Since I had signed up for a Grand Central account before the company was acquired by Google, I’ve been grandfathered into the beta for the new Google Voice service based on Grand Central. It’s supposed to provide a unified phone number in the cloud whose behavior you can control.
You set the number to ring at your desk during the day, on your mobile phone while you’re commuting and at your home phone in the evening. You can set it so only certain incoming calls go through; only family can reach you after 9pm, say. The idea is to separate the phone number from the device, which takes power away from the phone company and gives it to Google. I don’t like my phone company much so this is fine with me, but you do have to worry about how much personal information, now phone calls, are flowing through Google.
Ten years ago I had a ‘follow-me’ number that functioned more or less like this new Google Voice service. It makes sense; you shouldn’t have to know the IP address of the computer you’re sending email to, which is essentially what you’re doing when you’re calling someone on their phone number (the POTS version of the phone’s IP address.)
What I learned is that people so strongly associate the phone number with the device that, at least back then, it was a waste to try to disassociate them. People would capture my cell phone number when I called them and use that rather than what I thought was the simpler way of just using my follow-me number. So I’m going to be pretty leery of that feature of Google Voice for the near future.
But there’s one fantastic feature which I just discovered and absolutely love. The service integrates with Gmail’s contact list, which unfortunately is kinda crummy, and lets you dial phone numbers on your contact list. It then asks you what number you want to use — your home phone, your mobile phone, the phone in the conference room you’re sitting in, whatever. And then it dials you, first. The phone rings, you answer. And then the phone on the other end starts to ring. It’s like telling Betty to put a call into Sam’s office: “I have Sam’s office on the line, sir!” If I had an assistant named Betty that is.
I spend a lot of time in my home office communicating with colleagues via IM. Often, it’s just to check in to see if they’re available to talk on the phone. The conversation goes like this:
Ed: Hi, I just got off my last callHank: HeyEd: Do you still need to talk to me?Hank: Yeah, do you ahve a minute?Ed: Sure, what #?Hank: (212) 867-5309Ed: ring
(Ironically, as I’ve been writing this, the exact scenario has just played out on IM: I need to wrap this up to get to that call.)
This isn’t the way CTI (computer-telephony integration) was supposed to play out, but perhaps we can integrate Google Voice into IM to simplify the process. What I’d ideally like to be able to do is to update the statusphere about my availability and then have a button on my IM for Hank. Then my phone and his phone would ring. If we needed to add more people, we could conference them in the same way — just have more phones ring.