Judging by my Twitter feed, Google Voice has been handing out invitations for its newly updated phone and voicemail service. I know this because few people know what to do with it once they’ve got it and they’re asking for help. Here are a few examples of how it has helped me over the past three years and why you should give it a shot.
Google Voice, previously known as GrandCentral, does for your phone what Gmail did for email. It revolutionizes the way you handle phone calls and text messages. It releases the phone number from its associated device and frees it up for use in ways that actually make it interesting again. For decades, phone numbers have been like mailing addresses; pretty static, boring and only serving as a big receptacle for incoming data. Many changes in telephony have allowed phone numbers to become more useful again, and Google Voice is one of them.
Here are five questions that traditional phone numbers can’t answer with anything more than a shrug and smile:
- What if I lose my phone?
- What if my boss and friend call the same phone number?
- What if I give my number to some rando at a bar and don’t want him/her to have full access to my cell phone?
- How do I get my voicemails without calling in to your hard-to-use voicemail system?
- Can I silence my phone while I’m asleep but still get important calls from Caller Y?
Your standard phone number can’t do anything about these problems! Pretty lame, right? But, Google Voice can do a lot.
One. Here’s a story about me breaking my phone. I broke my phone. It was in New York City at the beginning of a week-long vacation. I shed a tear over the crippled iPhone, but not because I was going to miss any calls. I dialed my GV number with a friend’s phone and it immediately asked if I would like to temporarily forward all calls to that number. ”Well, of course.” My iPhone forwards all unanswered calls to my GV number anyway, so I wasn’t going to miss a thing.
Two. Google Voice allows you to filter incoming calls by friend group, the same groups you use in Gmail. If a caller from “Work” calls, they hear a different voicemail greeting than my friends do. Even individual people can be assigned their own voicemail greeting (“Seriously, I don’t have your money right now”) or ringback (let them dance while waiting for you to pick up) update: guess this got lost with GrandCentral.
Three. Don’t want that random person from the bar calling you? Set their number to go straight to voicemail every time. Don’t want spam callers? Send them to a “number not in service” message. Is someone calling from a number not in your address book? Allow Google to ask for their name before being connected to you. You can decide whether to answer the call, send it to voicemail, or listen in on them leaving the voicemail and creepily patch into the call.
Four. Google Voice transcribes your voicemails and will email/text them to you almost immediately. It’s not perfect, but is almost always spot on with phone numbers and provides you with enough information to get the message through. Plus, they’re archived online forever, making sharing that drunk dial from last night even easier.
Five. Tired of calls from friends at five in the morning but really need that special someone to get through? Set silence hours for all of your numbers, but set exceptions for people or friend groups so that emergency calls get through every time.
Google Voice is an innovative approach to an old technology that has been lacking innovation for a long time. It takes some effort to look at phone numbers in a new way and to grasp the full possibilities of having a service like Google Voice at your disposal.
Even if you only have one phone number, you can still use all of the filtering and voicemail tools. If you have more than one number, it’s pretty essential. Give it a try – I think you’ll be happy with it.