Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Google Voice Fandom goes all 1984

OK, I got a little excited in my two recent posts about Google Voice (GV).

To recap: I thought if Google would only take the phone number they issue you in Google Voice and let your contacts email you with it [my phone]@gmail.com and re-route to your website from it [my phone].google.com, as well as add fax send/receive to GV, then we'd be on our way to a truly global inbox and a single address.

As I drifted from consciousness to sleep later that night, I pondered the other ways people contact you. And then it occurred to me, that Google could partner with the US Post Office.

Someone could simply write your GV phone number in the Send area of an envelope. When the USPO's scanners see it, they they do a look up of the actual address, print it, and route the mail along.

Or typing the GV number and a key word like home or work would route the mail to the correct address as listed in your Google setup.

Finally, it occurred to me that Google was also in the Online Health Records business. That's when it started getting a bit creepy.

As a nation, the US has so far resisted a National ID card. Could Google slide an International ID card by all of us by calling it a Google Voice phone number? Give everyone a GV phone number, combine it with their country code, and you've got a unique identifier.

Of course this is ridiculous, a GV number is opt in by its very nature. I still want my GV phone number to have all the power I described above.

While I'm being a 1984 style paranoid, let me call your attention to Facebook's new face recognition software. I've been telling every young person I know who'd listen (a very short list), that this capability was coming.

I asked them to flash forward to age 45 and seeking a new job. They finally score an interview. As they walk into the lobby, the surveillance camera records their likeness. By the time they take the elevator to the 20th floor, a still image from the video has been used to scan the internet, and their interviewing manager is looking at photos of them from 20 years before in Spring Break.

Facebook's application isn't there yet, but this capability could be deployed.

Now something less depressing: your video game playing teen may be building job skills. I've talked before on this blog about the disruptions technology is causing. Who knew it would disrupt fighter pilots. But your gamer could be well positioned.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Google Voice - a Game Changer (with predictions)

Google Voice may be a game changer.

Google recently renamed Grand Central to Google Voice and moved it out of beta. They acquired Grand Central some time ago, and since then the service accepted no new users and nothing changed as Google re-engineered the product to their specifications.

Somehow, probably a blog giveaway, I acquired a Grand Central account over a year ago. I used it for some outgoing calls, but never handed out its phone number. I was fearful what the service would eventually cost, so I didn't want to make it my primary contact phone number.

However the cost for US domestic calls looks like they are going to remain free. International calls are cheap with Canada costing about a penny a minute.

In a nutshell, Google Voice gives you a phone number of your own. I was able to pick one with the same prefix as cell phones commonly use in my region, so anyone I give the number to thinks it is my cell phone, and that is fine.

When some one calls for the first time, it asks them to record their name. Then it rings all my phones for me and says "Joe's calling." I have the option of taking the call, taking and recording the call or sending it to voice mail.

The Google Voice inbox shows me calls I have received and missed. If a call goes to voicemail, I see a transcription of the call. I was pleased how accurate the computer transcription is. And being Google, the transcription is searchable.

I can place calls out by choosing from the contact list. Google then calls me on the phone of my choice and then connects me to the contact. Those outgoing calls have my Google Voice number as the Caller ID.

The contact list is the same one I have in GMail and Google Calendar. And I understand it syncs with the address book on Android phones. I had been planning that our next family Smart Phones would be Android phones--this makes it more likely. December 2010 can't get here fast enough.

The Contact list exports its data so I have my phone numbers in case Google disappears (I lost data stored at sites when the late 90's bubble popped, so I am mindful of backing up what I keep in the Cloud). I exported my phone numbers from Sprint's online phonebook for my cell phone and imported them into Google's Contact list with no issues.

I can set up rules. Joe Friend can ring all my phones when he calls 24 hours a day. Irritating acquaintance who calls me at work can only reach me between 7 and 9 at night. If he calls and leaves a message other times I can read the transcription of the message (on the website, sent to me by email or by text message) and call him back when I wish.

