January 5, 2007

By Leann Frola 

Naughton Fellow

Now there’s a way to tap Google’s resources when you’re out on assignment. No Internet required.

If you’re not sure how to get someplace or need a phone-book listing, Google has provided another option for you besides the traditional 411.

It’s called Google “Short Messaging Service.” Basically, you send a text message to Google, and it texts you back.

Thanks to my reporter friend Betsy Lee at the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, I discovered you can get not only phone book listings and driving directions, but movie showtimes, weather, dictionary definitions, product prices and answers to basic questions — like a population count or an author’s name. It doesn’t cost more than a normal text message.

Dial 46645, or “GOOGL.” Go to Google’s interactive demo to practice typing in key words.

You’ll receive up to three text messages. The results are text-only, so there won’t be any links or Web pages.

I just tried it to find grocery stores here in St. Pete. I typed in “grocery stores, st. petersburg, florida,” and received two text messages after about a five second wait. Both texts had a store’s name, address and phone number.

It helped me to go to the interactive demo before trying it. The demo gives you blurbs on how to type in your request correctly. Here are a few that Google lists:

  • To get business listings, enter what you want to find and include a
    city and state, or zip (ex: pizza 10013, Blockbuster boston ma)
  • To get weather information, enter ‘weather’ (or ‘w’) followed by a city and state, or zip (ex: weather 10013, w New York, NY).
  • To get driving directions, enter your start address then ‘to’ followed
    by your destination address (ex: 94040 to 94043, pasadena ca to los

Visit the help center to learn more about the basics.

The one frustration I found with this, however, is that it only gives selected information. I knew there were more grocery stores in the area than the ones that popped up on my screen. (And I also prefer talking to a person.) But it at least gave me some options if I hadn’t known the area. And you can get way more information from it than 411.

If your fingers get tired from all the typing, send a text message requesting shortcuts. Send “tips” or “shortcuts” to 46645.

Here’s one tip I already found on the site: It doesn’t matter if you enter “D” or “d,” or “PIZZA” or “pizza.” UP, down, it makes no difference.

Google lists a few more tips on the help center:

  • period between the business name and the location to make sure
    you get business listings (‘pizza.10013’ or ‘pottery barn.boston ma’)’
    Use ‘D’ or ‘Define’ before the word for dictionary definitions (‘D
  • before the product, or ‘price’ or ‘prices’ at the beginning or end
    of your query to find prices using Froogle (‘F Sony Handycam’ or ‘Sony
    Handycam price’).
  • ‘W’ or ‘WX’ followed by a location to get the latest weather
    conditions and four-day forecast for a particular U.S. location (‘W
    dallas tx’).

There’s also a Troubleshooting section if you’re having any problems.

Is this the best way to get information out on the field? That’s up to you. But at least it’s another option.

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Leann is a former copy editor at The Dallas Morning News who now works as a writing consultant at Collin College in Plano, Texas. She…
Leann Frola Wendell

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