#32: A new 411 service opens

A few weeks ago I met Andre Vanier, CEO of 1-800-411-SAVE (my friend Ajay, the guy with the cool geek car, introduced us). I was intrigued by his new business and he’s on the phone with me announcing his new service that turns on tonight at midnight.

It’s a 411 service. You know, you call his number as directory assistance. Boring, right? Well, as he educated me about how the phone companies make money off of this service, it got a lot less boring to me.

411 is a legal monopoly of the carriers, he says. The carriers are regulated by states. They charge $.40 to $.70 per 411 call in some states. In most states, he says, the carriers are unregulated on 411 and charge $1.25 each 411 call. Yeah, you might get some calls for free, but not always.

The situation is even worse with cell phones. Up to $1.75 on cell phones each call with no freebies on many carriers.

We are considerably cheaper, he says. 1-800-411-SAVE is  a free call.

His service is using the same database that the carriers use to provide 411 information. This service is using the latest data the big phone companies use (they are forced to share that data with other phone carriers), while many of the Internet-based services are using much older and less complete databases.

What’s the business model? 1-800-411-SAVE pays for the cost of the 411 call. The model is to recover the cost from advertisers. Not just any advertisers but specifically advertisers that fit into the overall concept of “save.”

“It was no accident that we picked the phone number 1-800-411-SAVE,” he says. What they found is that the idea is bigger than just saving the money on the phone call, but is also about saving on offers from great brands. They believe that people will use the service to get specials from retailers and other service offerers.

It is launching in the San Francisco Bay Area tonight. Working to get user feedback. Dramatically expanding this to the Bay Area. They are looking to get consumer reactions to what they like and don’t like. If you live elsewhere there’s still a way to participate.

Anyway, I do not receive any revenue or other considerations from this service (if I ever do, I’ll disclose that). It’s just a business I learned about over breakfast one day and wanted to share it with you.

#30: Eric Rice is banging on the window

I was sitting, alone, in the cafeteria here in Silicon Valley tonight at about 7 p.m. when someone started banging on the windows trying to get my attention. “What the hell do they want?” I thought to myself wondering if someone was getting robbed or something or needed help (it was dark outside so I could only see a figure, not a face).

I went outside and who was there? Podcaster extraordinaire Eric Rice! (He’s the founder of Audioblog.com, which is the service that my son and I use when we do our infrequent podcasts).

We caught up and over on his blog there’s a few interesting things to read.

First, I like that tag cloud he has on top of his blog. Turns out that’s a service called, what else, TagCloud. I created a TagCloud of my own.

Also over on Eric’s blog I read that Melodeo has released a new version of its Mobilcast. They claim to be the first company to deliver over-the-air podcast downloads on mobile phones. Eric is building a podcaster network and is delivering exclusive content for this new mobile network.

But the window-banging Rice didn’t stop there. He dragged me away from my computer and said there was a party upstairs. Free wine. He’d sneak me in.

When we got up there, who else was there by TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington. OK, now this is getting freaky. I was just emailing Michael and had no idea he was emailing me from over my head. Literally. He wrote about his side of the encounter here.

Turns out both of them were there for the “Under the Radar” conference party. Wild. It’s just been that kind of week. Oh, and it demonstrates why I like working in the cafeteria rather than sitting in some office somewhere.

And, no, Michael, I’m not going to talk about this. ;-)

Addendum to #29: Engelbart says a mouse should have more than one button

Turns out that I can hear most of the audio on the tape, so we’ll try to get that up soon. On the tape I asked Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the mouse, whether he liked a one-button mouse or a multi-button mouse. He replied that his first mouse had three buttons and the only reason it didn’t have more is that he couldn’t fit anymore on with the button technology of the day.

Oh, and I’m sorry for misspelling his name.