I can control what phone each person rings, and the time of day they can reach me. And I can set everyone to Do Not Disturb and all calls go to voice mail while I take that nap.

If a caller is a telemarketer, I can tag their phone number and not only does the call not get answered they hear a "No such number" message in the future.

Prediction #1: Google will have a Phone Spam list as they now have a email spam list, and calls from numbers on that list will go to a Phone Spam folder just as spam emails go to their own Spam Folder.

You can also send and receive text messages from the Google Voice website, and through your phone. Text messages sent to your Google Voice number are sent on to your phone. When you respond, they appar to be from your Google Voice number.

Prediction #2 : Google will add eFax type fax send and receive to Google Voice. Faxes may be archaic, but are still used a lot in business.

One of the phones Google Voice can call is a softphone, Gizmo5. Gizmo is like Skype, it allows free PC to PC calls now, and inexpensive outgoing calls. You can buy an incoming phone line, but now with Google Voice there is no need.

Prediction #3: Google will either come out with their own softphone (probably by modifying Google Talk) or buy Skype. I'd prefer the latter.

Prediction #4: With a small tweak to their email servers, Google could make it so that any email to [my phone number]@gmail.com enters my GMail inbox.

Think of it, one 10 digit identifier will let someone send me email, fax, text message, and voice call. They won't have to remember an email address, a fax number, and a variety of phone numbers for me, just one.

Prediction #5 : The Google Voice website and and the GMail website will merge, and we will finally have the global inbox.

Imagine, all your emails, voice mails, text messages, faxes listed in one place, no matter if you placed the call from your home phone, your cell phone, your work phone, a friend's phone, whatever.

Heck, take it one step further, make it so that www.5555551212.google.com re-directs to whatever website the user with the phone numer 555-555-1212 has specified in their Google My Account settings.

Imagine how uncluttered business cards will look when they have just your name and a Google identifier?

There have been services like Google Voice as it is now, before, but game changers are not necessarily first. The IBM PC wasn't the first computer, and the IPod was not the first MP3 player, but both changed the world.

It will be interesting to see how younger consumers use Google Voice. Text messaging and IM have changed the landscape of relationships for the young. How will this?

And if you are a parent who refused to give your child a cell phone, and expect them to use your home phone, but give them broadband, they now, suffice to say, have a phone.

Google Voice will be rolling out to those outside the Grand Central beta list eventually. Grab a number when you can.

And someone remind me, why do I pay $40 a month for a landline?

Hey, just as I finished this, Google, via their Twitter account @GoogleVoice said this : "We're checking our (408) 72-VOICE invite hotline for funny vmail msgs, and sending out more invites next week to a select few!"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Google Voice

I'll write a post soon on Google Voice. I've had it since it was Grand Central, and now that it is out of beta I'm giving out its phone number more.

Suffice to say, I love it.

I just had the greatest idea, and submitted it to Google as feedback.

They assign every Google Voice user a phone number. My idea is this : if someone emails [my phone number]@gmail.com then it should deposit that email in my gmail inbox.

Then with one 10 digit identifier, someone could send me email, call me, leave a voice message, or send me a text message. And if they follow another feedback suggestion I made, send me a fax too.

Could the truly global inbox be a few Google features away?

I sure hope so.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Investigative Journalism

In writing the response for my local paper I posted a few days ago, I had the pleasure of remembering one of the coolest little newspapers I've ever known.

In 1979 the small town newspaper, The Point Reyes Light, won a Pulitzer for investigating the cult, Synanon.

From the paper's About page :

The Point Reyes Light is one of the few weekly newspapers to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. In 1979, when the paper's circulation was only 2,750, it received the Pulitzer gold medal for Meritorious Public Service as a result of a series of exposès and editorials about the Synanon cult. The cult was not only abusing its tax-exempt status, it had also turned to violence in an attempt to silence critics. The violence culminated in October 1978 when Synanon members tried to murder a lawyer by planting a 4.5-foot rattlesnake in his mailbox. The lawyer was bitten but survived, and The Light was the first to reveal that cult leaders had orchestrated the attack.

