When Randy Salzman wants to look up a telephone number, he doesn't bother with a telephone. Instead, he dials up the Internet.
"Switchboard (www.switchboard.com) is fast and free," says Mr. Salzman, a sales manager from Foster City, Calif.
For Yellow-Page type listings, he finds the Internet especially useful, since "I can search by name or category and can search in a town or near a town."
Consumers are increasingly using Internet directory services these days. For one thing, they are - as Salzman notes - free, or practically so.
And they're fast, at least when you're already online.
Salzman figures he saves $40 a month in directory-assistance fees by using the Internet. He prefers Switchboard.com, which in addition to telephone numbers often provides a map that shows the location of the party you want to dial.
Here are some other places to look:
www.anywho.com - This website, from AT&T Labs, has 90 million individual listings and 10 million business numbers. It will give a telephone number, address, map, and even coax you to send flowers or a card. It also has a reverse-lookup option (give it a number and it gives you a name) and an e-mail address category.
www.people.yahoo.com - Another comprehensive site, it can provide telephone numbers and also search for e-mail addresses.
www.411.com - Besides telephone numbers, this site is crammed with no end of investigative reports, such as federal criminal records, court filings, real property owner searches. Beware, though, as these requests cost up to $60.
www.whitaker.com/opdalist - A great place for the international set, it provides links to hundreds of websites for electronic directories for every country from Britain to Indonesia to Slovenia.
www.teldir.com - Another spot for international lookups. This site tells you whether the directory is in English or the local language, and awards stars to directories depending on their usefulness.
If you really want to dig further, try sites such as whowhere.lycos.com, infospace.com, 555-1212.com, or whitepages.com. Most have slightly different twists, attempting to make their services stand apart from one another.
A drawback to any site is the time it takes to fire up a computer for a search. For a local call, wouldn't it be quicker to walk four feet to the telephone book?
Many sites also require users to register, which slows the process. And then there are accuracy problems: Try as I might, for example, I could not locate two friends, one in London, the other in Barcelona, whose addresses and telephone numbers I knew.
Nor could I find two friends in Indiana, though I did get a wrong address for one.
"They're not always up to date," says Salzman. "Then again, neither is 411."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor