Google Voice: GrandCentral grows up!

* GrandCentral is about to reappear as Google Voice

Google's GrandCentral is about to be reincarnated! Yes, after almost two years in development limbo, Grand Central Communications, purchased by Google in July 2007 for a reported $50 million and renamed simply "GrandCentral," is about to reappear as "Google Voice."

Google's GrandCentral is about to be reincarnated!

Yes, after almost two years in development limbo, Grand Central Communications, purchased by Google in July 2007 for a reported $50 million and renamed simply "GrandCentral," is about to reappear as "Google Voice".

What made GrandCentral, as it was called, so remarkable was that it provided caller- and time-dependent routing from a single in-bound number (pitched as “one number … for life”) to any or all of your other phones; supplied voicemail; provided recording of calls; could be managed and accessed from the Web; and it was free!

I was lucky enough to snag a GrandCentral account (to the envy of friends and colleagues) before Google stopped making them available, and while the service has continued to work I was concerned that given the lack of any obvious marketing or sales activity, someday Google might decide that “for life” just wasn’t going to work for them. Thus it was that I didn’t commit to GrandCentral – I have been using it, but not as my primary telephone management service.

So I was more than pleased that Google last week announced Google Voice. Due to become available very soon (perhaps even by the time you’re reading this) Google is also upping their game. Yes, Google’s new version of the service looks like it is going to be, well, the best word that comes to mind is “amazing!”

The new features add a very fast (and remember, free) speech-to-text translation (reportedly a few minutes); free conferencing; reduced rate international calls; and (this is huge) texting support (incoming texts to your GrandCentral number will be forwarded to your mobile phone and you’ll be able to reply!); and finally (the biggest feature of all!) they claim to be working on complete integration of Google Voice with Gmail! This last feature is potentially so profound that it could be reasonably described as “game changing.”

Of course, anything that is free has consequences, and already commentators are penning endless blog postings on how the huge increase in personal content handled by one company that excels in mining such data paves a dangerous and rocky road to serious privacy issues.

My money is on Google being more than a little careful in this area and, at least for the first year or two, being ultra-cautious about their de fact responsibilities and liabilities. Let us hope that by the time Google gets comfortable and might start to flirt with its suppressed “evil” side we get some practical and effective privacy legislation.

Even so, privacy issues not withstanding, Google Voice will be a powerful and compelling service that will garner a huge following including me because its potential to simplify my life, for free (or at least just the cost of a little targeted advertising coming my way) is enormously compelling and hard to ignore.

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