Valleywag has been talking about GOOG-411, Google’s free automated directory assistance line, and they noticed something I hadn’t: Every time you call, a randomly selected voice says “GOOG-411!”, and it looks like all the voices are just Googlers and their kids. While the voices are mostly unprofessional but harmless, the children are grating and annoying, far too loud for my ears.
I called about 20 times through Skype, hearing a number of different voices. They were mostly typical American geek voices, with the occasional Indian or other foreign voice, and then, one out of every 5-8 calls, a screaming child. No women, though. It’s all a bit silly, and can be distracting and annoying, and makes you wonder why they couldn’t just have the regular voice guy do it.
In the meantime, anyone want to explain to me how to record Skype, so I can put together a montage of these?
Looks like Google bought a billboard to advertise GOOG-411, its directory assistance phone service. The billboard was spotted by Mike Blumenthal around Olean, NY. Google has traditionally not advertised for its products, preferring them to spread by word of mouth (and giant amounts of Google AdSense ads), but they were bound to start buying ads eventually.
Valleywag thinks Google hasn’t changed its tactics, but rather that Google is getting intot the display advertising game, as has been rumored for awhile. Since Google normally fills unfilled inventory with ads for its own products, this could be a billboard Google is planning on selling advertising on, and it just contains the GOOG-411 ad until they sell something.
(via Search Engine Land)
Catching up: I had a crazy week, with me and my wife going on a short wedding anniversary vacation, one of my best friends getting married, and my aunt and her family moving forever to another continent. There’s a lot of stuff filling up the queue, so we’re going to go through it double time
Google Reader Adds Popout For Video & Audio
Google Reader added a smart thing to its media preview, which lets you listen to enclosed audio files or watch embedded video without downloading the file by playing it in a Google Flash player. Since you might want to keep reading your Google Reader while listening to a podcast, you can now hit up a “Popout” link to keep the Flash player going in a new window while you do your business back in Reader. It works for enclosures with podcasts, video, supposedly even YouTube videos.
Google Earth Adds NASA, Night Layers
Ionut Alex reports that Google Earth now has three new layers, courtesy of NASA. Possibly the most interesting is one that shows the Earth at night, letting you see the intensity of light produced by major cities. Also, there are now layers that show photos of the Earth taken by astronauts, and satellite imagery of major geographic phenomena, like the Indian tsunami. Just open up Google Earth to check them out.
Google Personalizing Your Ads
Google has started doing a smart thing, personalizing ads based on your recent behavior. That means that when you run a search, Google will see how it relates to your immediate recent searches, and if it finds a connection, it will present ads based on that. That means Google is usingsome intelligence and providing a unique set of ads on Google search based on your activity, different ads than anyone else would see. Pretty cool.
Google Kills Click-To-Call Feature
Google has stopped offering the click-to-call feature in Google Maps, which would let you click in the search results to initiate a call to a local business. The feature, which involves you clicking on a button in any Maps search result, then entering your phone number, was rife with abuse, as pranksters used it to have local businesses called by their unsuspecting friends (nothing forced you to enter your real personal number), and the phone bill costs to Google probably outweighed any usefulness.
See If You Can Beat The Googol Conglomerate
Google’s free 411 service, 800-GOOG-411, is going to face a lot of problems in the future, as rival free 411 services have been granted patents on techniques endemic to the industry Google is trying to get in on. Search Engine Journal reported that Local.com received last week a patent on a method of responding to directory assistance queries, including the referral-based business model. Meanwhile, TechCrunch reported that Jingle Network received a patent for playing a recorded advertisement based on a directory service query.
Besides the fact that the two patents may contradict each other, and should never have been granted due to them being a combination of existing technology (voice recognition) with a popular business model (referral/targeted advertising) on a known service (directory assistance), Google still has a lot to deal with. If the patents hold, Google will have to pay significant licensing fees to one or both companies, or face costly litigation to challenge the patents.
Google obviously wants GOOG-411 to succeed, but if the price is too high, they might be better off staying out of this one. Local.com stock is up 146% over the last two weeks, but has been tapering off as excitement over the patent dies down. Google could probably initiate a hostile takeover of the company for $100 million or less right now, solving this before it becomes a big mess.
Previous article on GOOG-411:
Google Launches Free 800-Number Local Search - April 11
Google 411 Shaking Up 411 Industry - April 13
Google 411 Draws You A Picture - July 3
Google Local Voice Search, which you get for free by calling 1-800-GOOG-411, has added a new feature that helps you from losing your results after you hang up the phone. At any point while using the service, just say “Map it”, and you’ll get a text message containing your voice search results, as well as a picture of a Google Map showing you where to go. It’s a great addition, especially if you don’t have a pen and paper handy to write down what you hear.
You know what this reminds me of? Back when the internet was younger, if you didn’t have the money for the web, you got Juno, the free email service. There was this whole idea in place of sending out emails which would come back with the full text of web pages, letting you browse the internet without paying an ISP, a slow, two-way process, not unlike making a phone call and getting back a text message with a map.
Anyone use Juno for that, and remember how it worked?
