Bing 411 and the Free DA Market That Wasn't

Microsoft is shutting down the Tellme-powered 800-Bing-411 line on July 1, 2012 (it was originally supposed to be June 1). Bing 411 was arguably the best of the several "Free DA" services in the market, which was launched by 1-800-Free-411.

In 2004 when Jingle Networks' 800-Free-411 appeared it made enormous sense. It was an ad-supported DA service that captured users' directional intent (just like search) and could deliver ad impressions against those queries. Some analyst firms assumed it would lead to billions in mobile ad revenue (audio ads). We also thought it would be a much bigger deal than it turned out to be. 

I had called it "mobile search for the rest of us." However, the rapid rise of smartphone adoption after 2007 had a lot to do with the demise of Free DA. At one point there were a growing number or competitors in this this market sub-segment: 

  • Tellme/Call411
  • Goog411
  • 800-THE-Info (Verizon)
  • 800-yellowpages (AT&T)
  • 800-Free-411 (Jingle)
  • ChaCha
  • kgb (which wasn't free)

Most of these are either defunct or languishing. Goog411 turned out to be the voice tuning and training wheels for Android voice search. Accordingly, Google got the utterances it needed and shut the service down a few years ago.

In April 2011, Marchex acquired Jingle Networks for $62 million in cash and stock. The primary reason Marchex acquired Jingle was not for 800-Free-411 but for its carrier and other relationships and its more recently developed ad network. 

Whether because the services weren't sufficiently promoted or didn't quite work as promised -- again Bing's was quite good at one point -- or whether smartphones simply offered more control and capabilities, it's hard to say why the market never really developed. Certainly the consumer logic was there but the revenues and usage never materialized. 

See related: Bing 411’s Three-Year Run Ends June 1