Google Voice: It’s the End of the Phone As We Know It
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get the gist across. After just a couple of days as a Google Voice user, I can attest that reading the transcripts of your voicemail messages is 10 times faster than listening to them. And if you think the speech-recognition software garbled something crucial, you can always call into Google Voice or go to the website to play the original recording, which is stored forever, or at least until you delete it. (Thanks, by the way, to everyone who responded to my Twitter post yesterday asking for help testing Google Voice. It was great to hear from all of you! But you can stop now. My Google voice inbox is getting alarmingly full.)
Interestingly, after you’ve gotten a few voicemails, your online Google Voice inbox starts to look a lot like your Gmail inbox (see the image on the previous page). You can star important messages, search the text transcriptions for key words or names, and even dump unwanted voicemails from telemarketers into a spam folder. Indeed, the resemblance to Gmail is so strong that the day when you’ll be able to view your Gmail messages and your Google Voice voicemails from the same interface can’t be very far off.
Google Voice has a bunch of other handy features: You can arrange free conference calls just by having multiple people call your Google Voice number at the same time; you can choose to have text messages sent to your Google Voice inbox forwarded to your phones, while at the same time keeping them organized in your inbox right alongside your voicemails; you can place international calls at extremely low rates by dialing into your Google Voice account first and punching in a code to tell it you want to make an outgoing call; the text transcriptions are cleverly shaded according to how confident Google’s speech-recognition algorithms are about its guesses (see image below); and you can record whole calls, or sections of calls, and save the recordings in your inbox. (This last feature may prove especially useful for us journalists. Alas, recorded calls aren’t automatically transcribed, at least not yet. Now that would be a huge plus for someone like me, who does several phone interviews a day.)
1. It separates phone numbers from phones, making phone calls fungible and redirectable. This may even herald a day when everyone will be electronically reachable everywhere via some unique identifier like…their real name, maybe?
2. It transcribes voice messages into text and lets your receive and review that text from any device, which is an incredible time saver. And think of the value of having copies of all those voice mails you deleted and wished later you had saved. (Spinvox and other services already offer voicemail transcription, but for a fee.)
3. It treats voicemail recordings and transcriptions like e-mails, allowing you to manage them online using the same process you’ve developed to manage your e-mail inbox.
The rest is all bells and whistles. Indeed, a few of Google Voice’s extra features could prove troublesome. The recording feature may not be kosher in all states—Google leaves it up to you to figure out whether you can legally record a phone conversation (though the caller does get an automatic “call recording” warning if you choose the record option). And there’s a feature called “ListenIn,” a legacy of Grand Central’s technology, that brings back a whole world of awkwardness I thought we’d left behind when the old-fashioned answering machines were replaced by network-based voicemail. It’s a screening feature that lets you listen to someone as they’re recording a voicemail, then break in to talk to them if you wish. Undoubtedly, we’re in for a whole new generation of messages that start off, “Hey, I know you’re listening in and screening your calls, pick up, dammit!”
I’d love to hear about your own experiences with Google Voice. So if you won a free Google Voice account by being one of the first 100 readers to write in this morning, please come back later and let us know how things are going with the service. Just don’t call me. I wouldn’t want to have to declare voicemail bankruptcy.
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