Google has launched a free local search service that you can access via 1-800-GOOG-411 (800.466.4411). It’s simple, does only one thing, and isn’t perfect, but it could be the start of a very useful service. You call, give your city and state, followed by a business name or category, and the automated voice starts giving you search results. Sometimes, if it isn’t a dictionary word, the voice guy has trouble making any sense, but the voice recognition seems very solid.
Google’s big competitor in this space is TellMe, which is advertising its competing business search, and was just bought by Microsoft. I love TellMe, but I’m really not liking their business search, which suffers from voice recognition problems, and the annoying habit of asking you what city and state, and later street you are looking for, regardless of previous searches. Still, that’s not what I use TellMe for; I rely on it for news, weather, sports scores, and lots of other vital info. They’ll have to work to beat Google at delivering a good local search product (frankly, neither is doing that good of a job, but Google’s is better), but Google couldn’t hurt to maybe add Google News to their service.
Listen to this clip of it in action from Download Squad:
As you can see, it’s not really all that friendly or nice sounding, but it is mostly effective. TechCrunch says Google may have acquired this in part from 1-877-520-FIND
posted at JasonBlogs.com
Google has decided that the Google Maps brand is too strong to keep calling its local search product Google Local, so you can now just call it Google Maps. Local.google.com and maps.google.com both show the same thing (is that duplicate content?) so no permalinks are broken, but the logo on both says Google Maps. Google released Maps last February, then slowly folded it into Local, but it took only 14 months for them to realize that the fancy satelite maps outshine the local search.
This didn’t take too long: As Google Blogoscoped shows, one blogger has already figured out how to combine Google Related Links with advertising, simply by putting the Links box on top of an AdSense ad. This seems to work best with link ad units, but I’m willing to bet it’d work nicely with full-size ads as well. Lets see some experimentation! I want confidential email with click-through rates…
Other stuff I’ve been meaning to get to:
Here’s another good ad placement.
Clear Channel has a deal to use Google AdSense and AdWords.
AdSense CTR’s now go to two decimal places. Useful for those that track this stuff religiously, and those that have to.
Google is seeking a patent for ad-subsidized wifi web access. Not exactly an original idea.
Take a look at Google’s GeoAds beta, for advertising in Google Local with graphics in the ads.
AdWords advertisers can now bid on which position they want.
Verizon SuperPages is selling Google AdWords.
CNet’s Elinor Mills has posted some commentary of yesterday’s Analyst Day at the Googleplex. Some highlights:
- CFO George Reyes opened the meeting. Last year, the biggest complaint was that attendees heard from the chef but not the Chief Financial Officer. Looks like they listened.
- Eric Schmidt says the same principles from the founder’s letter of two years ago are still in place.
- High points of the year: the AOL deal, and moving into China
- There’s a $283 billion market for ads in broadcast TV, cable TV, radio, internet, print and direct mail. Google intends to be a major player in all of those markets.
- “Google is primarily focused on Microsoft as a competitor because of the software giant’s history as a company, but Google hasn’t seen an impact from Microsoft’s search products yet.”
- Google does not consider click fraud a major issue yet.
- Google does not believe in being constrained by things like bandwidth and CPU power.
- 20% of resources spent on: Google Video, Google Talk, Gmail, Google Earth, Local Search, Enterprise, Book search, AdSense, Desktop Search and Mobile Search.
- 10% of resources spent on: AdSense Offline, Google Suggest, Orkut and Google Reader.
- Google Ride Finder didn’t work because it followed GPS signals from cabs, but people couldn’t get to the street in time to hail them.
- Google earns $1.44 million per employee.
- Google admits it has not done a good job communicating that some of is betas are just tests, and that’s why they close them so quickly.
(via Google Blogoscoped)
Greg Linden also has some good stuff, and links to Google’s webcast page, which has the webcast for you to view, as well as the presentation slides in PDF format. Of particular interest is the dream of “a world with infinite storage, bandwidth, and CPU power”. While I think its a great goal to shoot for, Google needs to be willing to admit it certainly hasn’t reached that level yet, and many of its services suffer as a result. Developing services with an assumption of bandwidth and computing ability that doesn’t exist is just reckless.
Rude and rude!
In Google Maps:
That’s the British for you!
Google has added high-resolution imagery of Turin, Italy, to Google Earth and Google Local, so you can see lots of interesting terrain around the Olympic Games. You can download this KMZ file to get placemarks for the major venues in Turin. They’ve also added street maps.
As an aside, could someone explain to me why the hell people keep saying “Torino”?
Forbes gives Google grades on each of its courses, er services.
- Search, the big kahuna, gets an A-, losing points due to concerns that Google is running out of inventory, that growth can’t increase any more
- Contextual ads scores C+, since Forbes doesn’t think its as popular as it could be (possibly), the fact that Google doesn’t make that much of a share of AdSense, and a lack of perceived growth for the platform
- Google Local / Google Maps / Google Earth together earn a B+ grade, losing points only on the fact that monetization is taking time
- Froogle sits in the corner with a D+, with its lack of popularity, lack of comissions from retailers, and slow development
- Gmail squeeks in a C, hurting for lack of wide use and slow development (two years old this April!)
- Google Base also gets a C, since few use it and there’s no money. GBuy should help
- Google Search Appliance / Google Mini get a nice B, since they make money and are well-regarded. Forbes only regret: Google could dominate this market, if only it applied itself
- Google Pack rates only a C-, since there’s no money there and no buzz
- Google Video Store has to take home a C to mama, getting a bad grade for UI (compared to iTunes) and this analyst quote: “”Right now, I don’t think Google cares if anyone buys videos at the store or not”. Ouch!
- Blogger can’t like its C-, something it earned for lack of interoperability, lack of updates, and the fact that it doesn’t earn a dime
- Google Talk surprises with a shiny B-, Forbes recognizing its potential
So, grades of: A-B+BB-C+CCC-C-D+, do you think this Phd company is underperforming? Anyone want to calculate the GPA?
Oh, I’m sure this ended well.
Yes, those are two gliders appearing to collide in Google Maps, in an area near the London Gliding Club. Take a look at it right now.
(via Google Sightseeing > Findory)
Philipp also links to this:
Google has added two more levels of zoom to Google Maps/Local.
UPDATE: Philipp shows how some of the new satellite images are very poorly spliced together.
UPDATE 2: Wow, some of the image splicing is awful.
Google is starting to add advertisements to its major services, as represented with Google Local/Maps, which now shows sponsored locations on select searches. For example, if you search for hotels in New York, you’ll see four (smaller than normal) pushpins denoting hotels that paid to be there, along with four listings for the hotels in the search results, two at the top, two at the bottom.
While I’m glad they’re diversifying, I was wondering what would happen if the sponsored links were the most relevant results, so I searched by the very zip code of the Holiday Inn Martinique on Broadway, one of the sponsored listings. I am proud to say that the hotel turned up as a regular result, not a sponsored one, meaning Google will not charge advertisers when they would turn up anyway. It seems that the sponsored hotels show up only when you are vague, as a way of not giving you just random crap (and hotels in Manhattan is a terrible and vague search).
However, when you are specific, Google shows non-Maps ads, regular sponsored links for related websites, such as Orbitz, Expedia and CheapTickets. News flash: This is even smarter. I’d like that if I searched for Shea Stadium, I got ads for buying Mets tickets.
Oh, wait, I do. You go, Google!
Far more than the ads on Google searches, which are a matter of debate as to whether they are relevant enough to improve searches (its only true part of the time), the ads on Google Local make Google Local better. I like the product more now, and I will be looking for those ads every time I search. This is a great release, and will help Google diversify its ad streams further. I hope they do as good a job on future ad rollouts.
(via Barry Schwartz)
Postscript: Danny Sullivan’s heard from Google that this is just a test. Stop testing, it works.
Google has announced Google Talk for the Blackberry, coming in the Spring, and released a Blackberry version of Google Local.
From the press release:
Google Talk for BlackBerry, a version of the instant messaging application specifically designed for BlackBerry handsets, will allow users to send and receive instant text messages with other members of the Google Talk community, while on the go. Google Talk for BlackBerry extends the user experience of the popular desktop-based Google Talk instant messaging service to BlackBerry devices, allowing users to add, delete and rename contacts, know when their Friends are online and available, leave conversations and resume them later, copy conversation text into memory and even be notified when a message is being typed.
Google Talk for BlackBerry is easy and intuitive to use. After downloading Google Talk for BlackBerry, users can quickly sign in through their Gmail(TM) username and password, access their existing Google Talk contact lists, see which Google Talk Friends are online, and send and receive instant messages. The service is integrated with BlackBerry to allow for home screen notifications of new messages, integration of Google Talk instant messages in the BlackBerry Email(TM) inbox and quick access to the BlackBerry Calendar(TM) from Google Talk for meeting scheduling.
Use of Google Talk requires a Gmail account which can be obtained when invited by another Gmail user or by visiting https://www.google.com/accounts/SmsMailSignup1. Google Talk users may invite other Gmail users to their contact lists directly from their BlackBerry handset, just as they would from a PC.
Additionally, users can now download Google Local for mobile, which enables BlackBerry users to view maps and satellite imagery, find local businesses and get driving directions on their BlackBerry handsets. Google Local for mobile provides draggable maps, directions and imagery, as well as a “click to call” feature. Google Local for mobile will store any addresses you have typed in or used for directions for quick and access to previous locations.
The satellite imagery viewing of Google Local for mobile allows users to zoom in on an image for a closer look at the terrain, zoom out for a grander perspective, or move the map in any direction. This interactive satellite view gives you a chance to explore and evaluate your locations in far greater detail.
Google Talk for BlackBerry is expected to be available in the Spring timeframe. Google Local for mobile is available today at www.google.com/glm. Both applications will be free, subject to any data service rates applicable for downloading and using the applications with a limited data plan.
While Google Talk should be nice, the addition of Local should be the bigger deal. Getting satellite imagery and directions on your mobile device, and the great idea of having local search on a phone with click-to-talk makes for a killer product, and its all free.