The public launch of Google's new Voice service is imminent, and it's going to change the way you use the Web (to sign up for an invitation, click here). If you're currently a beta user, you already know how flexible and robust the service is. And while Google Voice's feature set is intuitive, here are five ways to mash up the service with other tasks and services you use every day, to get the most productivity out of your GV account.
If you're not familiar with Google Voice, here's the deal: once you sign up (it's free) you're assigned a phone number with an area code of your choosing. Calls to this number can be set to reroute to any number of phones, meaning you can have one number that rings your office and your cell. If you don't pick up, your voicemail is stored online, where's it's accessible via any Web browser—or it can be transcribed and emailed to you, forwarded in an email, or embedded in a Website. Other options: blocking numbers, custom voicemail messages for different callers, call recording, SMS voicemail alerts, call merging, and free domestic calling. Check out GV's features page for the full array.
Google Voice allows you to switch calls from phone to phone on the fly. This is supposed to allow you to transfer calls between your own numbers—say, switching from your office phone to your cell. But if you're always redirecting people to the same person—your assistant, spouse, friend—then you can transfer callers to them seamlessly, without giving that person a number to write down and call back, even when you take the original call on your mobile phone.
One of Google Voice's finest skills is its ability to screen the people you don't want to hear from by sending certain numbers to voicemail, or hitting others with a "number not in service" message. But these days, most people would rather shoot off an email than pick up the phone, even when a phone call would solve the problem faster.
Google Voice can help. Instead of giving out your email address, give out your Google Voice email address, which is simply your number: XXX-XXX-XXXX@grandcentral.com. Those messages can be forwarded to any email address you like, and it will show people that you believe your number has primacy over your email account, encouraging calls instead of excessive messages.
Call Me Better
Google Voice has embeddable "Call Me" buttons that you can copy and paste into any Website or blog with a simple snippet of HTML code. When someone goes to a Website with your "Call Me" button, it will ask them for their phone number. Then the system rings up simultaneous calls to both you and the caller—when you pick up, the call connects without the other person ever seeing your number.
That's useful by itself—Google's own tutorial on the Web call buttons show it used on eBay listings, where bidders can call you for more info on a listing. But since "Call Me" buttons work anywhere that HTML does, you can embed them anywhere HTML can go—personal ads, email signatures, blog profiles, anything—without having your number be known. If you're running a small business that has several representatives who can take calls, one "Call Me" button can ring all of their numbers; whomever's free will take the call, without a sophisticated phone system needing to be in place.
Prepare to Port
Google says that users will soon be able to port their current phone numbers into Google Voice, so that switching over to a GV number won't mean giving out a new number. If you're going to do this with a mobile phone from one of the nation's GSM carriers like AT&T or T-Mobile, you can get ready for the transition by picking up a cheap prepaid SIM card at a local wireless store or from eBay. That SIM will come with its own number that you can later port to your cell phone (check with your carrier ahead of time to make sure it'll work; T-Mobile, for example, stupidly doesn't let you port their prepaid numbers to their own postpaid accounts; you'll have to buy at AT&T SIM and port with that).
As soon as Google Voice launches, you can call up your telecom and have the prepaid number switched to your cell phone, and your cell number ported to Google Voice; the whole switch should only take about 12 hours until all the numbers are up and running, leaving you minimal downtime.
If you use a multimedia blogging platform like Tumblr or Virb, you probably embed audio in your posts all the time. Google Voice allows you to embed voicemails and recorded calls (yes, you can record calls; see below) anywhere you can embed HTML, letting you convert funny or informative messages into public posts. Since Tumblr automatically puts an "answer" box under any post that ends with a question mark, you can use the power of the crowd to get responses to the voicemail you post.
To read more about how Google Voice works, check out the the service's "basics" site. If you have any other suggestions about how to use Google Voice in ways Google never dreamed, let's hear 'em in the comments section.Related: What the Hell is Tumblr ? And Other Worthwhile Questions
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