Yahoo! 411 service

y3.gif Google has it’s 411 Service. Microsoft recently bought Tellme, a speech-based Internet services provider to power Local Search. For those of us who’ve known Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft as the triumvirate of search, Yahoo is notably missing from the 411 camp.

411 is just another way to search for information, albeit an important one for people on the go, who have no good way to search the Internet. In fact, 411 is so important for mobile customers that wireless service providers have made it a fat-wallet business, charging $1.49 – $1.79 per call. The U.S. 411 market is worth $8 billion, and this is exactly why Jingle Networks (1-800-Free-411) and others have entered this space to disrupt the wireless carriers stranglehold by offering free calls for a 15 second advertisement.

With such a huge market, there’s no reason why Yahoo would stand idle and watch while Google, Microsoft, and others carve their riches in the market. Yahoo has several options: Build, Make or Partner.

The ‘build’ option doesn’t make sense because, even if it is cheaper to build, it will take a long time to develop the platform and fine tune the speech engine to handle different kinds of accents and background noises. I don’t think anyone who wants a 411 service should wait long.

What about a ‘Joint Venture’? Sometimes, a larger company will JV with a startup to complement each other’s strengths – the startups’ innovative product and the larger company’s sales channel and customer base. However, in this case, all Yahoo would do is help the partner become bigger and better, and make it more expensive for Yahoo! to get in the game one day or shut-off Yahoo! entirely from the market.

The ‘acquire’ option makes sense for the following reasons:

  1. Immediate access to the 411 market. Initially, 411 will not be integrated with Yahoo’s systems, but this will happen over time.
  2. Access to an existing base of customers. Some of these will be repeat users, others will be those coming to the service due to publicity.
  3. Reduce competition – buying out an existing provider always reduces the competition.
  4. Improved Speech recognition – it takes time to build a large Search Index/Grammar and fine tune speech recognition. Here is a great article on why Google is offering the service free.

One way or the other, getting in the 411 market will allow Yahoo to:

  1. Leverage Yahoo! Local & Yahoo! Local Maps, and Yahoo! Messenger IM & Voice service.
  2. Leverage its Ad base, especially geography and category relevant ads
  3. Leverage profile information from Yahoo properties to enhance the user experience.
  4. Take 411 to the next level. For example, send address and telephone number via SMS, send directions and MAPs to mobile phone, connect via phone with store or person, use SMS ads rather than just voice ads (voice ads are intrusive).

So who could Yahoo acquire? This is where Jingle Networks’ 1-800-Free-411 comes into play. Jingle also has an easy-to-remember toll-free number.

Expect Yahoo to go 411 soon, and I’ll bet that its with the acquisition of Jingles Free-411 service!

Jingle’s 1-800-FREE-411 Service on Skype

skype_jingle_logo.JPGJingle Networks, the provider of the free 411 service 1-800-FREE411, is now easily accessible to Skype users in the United States. Skype is a leading Internet VoIP company that is looking to spread its wings and 1-800-FREE411 is a free Directory Assistance service in the U.S. – so this looks like a match made in heaven. Skype users could already access 1-800-FREE411 because Skype allows a user to access any phone number (no 911 support though) for free. This agreement simply makes it easier – Skype users can dial easily by adding “Free411USA” to their contact list.

TechCrunch doesn’t see the value in this:

Personally, I find this deal a little dumb. Skype users are generally on an Internet connected device, and a web search is almost always an easier way to find information on a business v. a 411 call.

I agree that on a large form-factor device like a desktop PC or a Laptop this doesn’t make sense, but Skype is not just on a Computer. Nowadays, skype is available on cordless handsets, WiFi handsets, on PDAs (mainly with WiFi access), and even trying hard to get on Cell phones (but not doing too well). Nonetheless, Skype is trying to get on each and every mobile/portable device and this is where this partnership makes sense.

Also, I would venture out to say that this partnership doesn’t involve a cost to either party. It’s just a win-win for Skype and Jingle. So, why not! I remember in the startup division I used to work in, we had a speech-recognition based system (much like Tellme), and we would make ‘Strategic Agreements’ like this every day (especially the kind that had no value). Seriously, both these companies could use some additional publicity anyway.