Google Ends SMS Search Service, Apparently Without Warning

Google shut down its SMS Search service late last week, leaving users of other Google SMS services wondering about the fates of those tools.

Google SMS Search, which allowed mobile phone users to access information through brief text messages rather than having to use a mobile Web browser and data plan, has been shut down by the search giant with nary a word.

The end of the service apparently occurred on May 10, just before dozens of users of SMS Search began posting on a Google Product Forum Webpage that they received messages describing the shutdown when they tried to use the service on their phones.

"I use google SMS search (466453) all the time and today, google response to any search query is: 'SMS search has been shut down. You can continue to search the web at on any device,'" wrote user Mathieu Gouin on the site. "Am I the only one? Google, please don't kill this great service."

Another user, Greg Meboe, concurred. "Some users only have voice +SMS enabled (no data plan)," wrote Meboe. "Google SMS search was my link to information on the go. Please consider restoring this service."

A Google spokesperson did not immediately reply May 13 to a request from eWEEK for more information about the closure.

A woman who identified herself as Jessica S., a Google employee, did, however, post a reply on the same Google Product Forum page, explaining the move.

"Closing products always involves tough choices, but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users," she wrote. "Streamlining our services enables us to focus on creating beautiful technology that will improve people's lives."

This is certainly not the first time that Google has shuttered services, leaving its users asking what had happened. In March, Google announced that it is ending its Google Reader RSS service on July 1, citing declining usage. Fans of the news and information aggregation service, however, were quick to criticize Google's decision, with some even creating online petitions to try to get the company to change its mind.

The upcoming Reader shutdown is part of an assortment of service cuts that the company is making in the next few months as part of a house cleaning project it began in 2011 to get rid of underutilized services.

Attempts to use the SMS Search service now lead to a 404 error message.

SMS Search previously allowed users to text-message a search query to 466453 (GOOGLE), which would result in a text reply that would provide relevant results, according to Google.

The service was a boon to mobile users who didn't have data plans, but that might have been its failing for Google, since the company relies largely on revenue from ads in its search listings. With SMS Search users not having the ability to view search ads, Google certainly could see SMS Search as a service it didn't need to support because it wasn't bringing in any revenue on its own.

With the demise of SMS Search, SMS users who also rely on related Google services, including Gmail SMS, Calendar SMS, Google Voice SMS and Blogger SMS, potentially have to wonder how long those services will continue to exist.

Other users on the Google Product Forum page continue to post their mostly negative comments about the move.

"Google's decision to shut down the SMS search service only serves to widen the information divide between the haves and have-nots," wrote user dadamn in a May 10 post. "I could always get some info via the very simple text message—an address and phone number for a business can be very handy in a pinch, or when traveling. For those of us who can't afford a data plan or smartphone, or for those who aren't techno-savvy enough to navigate the web on a cellphone or learn a new 'app world,' the SMS has helped us to function in a society that increasingly assumes everyone worth reaching has a smartphone. Google, I'll challenge you to take a look at this service from a social-justice lens. Please cut the crap about 'beautiful technology that will improve people's lives' when you're only talking about improving things for the techno-elite."

User mschribr wrote that "last year Google earned $30 billion profit on $50 billion revenue. They have 50 thousand employees. I want to know what percent of their resources would go to maintain the SMS search. Do you they need more than 1 full time person just to maintain an existing system? This is a drop in the bucket for Google. The bad PR would cost them more than keeping SMS search."