Microsoft has begun alerting users of its Bing 411 voice search service, that Bing 411 will be shut down on June 1.
Bing 411 was created in the wake of Google’s GOOG-411 service, and both services operated similarly. Google creating 800-GOOG-411 to rival existing free 411 providers. GOOG-411 received one of Google’s first major non-web advertising campaigns, complete with billboards promoting the service.
However, both Google and Microsoft failed to monetize their free 411 offerings. While both were well-liked by users, advertisers did not sign on to the service at rates which either had expected. In addition, the services were also viewed to take away from the use of Google and Bing on-device services, ranging from text message based local searches, to Bing Maps and Google Maps.
Google shut down GOOG-411 last year, and many onlookers believed Microsoft was continuing to offer Bing 411 as a differentiator – keeping it alive, simply because Google took theirs down first. The psychological warfare effect was questionable, but Bing did see users converting from Google… something that Microsoft continues to struggle with in web and local search.
I personally was a big fan of Bing 411, and will miss the service. I switched to Bing 411 as soon as GOOG 411 was shut down, and had no complaints about it. One of the best features of GOOG 411 and Bing 411 was automatic call routing… placing the call, even long distance, as a bridge call. This meant you could call any local business as a toll-free call.
My favorite use of Bing 411 was combined with the Verizon-powered OnStar cellular phone in my car. I could call local businesses directly, without knowing phone numbers, or having to memorize directory listings. Combined with Friends & Family on Verizon (or similar services on other carriers), Bing 411 was a potent tool from a search giant that enabled for totally minute, and data, free searching.
But best of all was the voice recognition quality. Both Google and Microsoft have heavily invested in voice recognition technology… and their free 411 services were vanguard demonstrators of their somewhat-untapped capabilities in this arena.
In an era of capped and/or throttled data, data-less solutions like Bing 411 and GOOG 411 are sorely missed. It will be up to the startup and SMB marketplace to come up with alternatives. Many already exist, but in my opinion, none came close to working as well.