Thursday, July 23, 2009

First Look at Google Voice

Yesterday evening I received the long awaited invitation to Google Voice. With pure excitement, I jumped in the air and yelled, "I got it, I got it!" For a moment, I felt like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after he found the last golden ticket. Immediately, I broke into song, "I've got the golden ticket, I've got the golden tickeeeeeeeeeeeeet!" But then I quickly lost the band, playing in my head, when my kids just looked at me with a dumbfound stare. Oooooookay, I thought.

What is Google Voice? To the best of my knowledge, the project grew out of another Google product called Grand Central. The basic idea behind Voice is a single phone number ties in with your existing telephones. When people call your Google Voice number it can ring your cell, office, and home phones simultaneously. Family, friends, and business partners will no longer have to hunt you down by dialing every number in the book. With this service, one number is all you need to stay connected. Additionally, the service has an answering machine that will allow you to check messages from the web. If you think that is cool, it only gets better.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me take a step back and describe what I see. Once I log into the site, my first impression is simplicity. The layout reminds me of Gmail with its navigation on the left hand side and the inbox consuming the body of the page. Google provides a default welcome message that you can either read for yourself or press the "play" button to have a male sounding voice read it for you.

For the most part, the tools are quite similar to that of Gmail. At the top there is the Archive, Spam, Delete, and More Actions button. Down the left hand side there is the Inbox, Starred, History, Spam, Trash, and Contacts button. Immediately following the standard Gmail navigation is a group of Google Voice specific buttons, they include: Voicemail, SMS, Recorded, Placed, Received, and Missed.

By clicking on the voicemail link, I see a list of messages awaiting my attention. My options are to call the person back, send an SMS message, add a note, block caller, e-mail, download, or embed the message onto a web page. Similar to e-mail, I can also star the message as a favorite.

Under the SMS button, I see a list of text messages both sent and received. The application tells me who the message came from or who it was sent to, the date and time of the message, and options to call, SMS, add note, or block caller. As with all messages, both SMS and voicemail, I can delete, mark as spam, keep as read/unread, and archive.

Recorded Calls
Withing Google Voice you can also record your calls while you talk. The recorded calls button will list any recorded items you may have.

Placed, Received, and Missed
Similar to a regular cellphone, Google Voice will keep track of calls placed, received, or missed. Like other messages, you can simply press the call or SMS buttons to return a message.

One huge plus is the synchronization of Google Voice contacts with Gmail contacts. Any contact you have within Gmail is automatically shared between the two services. This is a great idea and should encourage users to maximize the address book more fully.

Placing a Call
To place a telephone call, simply click on the Call icon located in the upper left hand corner. When clicked, a small window will open and ask for a phone number. Within this box, you can either type a phone number or a name. As you type the name or number, a second window will open showing you possible contacts as listed in your address book. This is quite handy and a major time-saver. Once you have entered a name or number, you must then decide which phone to use. If you have not stored an office, mobile, or home number, you can enter them here. Whatever number you choose, Google Voice will call you first. When you pick up the phone, the system will then place the call as normal. As I understand it, you can use this service anywhere and call just about anyone.

Sending SMS (Text) Messages
Not only can you place telephone calls, but Google Voice also provides a tool to send text messages. To send a message, click on the SMS button, which rests to the left of the Call button. Once clicked, a small window opens and you can add a name or number and then type your message in 160 characters or less.

There is one area near the very bottom of the navigation panel that reads, "Balance." On my screen it reads $.10 in green numbers. This section provides a report on how much money I have left on my balance. For individuals seeking to make international calls, you can deposit funds via Google Checkout in the amount of $10. Additional features include calling rates and a transaction history.

Calling Widget
Now that you have a Google Voice number, the next task is to share that number with your friends, family, and business associates. Google provides a calling widget that you can place on your web site. When clicked, users will type in their name, phone number, and hit "Connect." Immediately, Google Voice calls the visitor's phone and then calls you. Visitors concerned with showing their phone numbers can select a check box to keep their number private.

Receiving Phone Calls
On the receiving end of a call, you have a few options. As the call comes in, Google Voice announces the name of the caller and provides you with the following options:

  1. Take the call
  2. Let the caller go to voicemail
  3. Listen while the caller leaves a message
  4. Take the call and record the conversation
Additional Settings
Under the settings tab, which is located in the upper right-hand corner, you can make a number of updates to your account. You can add phone numbers, create groups, create voicemail greetings, change your pin number, chose to screen calls, transcribe voicemail messages, opt-in for caller ID, notifications, and do not disturb.

Mobile App
The last feature I would like to share with you is the optional mobile application. I downloaded the app for the Blackberry and I am provided with a number of options; I can make a telephone call from the cellphone (using my Google Voice number), see a history of telephone call transactions, and listen to (or read) voicemail messages.

Based on my initial observation and usage of Google Voice, I am thoroughly pleased. Google has put together a valuable tool that will change the way we use our land line and mobile phones. I am even more pleased to get all of these features for FREE.

My only concern with the service is the potential loss of privacy. With the ability to embed voicemail messages onto web pages and record telephone conversations on the fly, I fear that I may say something that can be used against me in the future. The concern is not enough to sway my use of the service. However, as more people get on board, we must be aware of what we do and say because this type of technology makes sharing discussions very easy.

Overall, I applaud Google for a groundbreaking product and encourage you to sign up today for an invitation. Until next time...


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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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