GOOG-411: another way automation is replacing annoying human interaction

Sometimes I wonder if I am just slow to pick up on tech trends or if Google really is slowly taking over the world. Today I came across this story, courtesy of Boing Boing, on one of Google’s latest steps in world domination, GOOG-411. Now, I admit, I have been slow in adopting some of Google’s many nifty features: I only set up a GMail account this year and only within the last few months have I actively used Google’s Calendar and Documents features, among others. But GOOG-411, launched this past April in response to Microsoft’s TellMe acquisition, seems to be a gem of a service that no one is talking about yet.Here’s how the service works: You call, say your location (or type in a zip code), say what type of business you want (e.g., car repair, Italian restaurants, etc.) and it comes back with a list of potential matches. You select which you want by pressing the corresponding number and it connects you to that number. If you have a cell phone, you can have information sent via SMS directly to your phone. Google has a YouTube video that explains the service very succinctly here.And as with many things Google, GOOG-411 has apparently mastered the algorithms necessary to interpret your voice correctly and match it to an actual location. This is pretty impressive if you ask me, since I am almost always directed to an operator when I call 4-1-1 to get a phone number. And, in their infinite wisdom (or perhaps because Google Maps is so successful) Google added a new feature to the service in June where you say “map it” during your call and included with your text message is a link to a map of the business.But what about text message charges, you ask? The service is free! Of course, if you have to connect to the Internet to view the lovely map Google has provided you a link to, you have to pay for that. Or, of course, if you’re like me and still use a cell phone from the 1980s, you can’t actually access the Internet from your cell. But I’m just cheap I guess.Of course, as with every service, it is not perfect. You cannot use the service to find individuals’ numbers, only businesses. And at least one reviewer was annoyed by the amount of noise the service makes while processing your request. And of course, while most of us out there use Google every day and have incorporated Google-speak into our daily lives (e.g., “You’re not going to believe what came up when I Googled myself today), there are those out there who see the company as many multi-media companies threatening to squash out individuality and competition. I, however, encourage Google to continue making my life easier, even if it is making me more reliant on them by the minute.

Jessica Vitak, a 2008 graduate from CCT, is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Michigan State University in Media & information Studies. She spent six years in Washington, D.C. working as an editor for PR Newswire, the global leader in news distribution and monitoring services, and later as a research intern at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. At Pew, she coauthored two major reports on online privacy and teens' gaming habits. Her master's thesis at Georgetown looked at relationship formation and maintenance on the social networking site Facebook, as well as the potential relationship between online activities and offline consequences. She is continuing her focus on online communication technology at MSU.