The recent acquisition of TellMe by Microsoft, piqued my interest in the free voice driven directory assistance service, 520-Find and the possible role that Google plays in the service. Mobile directory assistance will have a huge role in both local search and local advertising going forward. Clearly, Google has an interest in this field, it just isn’t clear how that interest will pan out.
I am a frequent user of the 520-Find service as it provides reasonably accurate voice activated directory assistance with call connection and text back capacity. As Greg Sterling has pointed out this type of service is the most likely and most usable way to push local data into the mobile market over the near term. Users are comfortable with the interface and need the service. Local search when viewed from this type of mobile perspective takes on added importance.
Since the inception of the 520-Find service, there have been rumors that it was owned by Google. Originally the service even used the phone number 877 GOOG 411 as well as the current 877-520-FIND (3463).
The whois record and the 520-Find web site lead to LanLogic.net as the operator of the service. A search at Dun & Bradstreet shows 2 LanLogics in Calfornia; one in Livermore and another at 2177 Leghorn St, Mountain View, CA. The listing in Mountain View does not show up on Google Maps. The LanLogic in the Whois record, is a web hosting firm located in Livermore, CA with no obvious ties to Google. In fact the Lanlogic web site has no mention of the 520 service at all. At this point there has been no effort to monetize the service but given its voice recognition, call completion, text back services and sponsored adwords at Google it can not be inexpensive to operate.
What has always intrigued me is that the 520-Find service clearly uses Google Maps data.
I performed a number of searches on both Google Maps and 520-Find and the data returned was consistently the same and in the same order as Google’s Map data. The 520-Find voice directory assistance included business titles exactly as they were presented in Google Maps (even mistakes) and captured business title changes that I had made only in Google Maps (and no place else on or off the Internet). In one search (and only one) it returned data from Google Maps as it was ordered about a week ago. So the connection is real although apparently not in real time.
Here are the searches that I ran via the internet on Google Maps and via voice at 877-520-FIND that returned identical results (except where noted):
Real Estate Ellicottville NY (includes business titles changed only at Google)
Computer Repair Olean, NY (includes business titles changed only at Google and Yahoo)
Motorcycle Salamanca NY (returns results based on proximity in the next towns using the same algorithm as Google Maps)
Bartending Schools Washington DC (same as above)
Restaurant Bradford PA (520-FIND results reflect Google results from last week)
So the question remains: What is the relationship of 520-Find to Google? How does the service run with no obvious source of income? Will the recent purchase of TellMe force 520-Find into a more public position?
Mike Blumenthal is a student of life, political economy and local search. He writes the blog Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local Search and is a partner in a small web design company in upstate NY. The Locals Only column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.
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