prefer using Goog411 on the telephone, it's all pretty cool.

 Statistics show that about 2.6 billion 411 calls are made in the US each year. It is currently a $7 billion a year market. Google's new services are poised to change all that. They have done it right. The service does voice recognition very well, you are not asked to verify information, so there are no aggravating "is that correct?" questions to answer. The only drawback is that there is no real person behind the service. If you need personal help, you may still have to dial 411. Most of us though, will find that GOOG411 will be able to completely replace those old expensive calls to 411 for businesses. If Google expands this service to include individuals, we may be able to throw those old telephone books away, as well.

After you try the Goog411 service, be sure to log on to the Compu-KISS message boards to let us know what you think.