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Google Voice: Ready for Primetime?

Greg’s written: “The trouble with free software, is that you don’t really explore what you’re getting with it.” When I read that, I thought, “True, but…” The “but” being Google, a company whose free products I’ve (mostly) explored to death, even when they’re not very good. I’m looking at you, Google Docs.

When Google announced that it was entering the telephony business with Google Voice, I was excited, and applied for an “invitation” that came in July in the midst of preparing to take the North Carolina Bar. I couldn’t seriously play with it until August. But now I’ve spent two months with it, and here’s my take: I’m not sure Google Voice is ready for primetime.

Here’s how it works: At sign up, a user selects a phone number. That number can become the new primary number, which the user gives out to family, friends, clients, and so on. Google Voice allows the user to set which phones will ring when people call the Google Voice number. (Outside callers have no idea they’re calling a Google Voice number. To them it’s just another phone number.)

The setup was a cinch. Within a few minutes I was up and running with a new phone number that now rings my cell phone, but could also ring an office phone and home phone all at the same time.

Eric Bramlett has posted about Google Voice’s killer feature: Voicemail Transcription. Since I spend a good deal of time in court, where answering a phone will get you tossed out by an annoyed sheriff’s deputy, being able to glance down at my iPhone to read a voicemail that’s been transcribed for me is fantastic. Even if the transcription is not perfect, getting the gist of the voicemail without having to leave the courtroom saves a ton of time.

I’ve found transcriptions to be marginal at best, but still good enough to give me a sense of the message. Maybe it’s the southern accent that Google has not yet nailed, but Google still has a ways to go.

There are other nifty features: the ability to route calls to specific phones, assign phone numbers to groups that can be handled in various ways (send certain groups straight to voicemail or assign certain voicemail greetings to certain groups), or send telemarketers to an “Out of Service” message. I could imagine still other cool features that don’t seem to be terribly hard to implement: the ability to create a voice tree that allows callers to select who at your Google Voice number they’d like to reach.

But here’s my major concern: Call quality. When a caller calls you on your Google Voice number, his call is routed through Google’s servers, the same servers that handle the transcription, routing, and other features. This routing seems to generate some distortion or latency on the line. Most of the time the latency is imperceptible. Callers don’t notice a thing. But sometimes the delays are noticeable. Callers experience echoes, lags, or distortions.

Because I like the features, I really want to make my Google Voice number my primary phone number for my business. But I’m not sure whether I can put up with (or have my clients put up with) questionable call quality when they try to reach me.

I’d love to be convinced of Google Voice’s awesomeness. So If you’re using Google Voice regularly as part of your work or business, please leave your feedback, good or bad, in the comments.

Related posts:
  • Google Voice Redux
  • How Good is Google Voice Transcription?
  • Got Voice? And other questions for which I have no answers.

  • 10 comments

    10 Comments so far

    1. Greg Dallaire September 27th, 2009 8:24 pm

      Damon,

      I’ve been waiting for my invitation to be accepted for close to two months now. I know that over time this product or a similar one will work out the kinks. The idea and premise is groundbreaking to say the least.

      I want to start implementing it but from your pre-review sounds like they still have a way to go.

      Please keep us up to date and if you have any connections get my invite through I want to play with it :)

    2. Jeff Brown September 28th, 2009 9:10 am

      I’ve never understood the confidence in Google’s online products/services. So far this year we’ve seen multiple interruptions in mail, docs, etc.. If your main office number is from Google, how many times a year is acceptable to be completely without phone contact to the outside world?

      I took this mindset with me when updating my company’s infrastructure. Its server isn’t online, but our own. Am I being overreactive, or are these reasonable fears?

    3. Scott Cowan September 28th, 2009 9:56 am

      @Jeff I tend to take your viewpoint with regards to Google and the outages. It seems like they are a a glamorous target for those with nothing better to do but cause troubles. I do wonder though if your server has a problem at some point how fast can you get it back up online? Companies like Google and various hosting services have much larger capacity for repairs and outages than we as individuals do. Do you have a vendor in place in case of hardware troubles? Does your ISP have a good track record? In our growing wired world we are all at risk of outages, and network interruptions that are beyond our control. How quickly we or our vendors can respond is something to monitor.

