The Eiffel Tower is 330 meters high, and the nearest pizza place is 1.3 miles from my house. It was easy to verify these facts. All I had to do was type some words into Google, and I didn’t even have to type them correctly.

For the vast majority of human history, this was not the way people discovered things. They went to the library, or asked a priest, or wandered the streets following the scent of pepperoni. But then, for a brief period when search engines existed but were too expensive to use on your shiny new phone, people could call or text a stranger and ask them anything.

The Internet first became available on mobile phones in 1996, but before affordable data plans, accidentally tapping the browser icon on your flip phone would make you sweat. In the early 2000s, one website was accessible could it costs You’re like a cheeseburger, so not many people bothered to use Google on the go.

Instead, a variety of services have emerged that offer mobile searching without the Internet. Between 2007 and 2010, Americans could call GOOG-411 to find local businesses, and between 2006 and 2016, you could text 242-242 to get any question answered by ChaCha. Britons can call 118 118 or text AQA to 63336 for similar services. Behind the scenes, there were no artificially intelligent robots answering these questions. Instead, thousands of people were previously employed He is Google.

“Someone called and asked if Guinness was made in Ireland, and people asked about the circumference of the world,” says Hayley Banfield, 42, from Wales, who answered 118,118 calls from 2004 to 2005. It was launched in 2002 as a directory inquiry service – meaning people could call to find out phone numbers and addresses (calls at the time it costs averaging 55 pence). In 2008, the company began offering the answer any Questions. Although Banfield worked at 118 118 before the change, clients would ask her about anything and everything regardless. “We had random things like ‘How many yellow cars are there on the road?'”

While directory inquiry lines still exist, Banfield worked during its heyday — answering hundreds of calls on her 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. shifts — and quickly noticed patterns in people’s inquiries. “Anything after 11 p.m. is when the drunk calls come in,” she says. People wanted taxis and kebab shops, but they were so drunk that they forgot to finish their sentence. Sometimes, callers found Banfield so helpful that they invited her to join them on nights out. As the evening wore on, callers would ask for massage parlors or saunas, then call back angrily after Banfield recommended an establishment that didn’t do them. Meet their needs.

“Pizza hours” were 8pm to 10pm, and everyone wanted their local order number. Banfield had a computer in front of her at the Cardiff call centre, equipped with a simple database. She would type in a postcode (she had memorized all the UK codes as part of her training) and then use an abbreviation such as “PIZ” for pizza or “TAX” for taxis. People would sometimes accuse Banfield of being a psychic, but if the power went out in a certain area, she automatically knew that most callers would want to know why.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *