in old stuff

What does Goog411 have to do with Youtube?

Goog411 2

Goog411, the free directory assistance service rolled out by Google a while ago, has been spotted on billboard advertisements in New York and California. A ton of speculation about what Google was up to sprung up around the web. Search Engine Land had this to say:

“The take away on all this for me? Google is very serious about the voice-assisted directory assistance market. They have broken with their long-standing no marketing position in this test. They very much want to leverage their local dataset into other profitable areas and are intending on being a player. These ads are very much a direct challenge to Microsoft’s TellMe and Jingle411.”

The service is very crude through. The recorded voice sounds a little bit like something dying on the other end of the online. So, why jump into uncharted advertising territory (Google doesn’t advertise) to promote a marginal, unrefined offering like Goog411? Here’s the real story: Back in October of ’07, Infoworld got Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of Search Products and User Experience, to talk about Google’s strategy for improving video search Here’s what she had to say:

“You may have heard about our [directory assistance] 1-800-GOOG-411 service. Whether or not free-411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. I myself am somewhat skeptical. 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.”

Apparently Google’s speech recognition experts told them they needed a lot more phonemes, “a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation”, to make voice recognition, and by extension video search, work well. My guess is that they picked New York and California to run billboard advertisements because of the large variety of accents. Mayer had a lot to say about optimizing search, but I’d say after paying $1.65 billion for Youtube without having any good way to monetize video, the Goog411 ploy is probably more about targeting advertising to specific video content. This is the sort of thing that elevates Google above its competitors.