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Veni, Vidi, Wiki: my first wiki entry about 411 services (and also my first long and decent post in this blog)

My friends keep telling me that my blog is not a blog but rather a list of bookmarks. They are right, so today I am starting to produce genuinely new content for the blogosphere.

I realised that Wired has an article with the same title, but since the title is great, I will keep it.

The context
I was in California a few weeks ago. A friend of mine was driving me back to my hotel (I don’t like driving in the US, because it is kind of boring). I did not have the exact address of the hotel and therefore the GPS system was not super useful. My friend then dialed a directory assistance number, found the address and here we go.

For me directory assistance services used to be the rip-off scheme established by phone operators where you pay $1+ to get someone tell you the address. Honestly, it might cheaper to call a sex line and ask your hostess to do the same.

Anyway, in the case of my friend, he did not have to pay anything. He is using a free service. Cool !!!!
My friend dropped me at the hotel and I asked him the phone number for the service: 1-877-520-FIND.

The service
Since I am a scientist, I started to play with the service to see how well it works. First, everything seems to be automated. No human talking to you, just the not-so-suave voice of a text-to-speech program. Second, the system seemed to have a hard time recognizing my french accent. I have tried since then, back in New York, and it does not work nicely with names of French or basque restaurant.

Apart from that, the service is kind of cool. Ok, the name sucks big time. It took me a while to manage to remember the 520-FIND part. Now, my problem is to remember the prefix: is it 800, 888, 877, 866? Bad name. Their web site is kind of minimalist too.

But the really cool thing about the service is that:

  • you can ask to be connected right away
  • you can ask to receive an SMS with the details of the place you are looking for

Other services
520Find.com is not the only service. Others include Free411 (that’s a cool name, easy to remember), Metro411 (cool name too) and 411-SAVE (not so cool name). They all seem to offer the same kind of services. I tried all of them and they all seem to have ads being played before you can make your query. This is kind of annoying. But at least it explains how they plan to make money.
520Find.com does not have any ad at this point. How do they make money, how they plan to make money is a mystery to me?
I guess this is the Internet bubble, all over again. As long as this is not my money, I am fine with it. And since they seem to have some ads displayed on Google.com, they are not making any money and spending some. Hey, I am not going to complain.

The wiki moment
So, after playing with these services, I have been looking around for more info about 411 services, directory assistance, etc. And this lead me to the wiki page. So, I read the page and find 3 of the 4 services mentioned above. The one I had used in the first place was missing.

I always wanted to contribute to the Wikipedia. There was this very funny segment from the Colbert Report about it. In my dreams, I had been thinking about creating an entry about a famous French figure, a great movie director, some hard piece of science. But when opportunity knocks at the door, who am I to push it away. So, 411 it will be.

I create my account, read the article carefully, choose my word, do some reformatting, press preview half a dozen times and finally submit my change. Since I am new to this thing, I also had an entry in the discussion section, arguing for my changes.

Wiki part II
Of course, I tell my friends about it. They tell me that I should have added more information. My answer is that this is a first submission and half jokingly I say that someone might not like it and reverse to the previous version.
This is exactly what happened. My addition (the name of the fourth service) was removed and some extra information was added about the market share of one of the services. I will not mention which one.
So, it seems that wiki can be used as a free advertising service for some.
My blood starts boiling and I am really pissed. I tell my friends and go for lunch.
On my way back, my friends have digged whatever information they have found about the wiki “editor” (based on the IP address), to make it easy for me to plan my retaliation plan.

Wiki part III
So, I go back to the site and to my surprise, my entry is back. So, I check the history and yet another contributor had put my entry back, stating that if we cite one service, we must cite them all. Long live Wikipedia!

Bottom line:

  1. there are a bunch of free 411-like services. You don’t have to pay $1+ every time you need some info
  2. which one is best for you depends on your needs; I like 520Find.com because it does not have ads (so far), it can you send you an sms and it can connect you. But I doubt they stay in business very long (how do they make money?)
  3. The voice interface is nice but honestly, in crowded places the SMS works much better. Try the Google SMS service (GOOG).
  4. The voice interface does not like French people. I thought my French accent would be an asset in the US, not a liability.
  5. Wikipedia rocks! Now I am thinking about my second contribution.

Here are the 4 numbers

I also added a very interesting survey by TellMe about the use of such services.

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