It may surprise some people to know that Google created a ride-hailing system similar to those available today way before Uber positioned itself as the most ubiquitous of them all. However, the company abandoned the promising concept just four short years after its announcement. The concept was built on Google’s fledgling Google Maps service.
When Google Maps was first launched back in February of 2005, it didn’t take that long before the idea of using it to find transportation services made its way into the melting-pot of ideas known as Google Labs. There, a concept that’s strikingly similar to Uber was already being worked on just a month after Google Maps’ official debut. This wasn’t just catering towards a select group, like what today’s Google Maps is doing for cyclists, but was intended as a means of helping everyone in need of a ride to find one at any given moment.
The Google Ride Finder service utilized a modified Google Maps interface, as it aggregated all participating transportation services within a specified area. Those using it would’ve been able to find the closest operating transportation service — such as a shuttle, limousine, or taxi — based on data that was promised to mostly be “less than five minutes old.” According to Google’s old blog post, the company was open to collaborating with various transportation services in multiple areas primarily within the United States. Interested transportation companies and individual drivers would’ve been able to input their necessary contact information and service specifications in Google’s Ride Finder database, for customers to be able to find and contact them conveniently.
Unfortunately, Google Maps back then was a far cry from its current vastly improved clarity and superior functionality. The paucity of highly-capable smartphones back then meant Ride Finder was relatively inaccessible and limited in use, rather than viable and convenient. Furthermore, the lack of reliable mobile internet solutions and connectivity technology, not to mention the fact that the service was primarily accessible via a web browser and not an app, only contributed to its inaccessibility.
While it was nowhere nearly as sophisticated as Uber is today, Google’s Ride Finder idea had the potential of becoming the building blocks of something much bigger. Ironically, the concept folded on the same year Uber launched.