Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gaming the phone: GOOG-411

You may know that by dialing "1-800-GOOG-411" you can access a voice-based Google search for businesses by city and state. Well, I just tried it out a few times, and found some amusing results. First, I tried "comic book shop" and was pleasently surprised that it recognized the phrase and found lots of matches. Then I tried something more generic, "thin crust pizza." It responded back with just "pizza" so I figured I was going to get a uselessly broad list, but it gave the name of the best known thin-crust Pizza in Cambridge, MA (Emma's).

I figured it was good, but I was going to really test it. What's a good test for such a system? What about a problem rather than a category? I tried "arachniphobia" and got a pause with some kind of odd sound, followed by "try again." Well, now I was on to something, so I tried simplifying: "phobias." Now I heard that sound again and it was a person saying "boop-de-bop" over and over very quietly. Of course, many voice-based services have a fake "the computer is working" noise, but I was amused to hear an actual human doing a sort of scat on this theme. Bravo for injecting a little humor, Google!

All things considered, GOOG-411 is a very solid service as far as I can tell. I'll have to try it in more rural areas next, but certainly for my next White Wolf game, I'll have to use this to decide where to order from!
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