Google Voice is often referred to as the “one number to rule them all” service. That does not really describe what the service does — or can do. I have been a user of the service since it began (and used its predecessor, Grand Central, before that). Some of my friends have asked me about the ins and outs, so I thought I would gather my thoughts here.
Google Voice is especially useful to solopreneurs, or anyone with a highly mobile lifestyle.
And, while there are a number of creative things you can do with Google Voice, I am going to focus here on the two main ways to use it in that context: as a front-end, and as a back-end.
What Is It?
Google Voice is not a telephone service per se. It’s a telephone number, along with routing capabilities. What does that mean? It means that once you have signed up, you are given a telephone number. You can then sign in, and add your existing numbers (cell phones, home, office, others) to your account. Then, you can tell Google Voice to ring certain of your real phones when people call your Voice number.
Google Voice also comes with voicemail, and it transcribes your messages for you. You can also send SMS messages (texts) through it.
To make a call, you use the Web interface to tell Vice what number you would like to call, and from what phone you would like to make the call. Google Voice then calls your phone and the recipient phone. You can also do this just through the phone, by calling your Voice number and pressing 2.
There is an Android app for Voice, and it integrates very will with your Google contacts list.
There’s a great bumch of videos at the Google Voice YouTube channel here.
Google Voice is a free service, though it is “closed beta,” which means you need someone who is a current user to invite you.
Google Voice As Front End
This is the way a lot of people use Google Voice, and it’s where the whole “one number” thing comes from. The idea is to replace all your numbers with your Google Voice number — everyone, no matter who, gets that one number. Current contacts are told that your number has changed, and you ask them to call the new number. The Google Voice number is your “phone face.”
Then, behind the scenes, you can tell Google Voice how you want to handle things. You can tell it to automatically ring your office phone during certain hours, and your home phone other times. You can set it to go straight voicemail at night. Or, you can ring your cell phone and office phones simultaneously (so people don’t have to dial multiple phones to get you). You can also set it so that certain callers go to your home number, and others to your work number.
The benefits of this are that you never have to change your number again, whether you move, get a new cell phone or whatever. You also have a great deal of control about whom you talk to — if there are certain callers you’d rather not ever deal with, they can go straight to voicemail.
The downside is that it can take some discipline in the transition: it’s tempting to call someone back on your cell phone, but then they will have your cell number and will want to use that. So you should use the Voice system instead, which is an extra step.
Google Voice As Back End
The other way to use Google Voice is to take advantage of the sophisticated voicemail functions and use it as a universal Inbox for all voice messages. To do this, you set Google Voice on “Do Not Disturb.” Now, any call coming into Google Voice will go right to voicemail, and you will then get a transcribed email with attached audio file.
Then, you set your various regular phone numbers to autoforward to Google Voice after a certain number of rings. In other words, you turn off all your other voicemail systems. So what’s happening is that if I don’t answer a phone, it automoatically kicks over to Google Voice voicemail and I get that message emailed to me.
The benefit of this approach is that you basically never have to check voicemail, and every voicemail ends up in the Inbox you use every day. And, you don’t have to tell people to call a new number. Finally, you can use your Google Voice number as throwaway number for telemarketers, etc., because you will never answer it.
A downside for many people is that it takes some set up, in a number of different phone systems, to get this all working smoothly. Also, many people are aware that Google Voice’s transcription capabilities can sometimes be lacking (or maybe it’s people’s ability to enunciate). You can get some pretty funny transcriptions. However, it’s almost always correct when it comes to transcribing numbers, and at a minimum you can get the gist of someone’s message, and determine if you really need to listen to it or not.
Because so many people have various numbers, I have opted to use Google Voice as a back-end to my phone system, and it has been working well for me. I’ve been thinking of switching to the front-end approach, because I think it’s more powerful if I can discipline myself to use it properly.
How about you? Do you use Google Voice? How? How does it work for you? There are more advanced things you can do with this service, too — do you take advantage of any unusual tricks? Let me know in the comments!
(P.S. I have a few invites available, if you really think you will use it and would like one, let me know. I will give priority to my friend and to my Rockville neighbors.)