Voom (411): InFone Redux?

Voom 411, LLC, is trialing what it calls a first-of-its-kind, "live, local, Web-enabled" directory assistance for the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN) metropolitan area. Calls to (612) 866-6411, reach "internet savvy" live operators who will conduct search engine look-ups on behalf of callers and provide such info as phone listings; local news, weather and sports scores; events, restaurants and movie information, "and more".

Like the ill-fated InFone service from MetroOne, Voom indicates that it will require callers to provide their credit card information to support billing and collections. Pricing has not yet been announced, but the Web site indicates that $0.99 buys a bundle of nine calls. The trial period is scheduled to last until the end of August with operators on duty between 7:30 AM and 7:30 PM (Monday through Friday). Then the company promises general availability in September - meaning that service will expand to includ 7am to midnight Sunday through Thursday, and 7am to 3am on Friday and Saturday.

While we like the idea of human-assisted Web searches over the phone, Voom 411 invokes a number of alarm bells. As enhanced DA specialist MetroOne learned about five years ago, prospective callers balk at providing credit card information for pre-registered DA queries. As dozens of operator-assisted Yellow Pages service providers have discovered, $0.99 per minute will not provide sufficient profit margin to sustain a business.

Most importantly, the mobile mob is moving to "free" (meaning advertiser-supported) services.

There are some interesting business cases to be built around real-time access to experts over the telephone to support local search, but a resurrection of MetroOne's InFone strikes us as a non-starter. Voom 411 will know more after the end of its test period.