This happened while the paper was owned by David and Cathy Mitchell. Two people alone reporting on a dangerous cult.

I've never felt the need when in New York to seek out the Times office and stand across the street and mull its accomplishments, but I did do that when I was in Pt. Reyes.

The take away : the Mitchell's proved investigative journalism only takes an investigative journalist, not a large newspaper.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The web is 20 years old today

It was on March 13, 1989 that Sir Tim Berners-Lee presented a paper on how scientists could share information via a computer network. In January of 1990, he implemented his idea into what became the world wide web.

Considering all the industries disrupted by his invention, Dr. Berners Lee should be grateful there is not a time machine.

The list of industries eager to send executives back in time and stop him would be long :

  • Recording industry
  • newspapers
  • television
  • movies
  • travel agencies
  • book publishing
  • magazine publishing
  • retail
  • airlines business travel
  • telephone
  • cable tv
Which ones have I missed?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Newspapers Adapting to the Digital Age

With each issue, my mother reads the newspaper cover to cover. She'll highlight parts my father would be interested in. When they are done with the paper, she saves it until my cousin visits and gives it to her.

The amazing thing is that my parents have not lived in the town covered by this paper in over 40 years.

Earlier this week, my local paper consolidated their printing plants and decided to close one of two editorial offices in my county. It is no doubt traumatic for the printers that are laid off, I'm sure. I Twittered about it (@BigGrayBeast) and heard a few minutes later from one of the editors asking if I had any ideas for them.

The fact they seek connections with their readers and bother to ask means they are trying.

I started on Twitter only a few months ago; mostly as a way to call some attention to this blog. It wasn't long before the Twitter account for the paper started following me, followed closely by one of the reporters and ultimately an editor. I doubt it was because they read this blog, but because they knew from my profile I was local and it was a smart marketing ploy. Nevertheless, a couple of Direct Messages were replied to, and I started looking for the reporters byline in online version of the paper. A connection, a two way connection was made. This wouldn't have been possible as easily in the past.

What ideas do I have for a local paper?

The answer is simple. What can they do better then the Washington Post, or the New York Times or the International Herald Tribute?

Easy, they can write about their town, their people.

My mother's fascination with the home town paper of where she was born and raised is a prime example. That newspaper of a town of 2500 never runs a story on the federal budget or the state of the military. If it runs a story about Iraq, it is about Joe Smith's son Pete returning from a stint there. It'll get quotes from Bill Myers, who played on the high school football team with Pete, and now teaches at the same school the two attended.

The foreign exchange student who spoke to the Rotary this week will be on the front page, right next to the 12 year old girl who got a buck her first year hunting.

The federal budget will get mentioned only if there's a grant in it to get the town its first new ambulance in ten years.

One cousin joked once the only way she could keep up with another cousin was by following his exploits in the police blotter in the paper.

Most of the time in my life, I've lived in a community where there was a major metropolitan newspaper, and a local paper for my suburb. I naturally read both. I thought it was ridiculous for the Hayward, California newspaper, for example, to report national news while the San Francisco Chronicle did a much better job. Let the Hayward paper talk about Hayward, I thought then, and still do. Think of all that room they could have filled with local news.

A local paper should report every School Board meeting (and sub committee meetings), every county meeting, planning commission meetings, the bigger Home Owners association meetings, every high school game (and not just football), and many of the Junior High games.

There should be every feature story imaginable. What's it like quitting your job and renting a kiosk at the mall and try to sell dog treats? What's the longest term employee with the school system?

Get readers eyes by making it possible they will see their name in print, likely they will see their kids name in the paper during the year, and certain they'll see the name of someone they know in every single issue. And not the same names--reach out beyond the Civic leaders and talk about the people.

The neighborhood paper arrived yesterday in the mail. My wife knew every one of the four people pictured on the front page. That is what local papers have to become.

How can a newspaper staff enough writers to do all this? What about investigative journalism? I have ideas on that too for a future entry.