• June 1, 2007
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Voice-Based Search Expands Among Major Web Players

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Voice-based mobile search technology has already become the new battleground for speech technologies, and now major Web search leaders Yahoo! and Google are poised to add their names to an ever-growing list of participants.

Yahoo!, which has during the last few months been beefing up its offerings for Internet and directory assistance searches over mobile phones
and PDAs, has quietly been hinting that it is looking into the possibility of giving users the option to conduct searches with spoken queries, and has high hopes for voice technology in that area. “We do believe that voice technology in the mobile space will play a very important role,” Yahoo! Senior Vice President Marco Boerries has stated.

“We’re definitely looking at voice in the future as something to enhance our oneSearch service,” confirms Nicole Leverich, a Yahoo! spokesperson. The company does not yet have a timeline, though, for when the voice service will be available, she says.

Yahoo! launched its oneSearch service in January. But, the oneSearch service currently requires people to type queries into their handset browsers or to send text messages.

Yahoo!’s expression of interest in voice-based searches came a week after rival Google officially launched a test of its own voice service, called
Google Voice Local Search, an experimental free directory assistance service. The automated, voice-enabled service, available by dialing 1-800-GOOG-411, currently only features U.S. businesses. Google Voice Local Search uses speech recognition to allow users to search for a local business by name or category, based on their city and state or zip code; get connected to the business, free of charge; and get the listing as a text message if they are using a mobile phone, just by saying “text message.” Saying “details” will yield additional information about the listing provided. “This experiment enables users to search and connect with local businesses anywhere in the U.S. over the phone,” says Megan Quinn, a Google spokesperson.

It is not Google’s first foray into this area, as the company has been experimenting with this type of service since 2002.

Around the same time as the Google announcement, Nuance Communications introduced Nuance Voice Search (NVS), a portfolio of speech solutions for automated directory assistance (DA). With NVS-Free DA, Nuance is equipped to deliver business results to advertiser-supported DA providers, such as 1-800-FREE-411 from Jingle Networks and 1-800-YellowPages from AT&T.

Microsoft, a month earlier, announced that it would acquire Tellme Networks to give it a foothold in the mobile search market as well.

“The voice-search battle will be interesting to watch, but at this stage, it is a wide-open playing field,” assert analysts at BullMarket.com, a financial news and analysis Web service, “though if Microsoft’s assertion that TellMe Networks does more mobile search support than Google and Yahoo! combined is accurate, then clearly it would have a solid head start.”

“The soft launch of 1-800-GOOG-411 signals that Google will vie with Microsoft (with Tellme), AT&T (with Nuance and others) and Jingle Networks in defining how directory assistance will morph from caller-paid, limited-function, query-and-response to an advertiser-supported, search/find/transact model,” says Dan Miller, senior analyst at Opus Research. “By 2010, advertiser support of free DA could capture roughly $3 billion of the $9 billion spent by advertisers and end users for speech-enabled mobile search.”

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