Google offers free voice-activated local search

Google has quietly launched Google Voice Local Search, an experimental service that allows people to search for local businesses over the phone. There are no ads on the service, which is available only in the U.S. To use it people can dial 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) from any phone and search for a business by name or category and be connected to the business at no charge. Users can also get the search results and additional details over SMS if they are on a mobile phone.

Microsoft also has local voice search through the TellMe service it bought last month, notes Search Engine Land, which broke the Google Voice Local Search news on Friday. "Google's experimental entry into voice-based mobile search (free directory assistance [DA]) establishes a clear competitive landscape, which will likely mean a further decline in call volumes and revenues for traditional mobile directory assistance, as consumers become more aware of the availability of these free services," notes Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, in the post.

I just tried the Google service from my office phone and a pleasant male voice gave me the top eight results from my search (massage therapist in San Francisco). I was given the option of pressing or saying the appropriate number for the listing I wanted and it connected me. But when I tried saying a specific business name (Oxygen Massage Therapy) it failed to recognize what I was asking for.

It's nice that Google can provide a functional service that also has an element of whimsy: Rather than an automated electronic sound when waiting for the system to understand and come back with a result, a male voice simulates that noise saying something like "Biddy biddy biddy bop." Listen closely.

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