Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Operator changes: phonebook: and rphonebook: gone

Things change, and Google has dropped the phonebook: and rphonebook: operators for finding phone numbers (rphonebook: was for "residential phonebook" and focused on home phones).  As you can imagine, this was an endless source of hassles for people (who were surprised to see themselves searchable on Google) and for Google (who had to constantly deal with all of the takedown requests and outraged letters from folks who thought they were unlisted).  

It's the way things go, though.  All web-services flux their interfaces (it's one of the things they do best).  But that also means having to sunset features that just didn't work out for one reason or another.  There are very few commitments in the web-verse, and the perpetual provisioning of an operator is definitely in the category of Continuously Provisional.  

On the other hand, there are a whole lot more operators in the Left-Hand panel.  Unfortunately, they're not expressible in the query.  Date range still works correctly, but I don't know of any handy way to say (in the query) "Latest" or "Past 24 hours."  

It's the perpetual struggle between command complexity and UI efficiency.  Should Google let you type in all of those clever (yet arcane) commands--or should you select the options via the panel controls?  

And so it goes.  All the world's information no longer contains phone number listings.  Luckily, there are lots of other places to get this information.  (e.g., www.phonenumber.com) 

Of course, the other interesting phone number feature recently released is the "Emergency Search Feature" -- launched in 13 countries (Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K) For certain queries (mostly language variations on "help" or "emergency", the feature displays the phone number to call for poison emergencies, suicide prevention or general emergency services. It's the universal translator of 911 into whatever-the-local-number is.  

Later: I just noticed a great point made by Barry Schwartz over on SearchEngineLand -- IF you put in a person's full name and zip, then the Phonebook onebox will trigger and show the phonebook info. 

BUT... you have to get the full-name (for example, "Dan Russell" doesn't work) AND you have to have the zip code.  So it's not really the same as the old phonebook: operator, but it still gives you a bunch of data.  


  1. It's interesting that the Emergency Search Feature doesn't work in the US -- I guess someone decided that non-residents looking for help here would know that 911 is the US local number already (or wouldn't be using Google).

  2. Were the complaints the primary reason Google decided to pull the service?

    I lament the service's demise.

  3. I've used phonebook for years and really miss it

  4. I really don't understand why people are making a fuss out of such stupid things. Are they really thinking they are living a secret life? Anyone can open a regular white pages phonebook and find their listing. So can their information be found with other online searches. What the heck is the problem? Same like people want their house to be blurred on Google Maps. Anyone can pass their house on the street and see it. I can't get over it.

    I was a frequent user of Google Phonebook, and now I'm really stuck! There must be a way of getting it back!

  5. As an old fart with fading vision, I'd dumped paper whitepages years ago in favor of the phonebook: search. Nothing else is going to work as well, for a while at least.

    Curse you, privacy weenies!

  6. I use this feature several times a year and have always found it tremendously useful.

    I find it puzzling that the company is pushing into voice/phone communications in such major way and then 86's the search operator for phone numbers.

    I get that there are privacy-related hassles that came with this, but there had to be a better solution than just eliminating this service altogether.

  7. I had my listing pulled years ago from Google Phonebook. It wasn't hard and they had an opt out feature. How hard is it to use that and be done with it.

  8. Well this sucks. Now I need to acquire a phonebook again. I haven't touched a paper white pages in years, and the alternatives I've found online (whitepages.com, yahoo! people search) are all spammy and contain misleading advertisements which look like search results. Google Phonebook just worked.