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Google SMS search has been shut down (productforums.google.com)
75 points by duked on May 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments

Hello all,

I'm CEO of DOTGO, which provides access to the internet using SMS.

Good news: you can still access google's search service using the short code DOTCOM (368266). Just text "google" + your search term to DOTCOM (368266).

You can actually access a bunch of websites by texting the website's domain name to DOTCOM (368266). For example, try "cnn" or "nytimes" or "yahoo" or "gmail".

And if you have your own website, you can use DOTGO to make your own website SMS-accessible for free. Visit our website dotgo.com to find out how or check out this doc:


I can't guarantee how long we'll able to provide access, but we will as long as we're technically able!

Stefan Gromoll [first initial dot lastname] @ dotgo.com Co-Founder & CEO DOTGO 200 Varick St. #805 New York, NY 10014

Text "dotgo" to DOTCOM (368266) to find out more

Sometimes when a google service shuts down I think, "Hmm, what did that one do? I don't remember hearing about that."

I posted this when it was pulled a couple days ago, to no traction :/

Google says their mission is to 'organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.' To me (and several others who have posted in that forum), this seems to be counterintuitive to that mission. Many people can't afford or don't want to pay for a smartphone or the data plan. When you try using SMS search now, google responds "SMS search has been shutdown. You can continue to search the web at google.com on any device". This isn't exactly helpful for someone lost in an unfamiliar city without a smartphone or GPS.

Sure, it isn't helpful for those without a data plan, but decisions doesn't exist in a present day vacuum. People with phones without data plans are a dying breed, and I think any reasonable person would focus their efforts on the premise that the world is moving toward smartphones.

Android works perfectly well without a data plan. I have none because I'm usually on WiFi and when I'm not, any McDonalds or Starbucks will work. I've occasionally thought of getting one, but last time I shopped for it, I couldn't find one at a reasonable price given low usage.

But then, I've never used search by SMS. Finding WiFi makes more sense.

I'd like to know what you're basing this on. In the U.S. this may very well be true, though the fact still remains that lower-income people are less likely to have smartphones. But what about in developing nations?

Plenty of stats around. The trend is fairly clear. Mobile data is the future and almost the present, even in developing countries: http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile...

On the google products forum, someone mentioned that in India, everyone was using this service because it's fairly uncommon to have a data plan. The study you just linked seems to show monthly 3G access at about 8% for urban India. Which seems like a pretty clearcut minority to me.

It isn't about the present numbers, it is about where the numbers are going. Google may have a mission statement of "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful", but clearly that require a company to make decisions. A lot of people would find it useful to have Google physically mail them info, but that isn't efficient or the way of the future.

I suspect a lot of people who are lamenting the "loss" of this service haven't used it. I have. It is better than nothing, but it is a hack designed for a world that isn't going to be around for long. If I was a Google shareholder, I'd be questioning them wasting any resources on it.

Whether or not that is the trend, it still sucks for the people who used it daily, such as myself. Your reasoning is sound, but that doesn't mean those of us who used it shouldn't be upset, or that those who no have need for it and possibly didn't even know about it until now shouldn't agree that it sounded useful.

I'm not trying to say google owes it to us to keep the service running or anything like that. They're a business and it's their prerogative to make decisions like this. I'm reminded of a Wayne Gretsky quote though, roughly "I don't skate to where the puck is, but where it's going to be." And that's solid reasoning. But from my perspective, with a team as strong as Google's, it wouldn't hurt them to leave a player where the puck is either.

In developing countries where smartphones are less common, Google offers Free Zone:


I wouldn't exactly refer to them as a "dying breed" quite yet. I recall seeing a statistic somewhere that in many developing countries, SMS adoption rates are still going up. There's still a prominent market for SMS search, just not necessarily the one that Google wants to serve.

Google says their mission is one thing; their actions seem to point to another. Actions speak louder than words.

I just wanted to add that, to me, this is a more egregious shutdown than reader. While many on Hacker News (who I'm assuming are more likely to have a smartphone than the average working-class citizen) may not understand this, envision this:

You are in an unfamiliar city, attempting to follow directions someone gave you that you scribbled down. You take a wrong turn and wind up in a rough-looking neighborhood at 2 AM. Most of your friends are asleep. What do you do?

This has happened to me, and I counted myself lucky to be able to text google for directions. While this may not be an extremely common scenario, there is the possibiilty that access to google's sms search may have saved someone's life.

If this service consumes resources, it kills people in some way or another too. Potential, largely unquantified, outliers aren't a good thing on which to base strategy.

Wow, from that thread the service looks very useful(even if you have a smartphone with data). Wish I knew about it before the shutdown.

I guess such is life in the Googleverse now: if you're unprofitable then you're "distracting us from our core mission". Who wants to make bets on the next service(s) to bite the dust? :)

i can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not - are you honestly complaining that a service you didn't learn about until its shutdown is shutting down? especially a service based on a technology that is clearly not long for this world?

of course things get shut down when they're unprofitable or not aligned with the business strategy. that is the most basic principle of running a business. google isn't running a charity to provide you with obscure and marginally useful services.

Let's extend that idea to it's logical extent: http://www.gwern.net/Google%20shutdowns

I looked in the original data set [1] to see if this was in there; unless "SMS" meant "SMS search", it may not be at all. If it isn't in there it would be interesting to put it in the model as it stands now and see what the model thinks of the probability of shutdown.

[1]: http://www.gwern.net/docs/2013-google.csv

Shameless plug: https://sendhub.com - a free business phone for calling and group texting‎

Never knew about it, either.

I was always a huge evangelist for this service and it was incredibly useful to so many people I know. I'm both surprised and disappointed to see it go but I guess you can't serve ads via SMS (well, you can, but...).

Orrrr the non sinister explanation, that few use it any more.

People with feature phones are still going to need to find info, and this move shifts the traffic onto services with less resources than Google (eg. https://twitter.com/Telefact). As additional services shut down due to increasing traffic, that traffic will move to the surviving services, until they all shut down.

Are Google having cashflow problems?

How come they're shutting down so many of their services?

>Are Google having cashflow problems?

Nope, they are more profitable than ever.

My friend who works at Google explained to me that a big issue is maintenance. It's a tougher problem than it sounds because if an issue comes up someone needs to understand the codebase well. When a product is no longer worth the budget of full-time employees the best course of action is to kill the product.

This: Nope, they are more profitable than ever.

Goes hand in hand with "shutting down a lot of services" since rounded to the nearest billion dollars the only business Google has is search & display advertising, generally deleting anything else accretes positively to the bottom line :-)

There's some truth to that, but their profits are growing because their annual revenues are consistently and exponentially growing, not because their costs are going down:


Digital advertising just happens to be a very good industry to be in right now.

The term you are looking for is efficiency which is the measure of how much of the business is dedicated to the parts that provide the revenue versus the parts that don't :-).

I left Google a couple of years after Patrick Pichette joined. Patrick is a great guy and very focused on putting as much money as possible into the bank account (great for share holders, not so great for lifestyle benefits).

But the point is that there is a target return on capital that every group is being held to and those that don't make the cut are being tossed. That helps the overall number get better (assuming those freed up resources either join more profitable projects or leave)

Makes sense. It's like the people who can't throw anything away because they "might need it" some day. Eventually they are drowning in clutter and just keeping it all organized would consume more time than they have.

To me it sounds more like they are shutting down services that can't be monetized :/

Or services that have no future? SMS search is a dead man walking in 2013.

Not in lots of countries.

Nearly every single country is moving to smartphones. At wildly different rates and current penetration, but the vast majority of the world is going to be on smartphones in the near future. Companies who focus on the present and are obsessed with backward compatibility will inevitably find themselves behind more forward thinking companies.

Even in the US, data coverage isn't even to 50% yet. In the developing world, electricity coverage can't support phones with less than 1 week of battery life. Both of these things are hard technical problems and I don't see them being solved any time soon. Smartphones are promising, but they haven't proven themselves as reliable enough to properly replace dumber phones.

Revenue wise, there is still a lot of money to be made on SMS, even in countries like the US where smartphones are king. SMS aggregators and gateways still make significant amounts of money, and it's not decreasing.

Google is already one of the leading companies in the world at providing technologies for smartphones. Shutting down SMS search does not help them in that regard one bit. All it does it remove a useful service from the world.

SMS access is useful regardless of whether your handset is smart or dumb. SMS traffic often gets through when data cannot, either because of signal strength or circuit capacity. I have successfully used Google SMS search from my smartphone when it could not load Google.com in the browser--once to find the nearest hospital when dealing with a dangerous medical situation on a hiking trip. Better hope the 3G/LTE coverage is better in the backcountry now, I guess.

This is terribly short-sighted decision by Google.

it's a "dead man walking" everywhere. SMS has no future except death. in some regions that death will come later than others but that doesn't mean we're going to see a great SMS resurgence any time in the near future. nobody cancels their data plan and gets SMS instead.

Whenever I want to send something to someone I know, it's an SMS. I can't imagine going into my browser, going to the facebook website, copying and pasting my long password in from the keepass app, looking their name up, opening the message interface....

When I can just click the SMS button, click their picture and go.

People may not cancel their data and get SMS instead but I don't really see SMS going away in any sort of a hurry.

Well, there are a few exceptions. I did. The tiny amount I use my cellphone I can't really justify a data plan.

Cancelling my data as soon as contract is up :).

Looks like it's a big chance to make a startup based on big-company closed service. E.g. Feedly is a good option.

Google "Babel" is coming. Maybe that's why.

I also think Google's top executives have a certain vision about what apps they will need in the future, and where they are heading, and that doesn't include many of the more "random" projects that were built before.

This seems to be a common theme after Larry Page took over as CEO. Instead of having lots of small, separate things, everything seems to be moving towards having less, but larger services. Probably one of the better examples is google+, along with google now. It will be interesting to see what Larry's end vision is.

My guess is Google is focusing more on a certain goal than having cash flow issues.

If there really is a market for this, it shouldn't be too hard to recreate with the help of twilio and google APIs. The problem is getting paid, maybe you could charge a monthly fee or the users could agree to receive 1 ad for every X searches?

It seems to me that this service would be really, really handy in countries where Nokia bar phones are prevalent. I'd love to see how many people actually used this service in those areas, because it depriving those people of this service goes against Google's mission of providing the entire world with information.

I don't know which is more depressing, Google ruthlessly killing off a valuable service, or people being astonished by their doing so.

> killing off a valuable service,

Which valuable service is being killed off here? I'd never heard of this before. Doesn't look like it is used very much.

Google's new mission statement: "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful for a few years."

As per some of the suggestions here, just published a tutorial on building your own Google SMS search with Twilio: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5700331

How expensive can this be to run. They should just leave it up.

I think this has something to do with the fact that you can't monetize and sell ads through SMS.

What did Google SMS Search return exactly when you sent a text?

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