Google is again having trouble with its SMS text message tool, the experimental feature in the Gmail Chat menu that lets users send text messages from their computers to their contacts' mobile phones.
A Google spokesperson told me the Gmail team took the Gmail Labs feature down Wednesday between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. PDT.
So, if you had this Gmail Labs feature enabled, when you visit your chat button in Gmail you will no longer see the option for "Send SMS," which lets users type in a contact's mobile phone number and send them a brief, Twitter-like message. Indeed, I just see an invite to chat, or e-mail when I begin typing in a number in the Gmail Chat box.
The spokesperson explained:
"We had to temporarily disable SMS for chat because it was causing issues for people who had it enabled and we are currently working on reinstating it. Remember that Gmail Labs is a testing ground for experimental features, and that any Lab feature may change, break or disappear at any time."
So, it's broke and Google is fixing it... again. So, when can we expect the tool to come back on? The spokesperson told me: "I can't predict exactly when it will be reinstated right now, but I'll let you know when it is." Fair enough.
I reported on the feature in October, telling readers what Google told me: that it would roll out to users within days or weeks. A couple days later, the Gmail team found a glitch and had to iron it out.
That took some 40 days. Gmail SMS text chat was finally fixed and launched Dec. 10. I've used it on and off since then, but I got a tip that the feature was out again.
As Google says, it's a Gmail Labs feature, so hold them accountable, but don't get too mad if things break; that's what Labs are for.
The delays and breakdowns show us that A: the tool was really hard to implement and B: it's pretty friggin' fragile. It begs the question: Is it worth it? How much more of this will Google stand before it nixes the feature entirely?
Anyway, I'll let you know when Google lets me know it's back on. Thanks to Keith Lyons for the tip. :)