laying the gaff


800-The-Info (or 1-800-843-4636) is a toll-free directory assistance (DA) and information service provided in the United States by Verizon. 800-The-Info is subsidized by businesses that purchase advertising space on the service. Callers do not pay for the service, but do listen to ads. The service now offers local business listings including numbers and addresses, and may later provide local information such as weather forecasts, sports scores, restaurant reviews.

How it Works

Like other advertising supported services, callers uses a toll free number to reach an automated system. They then can ask for a particular business, or ask for business recommendations by a location in a city. This type of category search is different from typical 411 requests that focus on asking for specific listings. At the outset, the system plays an advertisement and there can be other ads later on in the call. The system can also provide details to the caller's wireless phone via text messages.

The Free DA Market

Verizon’s service competes with many new entrants providing similar services. 1-800-FREE-411 is currently the market leader with reportedly 20 million calls per month. AT&T's yellow pages, GOOG-411, and others are also now competing for this small but growing segment. Current growth figures suggest the segment will reach 1.5 billion calls per year in the U.S. by 2010.

Nearly all of these services target traditional, paid DA services, rates of which can range from $0.39 on a landline phone to $1.50 or more on cell phones. This form of pure substitution may bring in new users but it also will capture volume from traditional DA services.

800-The-Info may be laying the groundwork for services beyond directory assistance with promises of other future content. Furthermore, the name of the service connotes more than DA alone. This is somewhat different from Free411 and Goog411 which are fully linked to the 4-1-1 application. What is not clear for any of these providers is whether there will be enough expansion in advertisers to support the business model, although Jingle Networks, the owner of 1-800-FREE-411, has according to TechCrunch reached per-call profitability .

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