Google has launched a beta test to let U.S. mobile phone and handheld device users tap into its search results via the short message service (SMS) platform. Users send queries to universal short code GOOGL or 46645 and receive results on their phones.
The service, dubbed Google SMS (define), returns directory information about local businesses via Google Local and provides price comparison information through Froogle.com. It also lets users search for residential phone numbers, dictionary definitions and Web search results snippets. Google SMS also does calculations, area code look-ups and ZIP code look-ups.
"We want to bring information to people in any way that we can," said Georges Harik, director of Googlettes (new platforms and offerings) at Google. "This way you can just be walking around or be in a coffee shop or be waiting for a train and use it from anywhere. A lot of local information is really useful."
So far, there are no concrete plans to serve ads on Google SMS, but Harik didn’t rule it out.
"Right now we’re sort of gathering feedback and seeing how people use it," said Harik. "To the extent that ads will be useful to consumers, we’ll be likely to deliver them. If we don’t think they’d be useful, then we won’t."
Though the U.S., at least partly because of technological barriers, has been behind the rest of the world in adopting SMS, it appears usage of the service is growing dramatically. InphoMatch, which recently merged with Mobileway to form Mobile 365, said it delivered nearly 2 billion SMS messages in the first quarter of 2004, up 37 percent from the fourth quarter of 2003. The company says it delivers 75 percent of inter-carrier SMS messaging in the U.S.
Google rival Yahoo recently began paying more attention to its mobile initiatives. The company started allowing users to post photos to Yahoo Photos via their camera phones, and it ran a contest to encourage such use. The company also conducted a "Custom Ride" promotion in September that allowed people to enter to win a car by logging into Yahoo on their mobile phones.
Mobile search is thought to be an emerging growth area, but the U.S. has been relatively late in developing wireless data services. In the U.K., IssueBits, headed by the former Symbian CEO, offers a premium search service somewhat similar to Google’s called Any Question Answered (AQA). AQA, unlike Google, employs human researchers, in addition to technology, to return answers. Google says it eventually plans to roll out SMS services in other languages and countries, but would need to develop Local and Froogle services to support them.
"I think we’re going to evaluate what we get out of the tests here," said Harik. "One of the things important to note is that Local was pioneered in the U.S. ahead of other places. We eventually intend to provide all of the services everywhere." Google already offers Web search for phones and handhelds that have WAP browsers, through its Google Wireless service. That service "translates" HTML pages into wireless markup language (WML) so wireless users can view ordinary Web sites more easily.
The service works on U.S. carriers, including AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Nextel, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint PCS.
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Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
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