The Google Voice Revolution
On March 12th Google announced yet another ground-breaking service with major implications: Google Voice. The internet search giant is now jumping headlong into the highly competitive world of telecommunications. Just like other areas Google has firmly dipped its toes into such as online advertising, analytics, office software, and others, Google Voice seems poised to redefine how many of us use phones in general.
The service is currently only open to users of GrandCentral, the company Google bought in 2007 and has been quietly building upon ever since. Google plans to offer the service to the public in the coming weeks.
David Pogue of the New York Times wrote a great article (and produced a demo video) that provides an in-depth look at the service. Here is a breakdown of the major features:
- One number to ring all your phones: Create a new number with Google Voice using any area code you choose, then set the service to ring one, multiple, or all of your numbers simultaneously. If you really want to be reached, you’ll now truly have that ability. This includes your text messaging as well. All calls, voicemails, and text messages can be manged from a visual interface via Google’s website. Text messages can even be sent from the web via your account using a full-size keyboard.
- Call screening from any phone: Those using desktop phone systems are accustomed to being able to listen to a message that goes to voicemail as it’s being recorded, but this is a new thing entirely for mobile phone users. Google Voice will give you the option when a call comes in to take the call, send it to voicemail, or listen in as the caller records their message (you can pickup the call at any time). You can also have new callers record their name prior to being patched through to you.
- Just like Skype, you can place calls via the Internet for free, directly from Google Voice. You can also make calls from any phone and have your Google Voice phone number show up in the caller ID.
- Dominate your voicemail: Similar to the iPhone’s visual voicemail, any voice messages will be associated in your account with specific calls which can be played back at any time. Two other game-changing features have been added. Messages can be automatically transcribed into text which can be archived and searched. Voicemails can also be forwarded to someone else. No more having to decipher that 5 minute misdirected voicemail from the long-winded caller before you can pass it off to who’s really supposed to act on it. Just send them the original message and it’s off your plate.
- Conference calling for up to six people at once: Many people have plans with major carriers such as AT&T where you can setup three-way calls. Many others have web conferencing accounts with companies like GoTo Meeting or WebEx which allow for larger groups (between 11 and 15 on average). Google Voice will soon offer a free conferencing system which handle the capacity of most remote meetings. These calls can also be recorded and stored…for free.
- Received a call on your office line, but need to jump in the car to head to the next appointment? You’ll be able to transfer a call to any other number within your account.
- GOOG-411: Voice activated, automated directory assistance. Just dial in, say what you’re looking for and where, and the service will send you a text message with the results. Google provided an app for the iPhone earlier this year facilitating voice searches, but this takes it to the next level.
What does all this mean? The real impact is of course, yet to be determined, but the major phone providers as well as internet-based phone services such as Skype and Ribbit.com, may find some very steep competition in the coming months. Google will likely integrate this service with its other offerings such as Google AdWords, Analytics, Docs, and more. Also expect to see an API released which will unleash a flurry of innovation from start ups. Think CRM integration as an obvious first step.
The highly-likely integration with Google Analytics will be very interesting. Various call tracking systems already exist, but can be expensive and of course, are not always integrated with your analytics tool. Imagine being able to generate multiple unique numbers, post them on your website and be able to track calls as conversions within Google Analytics. Similar to in-site search, voicemail transcriptions could also be mapped to specific pages. Over time you could see what terms frequently come up in customer service calls which can provide great insight as to what content your pages are lacking.
One thing’s for sure, the telecommunications industry will never be the same.