Google shuts voice search in India

Monday, December 20, 2010

6a00d8341c630a53ef010535f01a57970b-800wiGoogle's closure of its voice search experiment in India, puts a question mark on the viability of search through automated voice responses.

"The experiment was wound up as we did not achieve scale and viability," said Vinay Goel, Google's India products head. "This experiment helped us learn more about user needs and build core technologies."

Analysts say that its cheaper to put a person behind a call in India than a machine. VC firm Canaan Partners India MD Alok Mittal says that it costs about Rs 2-3 per minute to have an agent answer a call. "A sales lead through local search can get you Rs 40-50, which far outweighs the cost of an agent."

Google's experiment was started in 2008 across Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore. Users could call at 1-800-4199-9999 and ask for an item to be searched through the interactive voice response system. One could ask for 'Paradise biryani' in Hyderabad and the system would guide you the top options, which are then SMSed.

The charge to the caller was free. However, a delay in response time and poor understanding of the search request, might have led to the failure of the business.

While Google was struggling with its voice search experiment, business for India's local search sites have seen a spurt over the last two years. While niche search websites have cropped up, they provide text search listing. Voice response has still not caught on in the search business, yet.

"We never wanted to be in the call centre hiring kind of model," Goel of Google said, explaining the shutdown.

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