TechCrunch is reporting that voice services and automated directory assistance (DA) provider TellMe, which I’ve written about several times recently, is being acquired by Microsoft. If that’s true it would be both strange and a potentially big deal.
It would be strange because Microsoft already has its own considerable speech processing assets. But it would also be significant because TellMe powers DA for AT&T’s 411 and now offers a number of consumer facing mobile-local search products (1-800-555-Tell) and TellMe by Mobile. This would give Microsoft, which has a relationship with US mobile carrier Sprint and various mobile search options, a very powerful additional tool in the emerging mobile market.
Free/automated DA services now include:
- Jingle Networks (1-800-Free 411) — now processing over 600,000 calls per day
- AT&T’s 1-800-YellowPages (in beta in only three cities)
- 1-877-520-Find (the unconfirmed Google DA service)
And yesterday new service 1-800-Know-Now launched.
In the world of mobile local search WAP browsing and downloadable applications represent minority use cases. DA already has an “installed base” of millions of users and is familiar to consumers — no new behavior required. Also, the TellMe multi-modal model (say that three times fast) — voice in, text/display out — offers a better user experience than pure voice.
Again this is just rumor at this point. But it’s interesting to consider the implications and impact.
One issue for Microsoft, if it were to follow Jingle’s lead and make some or all TellMe applications ad supported, would be advertiser acquisition. AdCenter is growing but Microsoft (of the big three) has few local advertisers — it gets them from third parties like SuperPages and Ingenio.