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NY Times Lists Free Services for Your Cell Phone

Tue Jun 10, 2008 - 11:29 AM EDT - By Jay Gross


The New York Times has a great article online about some cool information services for cell phones that don't depend on the Internet or cost any money. The "Circuits" column, which you can read online, includes details for free "411" for phone numbers and addresses, plus a free research service.

The column details "several super-simple cellular services so sweet and satisfying, you can't believe they’re free." The services depend on voice recognition and SMS. You call a toll-free number, state your request or question, and receive the info as a text message on your phone. The column lists:

800-GOOG-411: free, as opposed to ridiculously overpriced, phone number lookups for businesses. Run by Google, the service currently has no ads. When a number's found, a robot connects you, or you can interrupt with "details" to obtain the number and address, or with "text message" to have it sent as an SMS.

800-FREE411: the same thing, not run by Google, for residential numbers, after you put up with a 20-second ad.

ChaCha (800-2CHACHA): Ask ChaCha a question about anything, and you get the answer, including a link to the Web page where the service’s actual people found the information. You can also ask your question by visiting the web page and typing into the phone screen pictured on the left.

In the "old-tech" days, I occasionally answered questions for my writings by calling the professional researchers at my local public libraries. They love a challenge, won't accept payment for the work, and rarely failed me. These days, I just Google. I miss the personal interaction, but it's quicker, though I feel sad about not supporting any librarians.

Reqall: Call 888-9REQALL and dictate reminders (or send them by instant message, e-mail, text message or a Web browser plug-in). Reqall uses e-mail, text message or instant message, as you choose, to try to remind you at the correct time.

Jott: Sign up at www.jott.com, providing your cell number and e-mail address, and you can dictate notes to robots and receive the transcribed information as text. Says the Times, "If you're a Verizon customer, you must also request that your carrier's 'premium text-message block' be removed from your account.' Really, though Palm Treos and Centros have voice memo built in, so if you're not typing/transcribing challenged, you don't need to bother, Verizon or not.

Free for how long?

The Times explains that these services might not be free forever. Is anything?

GOOG411 is technically still in testing, but even once it's fully baked, Google has no intention of charging for it. ChaCha is trying to sell its services to cell carriers and syndicate its system to other information providers, and one day intends to attach relevant ads to its text-message answers. (The company insists it will not spam or repurpose your phone number.)
As for Jott and Reqall: technically, they, too, are in beta testing. When they go live, the companies plan to charge for the advanced features, but they will always offer a free basic service.

Actually, I've been scooped. I've known about some of these services for a long time, and had an article in the back of my mind. It never moved off the proverbial back burner, and the Times' Circuits column does what I've been procrastinating, with plenty of extra goodies thrown in. That'll teach me.

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