In a previous life, I ran a Bell project called VoiceNet (today its evolved into http://www.helloyellow.ca/) . Essentially, it was to be the first speech enabled portal of its kind anywhere completely speech enabled. When I say speech enabled, I literally mean that you communicate(d) directly with our computers … no human intervention. The goal was ultimately to speech enable the Yellow Pages to give cell phone users unprecendented access to such listing information without the paper product handy. What a great concept! Unfortunately, it was 10 years ahead of its time, and the general population just wasn't ready. Keep in mind, this was when search engines were in their absolute infancy, and Google was still not conceived. This was even before my days with Sympatico-Lycos … and that was quite a while ago. The project has fortunately been kept alive over the years … given its obvious potential.
Fast forward 10 years, and here I am in New York City at Search Engine Strategies 2007 in a session on mobile search. I'm intrigued by the discussions forwarded by the entire panel … they're all to be commended for their insights and knowledge (Gregory Markel from www.infusecreative, Cindy Krum from www.bluemoonworks.com, and Rachel Pasqua from www.icrossing.com). More than intrigued actually, outright impressed. All three obviously have a very deep understanding of the subject, and are very adept at communicating their difficult subject. Then Gregory surprises all of us by suggesting that perhaps mobile search is best served (at least in the short term) by Google Voice Local Search. Mobile Browser search is atrocious he says … I have to agree! Still I'm taken aback!
Well as it happens, I heard Gregory correctly. Google has launched a competitive project to http://www.helloyellow.ca/, and calls it Google Voice Local Search. Rather a mouthful, but perhaps thats by design given its a verbal medium. Soooooo, I tried it. I called the number 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) and WOWWWW it was good. I'm impressed. Go ahead … try it for fun. Its only for U.S. cities at the moment, but it will expand, and when it does we'll be ready (don't tell anyone, but we have many U.S. clients too, so we have the ability to work with it to figure it out), with some unique inside knowledge I might add. While you're at it, also try the Hello Yellow service by dialing 310-YELO (9356). This does work in Canada as is equally impressive, although has much better local data.
In any case, they seem to have solved some of the problems that the technology of 10 years ago couldn't … but not all. Both have minor troubles with some requests (eg. Google's interpreted "roof leaks" as "pilots"), but overall they're not bad. So, is this the holy grail of search? Perhaps. However, it won't be in the short term as absolute perfection is still allusive, meaning that mobile browsers will still have an increasing role, and we need to start optimizing for mobile search. This however, is a subject for a future blog.