Free Directory Assistance
If you’re out and about and need someone’s phone number, dialing 411 on your cell phone will have you screaming so loud that someone might call 911 on you! Cingular charges $1.50. Even from a landline, some local carriers charge a buck or even more at $1.25/call to 411 [Alltel charges you $1.49; AT&T: $1.75; Sprint Nextel: $1.79; T-Mobile: $1.50; Verizon Wireless: $1.50; Virgin Mobile $1.50 — and it’s more for long distance carriers’ 411 services — Verizon charge $3.49; Sprint & AT&T both charge $2.49!]
How crazy is that? You wouldn’t pay me $3.49 cash to look up someone’s number in the phone book for you, would you especially for such publicly available data? Why pay Verizon or Cingular then? Especially when they outsource these services to automated solutions and pay only $0.25-$0.50/call and then pocket the difference. Talk about a mark-up!
I’ve been using 1-800-FREE-411 which is advertising supported. Originally when they launched they only made you listen to one ad but they’d connect your call for 5 minutes free so you don’t have to hang-up and dial the number. But they took away that free call. Now depending on the number you request, you may be presented with 2 ads — one at the beginning of the call and another before they give you the number you requested. The ads seem to be relevant because they report that 4% of callers to the service actually request the additional info regarding the advertisements. They are actually targeted by SIC codes or by specific companies (like if you request a competitor’s #) — so it’s not totally random advertising. Not bad, and still, in the end, you ain’t forking over a buck-fifty to your cell carrier. One cool features is that if you forget and call back 1-800-FREE-411, you can retreive the last number requested quickly by pressing “9”. Their website has a neat reverse-look-up function (which is also available on Superpages.com – but if you’re searching on the web, I just use Google to look-up phone numbers and reverse lookups)
Another company doing the same thing, but with live operators the 3 times I’ve tried them was 1-800-411-METRO. Same thing, ad-supported model, but in the end, it’s free!
Now, you say, hey, I’d rather pay the buck or so to get that number quickly without listening to some non-relevant ad first. However, Verizon is now testing ad-supported directory assistance on their regular 411 services as well — so soon, you’re basically going to be faced with the same exact hurdle — listening to some sort of advertising — whenever you call directory assistance. The only decision you have to make is do you want to pay for it or not?
If you have an unlimited SMS Text Messaging plan, or if you don’t mind paying 20 cents or so for 2-3 text messages outgoing and incoming, you can just send a text message to GOOGL (46645) and Google will send back the contact info if it’s in the public directory for any residence or business. Here’s a live “demo” so you can see what you’d receive if you ask for a specific number. Just type in John Smith, New York, NY and see what happens.
In any case, the verdict? Don’t dial 411. Dial 1-800-Free-411 or 1-800-411-Metr(o) or text Googl or get a phone book! Whatever you do, don’t give up your George Washingtons to these big carriers that make tons of money off of this service!