An Open Letter to Google SMS Product Managers

by Brian McConnell

I use Google's SMS service a lot, especially for directory assistance. It works great most of the time, but it could be even better by turning this into a location aware service. You can do this with two pieces of information and a simple rule.

First, you already know the sender's mobile phone number. My cell phone is in area code 415 (San Francisco and Marin county). You can use the sender's area code to guess their default or home location.

Second, the SMS gateway should be able to tell you the cell tower ID that the user is on. Map the cell tower ID to the antenna's location, and you have a crude position fix, accurate to within a few miles or less. In most cases, you should know what town the sender is in (you might have to implement an opt in SMS script to get user permission to share location data).

The SMS service will then use the following simple rule:

* if sender does not include a city, state phrase in the query, assume this is a local search
* compare cell tower ID against database of cell tower sites to get lat/long fix
* if cell tower ID not available, use sender area code to guess location
* if search result is short, reply via SMS
* if search result is long, reply with SMS that includes http://x.y.z/abc pointer to temporary web page with search results

Then it'd be simple to do local search. For example, I could send a text message "laundromat". If the service knows which cell tower I was on, it'll know where I am within a mile or so. I get a test message back like:

"Laundromat : Near San Francisco. CA/Sunset : 3 Matches : for results"

I follow that temporary URL and get a mobile friendly web page with the search results and a map. To fine tune the way search results are sent back, you recognize a few commands like "set phone nokia n80" or "set format html" so frequent users can get the most of the service.

That's it, but with these relatively straightforward changes, Google SMS would be an excellent tool.


Peter Cranstone
2007-02-01 13:12:21

Here's another solution that we've built. Why not have the phone transmit the user location information over HTTP that way you could log on to Google's home page, search for a Laundromat and get what you need. We've solved the problem of transmitting real GPS information across the web to a web server. You can see examples of running on our web site ( In the event that you don't have GPS we can use Zip code, Area code, street address, and or cell tower signal strength. Our solution is also designed for developers to extend (perfect for Google). All you have to do is build your app for the phone and then with only 8 lines of additional code you can leverage our transport mechanism which encrypts your data and sends it over the web to whatever web server you want. Let me know if you want a demo.



2007-02-07 01:28:08
Well said. A location aware service is the next step forward.
2007-04-16 09:22:58
2007-04-16 09:23:00