I invite you to go grab your cell phone / mobile phone / home phone whatever and program the following numbers into it:
– 1-800-555-8355 (“555 TELL” — TellMe)
– 1-800-373-3411 (“FREE 411” — Free411)
– 1-888-392-7563 (“EZ ASK ME” — AskMeNow – Initial signup on site required)
– 46645 (“GOOGL” – Google SMS beta – Google via Text Messaging)
NOTE: One or more of these numbers may be U.S.-only… sorry 😐
For details on each service, read on…
I’ve been using this service for ages, and it’s really gotten me out of some tight jams!
Via interactive voice menus, callers can easily get weather reports, serious and entertainment news, movie info, and much more. But the butt-saving features I’ve particularly appreciated are TAXI and DRIVING DIRECTIONS. The former will connect you (free of charge) with a local cab company, and the latter gives you step-by-step spoken driving directions between any two points in the U.S. (powered by “Microsoft MapPoint Technologies”)
Supposedly, TellMe is ad-supported, but I have yet to hear any ads on the service.
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Tired of paying $1.25 and up to your greedy mobile or landline phone company for directory assistance? Then you’ll especially love Free 411! Not only does it find residential and business phone numbers for you, it also connects you free-of-charge (even to long distance numbers!) This service is apparently ad-supported (e.g., ask for Dominos Pizza, get a 15 second ad for a competing pizza place), but I’ve never heard any ads during the 3-4 times I’ve used this service.
Voice recognition is pretty decent, but the one time I stumped it, I was transferred to a human operator who was able to promptly get me the number I requested.
Frankly, though, I do wonder how sustainable this is. Will enough companies really pay to have folks redirected to them? If people are asking for Smith Window Washing services, will they really be so easily swayed towards a competitor? I have my doubts. But in the meantime, I’m happy to use this very convenient free 411 service!
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ASK ME NOW
Need to know the capital of Wisconsin? Or find the phone number of a particular Citibank branch? Sure, if you’re near an Internet-connected computer, you could probably quickly and easily find this info yourself. But what if you’re busy or not near a computer? Yes, I have a Web browser on my Treo phone, but it’s slow, the screen is small, and it’s generally just a miserable experience trying to navigate Web sites with it.
Well, Ask Me Now is indeed a viable alternative. You call their number, leave a message, and 1-3 minutes later, you get back text messages with the right answer. Or at least AN answer. In my minimal testing, Ask Me Now gave me the right answer to “What is the Capital of Wisconsin?” but gave me the wrong answer to “What is the phone number of the Citibank branch located on Diamond Street in San Francisco?” The person (apparently located in the Philippines) who answered my query clearly just quickly googled for the answer and didn’t bother checking on Citibank’s Web site, since the correct answer is available in the latter, not the former.
This service costs 49 cents per query, billed to your cell phone account. Supposedly you can get free ‘automated’ answers, but it’s not clear to me what qualifies as free and not-free, even after looking on the company’s Web site.
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Another option is Google’s SMS service. Text message GOOGL (46645) to get driving directions, movie showtimes, weather reports, price comparisons, and more.
I’ve found this service to be both wonderous and frustrating. For instance, when I asked it [What is the capitol [sic] of wisconsin?] it replied back “Did you mean CAPITAL…” and gave me an appropriate Web page… when I would have preferred for it to actually include the answer, not just a link, in the reply. Additionally, when I asked it [Phone number for Citibank on Diamond St in San Francisco CA] it replied unhelpfully: “Looking for map of [query]? Unfortunately map information is not available through Google SMS.”
I had better luck with other queries, such as [weather 91360] and [what is the population of belgium].
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Despite multiple attempts, I could not get this service to work. I kept getting an “Invalid…” message, with instructions relating to Y! Messenger, after even using the exact queries listed on this page. Bummer. Any Yahoo people out there wanna help me figure out what’s going on here? I’ve heard good things about Yahoo’s mobile offerings and perhaps there’s just something small / obvious I’m missing?