"411 Info. Say a city and state," is typically what you hear from your phone company when you dial for directory assistance. And you're charged around $1.75 each time. But today, there are a number of alternatives that are free."
(800)GOO-G411 from Google: "Goog 411. What city and state?"
(800)555-TELL from TellMe: "Tell Me! Hello, it's TellMe!"
And the new FreeSoft: "Welcome to directory information services."
The free services vary in their approach to speech interaction, the database of services available, and how they make money.
"A word from our sponsor," is what you'll hear on Free 411, which hits you with short commercials at multiple times.
"This call sponsored by McDonald's."
SpeakSoft is the newest entrant.
As this driver says, "United Airlines", SpeakSoft, instead of a long list of questions, focuses on smart suggestions. For example, "The San Francisco Marriotts would like to offer you a 5-star..."
Sean Tabatabai, Speaksoft President & CEO, points out, "What we're giving you is an important content-relevant proposition based on the caller's parameters or travel information." And more than connect you, it can sell the tickets -- to a flight or a movie.
The biggest and best known service sells things, too, but also licenses its technology to phone companies and other businesses. Today, TellMe, part of Microsoft, is moving beyond information.
"You can think about TellMe," says General Manager Mike McCue, "as essentially providing a voice interface to the things that you'd normally want to get access to on the Internet. Things like sports, news, weather, traffic."
To spare you from having to listen to a long list of answers, Tellme has developed a special application for mobile devices. You speak a request, "Coffee Shop"
And you see a list of responses on your phone. Other innovations make the phone seem almost human. Such as voice blackjack.
The "dealer" tells me, "You lose, you Scotsman. Show your kilt. The dealer's total was 21!"