What it is: Just as the name indicates, the service offers free phone listings. While it can be used from either landlines or cellphones, the service, launched by Jingle Networks, most certainly takes advantage of an increase in mobile lifestyles and a general desire to get information anywhere, anytime.
How it works: It applies a Google-style contextual, click-based ad model to a time-tested service. Call 1-800-FREE411 and ask for the phone number to the local pizzeria and you might first hear a 10-second sponsored listing from a similar business, say Dominos Pizza. Advertisers pay per phone call (as opposed to the web's pay-per-click model).
Who's behind it: George Garrick, who formerly headed Wine.com, the internet's largest wine retailer, launched Jingle Networks in September. In April Jingle announced it raised $26 million in series B financing from Liberty Associated Partners, First Round Capital, IDG Ventures and Comcast Interactive Capital.
Who's using it: On the advertising front, Jingle said it has signed up Dominos, Progressive Insurance, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and 1-800-Flowers. Jingle claims consumer use has been generated solely by word of mouth. Free 411 claims to have fielded more than 11 million calls in May from 3 million unique consumers, a 22% increase from April's volume.
Challengers: Of course cellphone carriers all offer directory assistance services -- for a fee. But a crop of new text-messaging services is also emerging. Google SMS, for example, lets users text a name or type of business and location -- city or ZIP code -- to "GOOGL" (46645) and receive listings in the area.