Google Launches Voice-Based Local Search Experiment

With very little fanfare, Google yesterday launched a new service called Google Voice Local Search, which allows users to search for business listings by phone.

Users can call a toll-free number (1-800-GOOG-411) to search in English by business name or by category. The caller can be connected to the business, or the listing can be sent as an SMS message to a mobile device. The fully-automated system cannot be used for residential listings. Google also stresses that as it’s experimental, the system may not always be available.

Google has recently launched new tools for users and is also moving into offline content delivery realms. By providing voice search capabilities, the company is clearly investing in voice interface systems to be used with mobile phones, according to Matt Booth, SVP and program director, interactive local media, for the Kelsey Group.

“A voice search front-end for a mobile search applications is where things are heading,” Booth said. “If you’re driving in your car and you need local information, the easiest way to do it is something similar to directory assistance, so you need vocal interaction. If you can do data search on voice, and get information back on your handset, it gets very interesting.”

Google Voice Local Search has no advertising attached, much like 1-800-Free411. Booth says its only a matter of time before the system is monetized.

“Assuming a lot of people gravitate to a product like this, they will eventually put ads on them. If you’ve been looking for a way to run ads on a handset, and consumers opt-in to having information sent to that handset, they’re opting into that advertising. Directory assistance seems a logical start for a permission-based mobile marketing business,” Booth said.

Separately, interactive advertising company Vizi|Media signed an exclusive partnership with Jingle Networks, owner of 1-800-Free411 to represent the service to potential advertisers. It’s the opt-in nature of the Free411 service that appeals to Andrew Moskowitz, Vizi president and co-founder.

“One of the things that made us want to work with them is that they offer our advertisers and agencies and our brands specifically the ability to take their clients and have access to audio advertising,” Moskowitz said. “The user is a captive audience. They know that by using the service, they’re going to be subjected to an ad, and they choose to be there.”

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