    4. Al Lorenz September 28th, 2009 10:21 am

      I’ve received my invitation as well. I haven’t routed much to the number yet though. The first issue here is I cannot get a number from the local area. In this little town, people still lament not being able to dial just four numbers for local calls like they could not long ago. I realize this is not a big deal for most folks.

      I do like the features you mention as well. Both the ability to find me at different numbers and the voice mail transcription. I will probably use the number for promotions until I am sure it has the reliability necessary.

    5. Jeff Brown September 28th, 2009 10:54 am

      Scott — Good questions for sure. ISP has been beyond excellent for years. The server only houses the database, nothing else, and is backed up big time. We’ve not had as much as a hiccup in eight months or so. We have a killer IT guy who’s one of the 10% actually worthy of the moniker.

    6. Robert Worthington September 28th, 2009 11:21 am

      Damon, awesome post. My big issue with google is not being able to transfer a current business telephone number. Until that happens, you won’t catch me making the switch. The concept is awesome however. Hopefully in time google voice will be the source for telephone lines to save everyone money.

    7. Joshua Hanoud September 28th, 2009 4:56 pm

      I’ve been avidly looking into Google Voice for about 1.5 years or so (back when it was called GrandCentral, before they sold to The Big G).

      The biggest issue that I have with it is this…and this is the only thing that keeps me from jumping in with both feet (no small thing as I need to communicate a new phone number a “coupla folks” (i.e. couple thousand) to take advantage)…It only syncs contacts with your google account…not a google APPS account. I am an avid Google Apps user for the very basic reason of Branding Cleanliness. If you have an email address like Josh@HernandoLuxuryHomes.com and you want to send email from that account via a regular google account, it shows to the receiver as “Josh@Gmail.com on behalf of Josh@HernandoLuxuryHomes.com“… I don’t like that. As an Apps user, when I route my email through Google Apps it shows up simply as Josh@HernandoLuxuryHomes.com. Less “muck” to wade through to figure out who I am…much cleaner, more “pro”.

      Right now, Google Apps doesn’t talk to regular Google stuff (gmail, picasaweb, etc). SO – in order to keep my contacts current in both GVoice and my Google Apps Email – I need to constantly be exporting my google apps contacts (which sync seamlessly and immediately with my Palm Pre as I add them) and then importing them into a regular gmail account for use with GVoice.

      I regularly add 3-5 contacts/day to my database and just plain and simple don’t want to go through the hassle of keeping everything updated manually like that. So I wait and hope that The Big G will eventually come around and make everything talk to everything else on its own…at which point I will absolutely be a happy GVoice user.

      If you don’t use Google Apps but rather use regular Gmail, then you should have no problems with what I mentioned above and everyone I know who uses GVoice loves it (ask Brian Brady – he was showing it off in the hotel lounge at BHBU Phoenix several months ago). Brian – care to chime in? Still love it like u did then?

    8. Damon Chetson September 28th, 2009 6:09 pm

      It used to be the case that Gmail didn’t let you brand, but I’ve found a way around that which means I can just use Gmail and not have to use Google Apps.

      I host my website on a non-Google ISP – Hosting Matters. If someone sends email to damon@chetson.com (my professional site), it simply gets forwarded to my gmail account.

      The Gmail account can be configured to send outbound mail from “damon@chetson.com”. You simply have to go into settings and verify that you own the domain. In fact, I don’t know if there’s a limit to the number of domains you can verify, so presumably you could use the same Gmail account to collect mail from 3 or 4 domains.

      I played around with Google Apps before this, and it’s ok, but the web development tools are not very robust. I preferred to build my website on WordPress, which is really a very nice content management system. WordPress requires php and some flavor of Unix, which is what Hosting Matters runs on. I’ve also found Hosting Matters to be incredibly reliable.

      I share Jeff’s concern about Google reliability, but Gmail is just too well designed a mail client for me to give that up.

    9. [...] I just saw another excellent post about Google Voice For Real Estate by Damon Chetson on the Bloodhound [...]

    10. Rob September 30th, 2009 8:14 pm

      Damon:

      Nice summary of your experiences thus far with GV. I of course want to play with this, but time, effort, etc., get in the way.

      Preciate it,

      RM