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Not unlike PocketThis (voice/DA in, SMS/Wap out) AskMeNow is a new, more useful version of current directory assistance. The fully automated service is free (like 1-800-Free411), and the "AskMeAnything" service costs US$.49 per call:

Within seconds you can get 411 listings and driving directions, check traffic, read your horoscope, see what time a movie is playing, get your local weather forecast, check out the latest news and sports scores, find a hotel and much more . . .

Questions are entered verbally and then answers are delivered via text message.

Others have tried and failed with similar "enhanced DA" offerings in the past. (According to the Pierz Group, directory assistance in the U.S. will be worth US$8.1 billion this year, and 35% of the market is mobile users.)

I'm so resentful of having to pay Sprint US$1.25 for every 411 call; I'll never do that again. I'm using 1-800-Free411, and it works as well or better, in my experience, than Sprint's outsourced operators.

One of the issues with such services is training users to try a broader range of lookups than "what city, what listing?" AskMeNow has a real shot at that given its model and marketing.

These kinds of services, however, are really a bridge to a mobile local search future in which the devices are better, faster and able to do more.

When will that be? Maybe we should ask AskMeNow.


But wait . . . here are the hamsters on the wheel or the man (people) behind the curtain, whichever metaphor you prefer:

The caller won't be talking to a person. Instead, communication is with voice recognition software. But behind the automation are people at a Philippines call center transcribing calls, in case the software fails to capture every word, and looking up answers, which are delivered as a text message or email in about a minute, on average, according to the company.

So I'm disappointed to say that this appears to be all-but-identical to current DA offerings (down to the outsourcing), except that you can ask a broader range of questions.

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