Google is pulling the plug on 1-800-GOOG-411, the free voice-powered directory assistance service that began connecting callers to local businesses in 2007. According to a Google blog post, the service will be shutdown on November 12.
After it launched in the US and Canada, the service was heavily advertised – Google even put up billboards along the winding rural roads of upstate New York – but it was never intended as a longterm business. As Google poster child Marissa Mayer once explained, the service was simply a means of training its speech-to-text engine as the company prepared to launch voice applications on mobile phones and beyond.
"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," she said.
"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."
As Google says in its blog post, the service "laid the foundation for more ambitious services." And now that these services are up and running – including tools that let you use speech to search, input text, and control actions on phones – GOOG-411 is no longer necessary. ®