Daily Tedium

Search By Text

Before the search giant shot for the moon, Google occasionally had to accept the limitations of consumer technology. So they bent the rules instead.

By Andrew Egan

Back in college, some friends and I found ourselves dealing with a pre-mobile Internet problem. After engaging in activity that is now legal for recreational use in four states, we desperately needed to order pizza. No one knew the number for Domino’s or any other place from memory. And we weren’t immediately near a computer with internet access. Through the disappointment and haze, my friend suddenly remembered, "Hey, we can text Google!"

In 2004, Google was still nascent in its quest to become the tech behemoth we know and love and fear today.

The company’s one-two punch of backlink-based search results and pay-per-click advertising drew billions of users, while unleashing a tidal wave of cash from advertisers and venture capitalists. Unfortunately, consumer tech was still years away from Google’s next big move.

At the crux of Google’s problems was the fact that computers were generally stationary in 2004, and cell phones were still limited to calls, texts, and the all-too-often game of Snake. Not content with waiting for tech to catch up to their ambitions, Google created a workaround.

"Googl," or 46645, debuted in October 2004 as a free service that allowed for simple web searches via SMS text. Send a text message to 46645 with a phrase like, “domino’s pizza 78751” and you would get two or three texts with numbers and addresses.

Admittedly, such offerings weren’t wholly original by 2004, but Google’s unique innovation was similar to its approach to nearly everything else. They automated the process.

Competing text-based information services used armies of real people to respond to inquires, but Google connected incoming texts directly to their search engine. Google SMS (as the program was officially called) was one of the first mobile search engines, a milestone they crossed without celebration en route to bigger goals.

Later updates to Googl included default location settings (no need to add zip codes to every search) and Google Calendar functionality. The service largely remained simple and provided a cheap means of accessing the mobile internet before it was widely available.

Google still operates their SMS services for various reasons, like account verification, Google Calendar, and Blogger posts (weirdly enough). Users were able to use 46645 until around 2013, which means texting the number now returns a simple, "Sorry, this service is not available."

If anyone out there has an old-school Nokia in a shoebox somewhere, go ahead and give it a try and let us know what happens. I ran my test from my Samsung, so I wasn’t surprised it didn’t work. Part of me wants to believe Google wouldn’t let this milestone just fade away.

Then again, smartphones are really damn cheap these days.

(photo by Karen Fasimpaur/Flickr)

Andrew Egan

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Andrew Egan is yet another writer living in New York City. He’s previously written for Forbes Magazine and ABC News. You can find his terrible website at CrimesInProgress.com.

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