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January 06, 2005

Free 411 services from 800ideas.com provide value for both marketers and users

By Charlene Li

I had a briefing on Wednesday with a cool company called 800ideas.com, based in San Diego. This 110-person company is behind a slew of free 800-number 411/directory services in California. Readers in San Diego may be aware of 800-San-Diego which has been operating for 2+ years. A list of available numbers and cities serviced is here.

The twist is that instead of paying $1+ per call, the calls are free, yes, FREE! But you have to listen to two short ads. I did a quick test of 800-san-francisco. My first call was to get find a taxi company – I wanted to get a list of taxi companies to call. I heard a quick intro ad and then was connected to an operator. I listened to an ad from a mortgage company with the option of pressing “1” to be connected to them. Then a digitized voice then read me a list of six taxi companies while I jotted down the business names and numbers.

I hung up and called back to do my second task -- get the phone number for a local Bed Bath & Beyond. As soon as I called in, the service recognized that I had recently called and asked if I wanted my previous list repeated. While I didn’t need that task, I was pretty impressed that the service recognized me (obviously, I didn’t disable caller ID). I was given a choice of connecting directly or getting the phone number. I chose the phone number and heard an ad from Survey Savvy to be a survey taker. As I hung up, I wished I had just asked to be connected directly.

The third time I called back, the service again remembered me and asked if I wanted to be directly connected to the business I had last searched. Now this is pretty impressive – it not only recognized me, but also suggested that maybe I wanted to call the company directly. This time, I looked up a restaurant (Max’s Opera Café in Palo Alto) and was connected after listening to an ad from PetMeds.

The service worked well and given how frequently I use 411 services on my cell phone, I think I’m quickly becoming a convert!

But what’s most impressive is how well the advertising is working. Everything is tracked, down to the time of day you heard the ad, and of course, if you responded to it. One marketer used the service to pre-test five different radio spots, rotated throughout the day, to see which ones generated the greatest response, and when. A mortgage company had a sequence of nine different ads it played to callers asking about mortgage brokers – if a user ignored them all the way to the ninth ad, the final spot said something like, “Gee whiz, what do I have to do to get you to respond to my business?” Advertisers buy into one of four slots per category, typically at a fixed cost per month (the cost varies by category). In the future, payment will likely be based on pay per play or pay per response.

Even recruiters have been using the service. 800ideas.com as a fluke decided to advertise for their own salesperson with an ad, with the response being to take a quick assessment test on the phone. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, 270 people completed the test, 97 passed, and one person was eventually hired. Other employers have been testing the service and found equal success. The cost: $39 for the set-up and $3.95 per response. Watch out Monster!

Last little twist: 1800sandiego.com has an online classifieds service that uses the 800 service to provide anonymity in the process. When a potential buyer views the ad, they enter the ad ID#, their phone number, and then gets a call back that connects them with the seller. The phone number for both the seller and the user remains anonymous. Seller emails are also not listed, removing the fear that email will end up on spam lists.

While the service is impressive, don’t look for it be available in a city near you anytime soon. 800ideas.com is focused on building out California over the next 18 months. Players like Yahoo!, Google, Citysearch, and Superpages.com – as well as telco directory services that are enjoying the 411 cash cow – should take note of 800ideas.com. Given a choice of paying buckaroos for the call versus listening to ads, I believe quite a few people will choose the ads. And forget about using your mobile phone to do a local search on a service like Yahoo! – why bother when you can just make a call?


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j. porter

Thank you, Charlene, for sharing your research of 800ideas.com in such a well-written article. What a rare delight it is to find an author (even by chance) whose work is accurate, informative, and concise as well as fun and easy to read.

A few weeks ago, I heard only part of a TV commercial touting a San Diego area free information number ("Why pay for 411 service?"). When I had need of it today, a Google search paid off not only with that number (1-800-san dieg/o), but your informative background info on its company and (happily) links to more of your articles. This new fan is happy to have found you and will spread the word. ~J. Porter

K. Petel

Free 411 service can also be had if the user has sms or text messaging on their cellphone. A number of providers like yahoo, google, interchange ,etc all offer the sms based service for free. However, only one company, synfonic.com, has offered driving direction with their SMS 411 service. This space is heating up so us consumers all benfits.


I used both synfonic and google. Both are good. However, how do u find movie reviews, product reviews, restaurants reviews, weather, flight status etc. I use such services from Koffee-Break. Very innovative. Plus, I also heard that these folks have an association with Yahoo.




thanks for referring Koffee-Break. I used their Yellow Pages services in Australia. Plus also locating hotspots nearby. Very cool ! They seem to be adding newer services rapidly. Keep checking:

Christine Lutz

You should check out 1-888-ISP-FOR-U. This company is also based in San DIego but they service the whole UNited States. They are very similar to 1-800-San-Diego but they look up more than just phone numbers. They search for any information on the internet such as directions, weather, hotels, or even trivial facts.

Check out http://www.InternetSearchPro.com
I love them.

Nationwide FREE 411 by 1-800-411-METRO

So far the best FREE 411 service I found:
1-800-411-METRO >> by Infreeda
They have super friendly LIVE operators, offer nationwide listings, and are advertiser supported. Many people balk at advertiser supported services, but I have found the ads very unobtrusive and well-placed. Save $1.50 to listen to 10 second ad, sign me up!

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