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Google Voice definitely underutilized

After reading a lot about 1:1 iPad programs and there being an "app for" everything in education, I found How To Use Google Voice In Education to be refreshing. Many schools use Google Apps for Education, but I haven't read many educator accounts of using Google Voice.

Google Voice wasn't around when I was a teacher, but I've still found it very useful for the non-teaching roles I've had in schools. When I was an admission receptionist, Google Voice helped me to better manage the hundreds of phone calls I was getting every day.

  1. I could easily forward (including a bad but still helpful transcription) voicemails to others working in the office.
  2. I could make notes about when I got back to each voicemail or missed call.
  3. During particularly heavy call periods, I could prioritize in the morning (based on—yes, even bad—voicemail transcriptions) which calls were most urgent and time-sensitive to return.
  4. As an office, we could give it a phone number visiting parents and students could text, which meant it was also easier to answer everybody (not everything is a phone call, which means you can text back straight from a web browser and move on to the next call or text more quickly).

Even as a student advisor, I found it convenient (particularly on a field trip) to give out my Google Voice number to my advisees and not worry that they then have my cell phone number (yes, it would ring my cell, but I could always easily block or mute them if it came to that—fortunately it never did).

I'd love to see more and more educators using less obvious technology in more obvious ways.

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Google Voice number porting comes too late

Recently, Google announced the ability of its Google Voice users to port their existing mobile number to GV. This sounds great in theory, as it is what many Google Voice users have been clammering for for a year and a half. When Google Voice was new (invite-only but fully launched and then available to everyone eventually), porting your existing cell number to GV made sense—why would you want to tell everybody a new number they'd have to call in order to reach you?

There was no porting ability for a long time, though. So what have we Google Voice users done in the meantime? Well, we basically did what cell phone users had done for years before number porting even existed. We just told people our new Google Voice number. If people called on my old number, they'd still reach me. But every time I called them, my caller ID would show my Google Voice number. And if someone asked for my phone number, I'd give her my Google Voice number. Eventually, my number is my Google Voice number. At this point, everyone I know has my Google Voice number. Porting my old number would be pointless. And I suspect a lot of Google Voice users are in the same position.

There are also other added complications, even if you haven't been a long-time Google Voice user. In Google Voice Porting Equals LSD Trip Gone Awry, David Kravets talks about the difficulties of trying to port a number from Sprint to Google Voice:

Eventually, I pulled it off. I kept my same Sprint account under the same service agreement signed in July. The only change to my service agreement was that I was given a replacement phone number, which is exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, the price I paid to accomplish this was higher than the $200 I saved in early termination fees. But since my goal was to avoid giving a new phone number to all of my contacts, that didn’t seem like throwing money down the drain the way getting socked with a termination fee does.
See, Google Voice to a cell phone user is useless without a new cell phone number. It's not like porting a cell phone number from one carrier to another. Once you have a new cell phone, what do you need your old cell phone for? You have a new phone. But Google Voice is not a new cell phone. You still need your old cell phone when you port your number, which means you need a new number for Google Voice to dial to. In other words, let's say my existing cell phone number is 202-333-3333, and I want to port that to Google Voice. As soon as I do that, 202-333-3333 won't ring my cell phone any more. My cell phone will have no number. So I have to get a new number from my cell phone company, which would be, for the sake of this example, 202-555-5555. So now people can call 202-333-3333 to reach 202-555-5555, whereas before they would call 202-333-3333 to reach 202-333-3333. Not sure I get the advantage here, especially given the hassle of trying to get your carrier to understand you're porting a number but still want to stay with the provider.

Oh, and Google will charge you $20 to port the number as well.

I love Google Voice. I'm a big fan, and I try all the time to convince people to use it. This number porting business, though—at least the way and time it is now implemented—is totally useless. My advice is to just get a new number that directs to your cell phone. When people call you on your old number, just call them back on your new one. When you meet new people who ask for your number, give them your new number. Both the old number and new number will reach you. Eventually, though, people will know only your new Google Voice number.

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Clearing up some confusion about Google Voice

I’ve been using Google Voice for about a week now, and I’m really impressed by it—the concept and the implementation. The implementation could still use a little polish, but Google Voice also isn’t officially released to the general public yet. Based on my limited experiences with it, I thought I’d clear up some confusion about Google Voice.

Is Google Voice a VoIP (voice over IP) application?
No, it isn’t. I’ve even seen some “news” outlets get this bit wrong. A VoIP application like Skype allows you to make a phone call for free (or for a low cost) over a high-speed internet connection. For VoIP to work, all you need is an internet connection—you don’t need a phone.

Google Voice doesn’t work that way. If you make a call with GV, you need an actual phone to make the call.

Google Voice allows you to have one phone number that can mask itself as being various real phones (sort of like how a www.somesite.com address masks the real four-number IP address behind it). It also allows you fine-tuned control over how things get redirected. One contact could ring three or four of your phones every time she calls your GV number. Another contact could ring only one phone. And still another contact may go straight to voicemail or even be blocked entirely. You can have customized voicemails for different types of people who call the same number.

In this way, it’s better to think of Google Voice as a gatekeeper for your phones than a replacement for them (as VoIP is, in a way).

If I know someone who has Google Voice, can I ask her for an invitation, since GV is currently invite-only?
Nope. When Google first launched GMail, it was on an invite-only basis, but you could get an invitation from anyone who had a GMail account. The rollout for GV seems to be different. You need an invitation directly from Google. If you have a GV account, you do not automatically get invitations to send out to other prospective GV users.

What does unchecking phone numbers do?
As far as I can tell, having a validated phone number and unchecking it does not mean the number cannot be used by GV but only that it won’t be used by default. For example, if you have a mobile number, a home number, and a work number, and only the mobile number is checked, you can still set it up so that one or two of your contacts will ring through to your home and/or work number when they call your GV number. It’s just that anyone else not specified to ring through to those will ring only the checked number(s).

What’s the difference between call screening and call presentation?
I find both options kind of annoying, actually. Call screening forces callers to say who they are before the call will be connected to you. If you don’t want to annoy people calling you, make sure your Contacts list is comprehensive and enable it only for blocked numbers and not unknown ones.

Call presentation is annoying for you, as opposed to the person calling you. It seems quite redundant for me, actually. If someone is in your Contacts list, she should already show up in caller ID if it’s your cell phone you use primarily (I guess it’d be handy if you mostly use a landline). When you answer the call, instead of immediately being connected to the calling party, you hear an announcement of who’s calling you, and then you get to decide if you want to take the call or not.

What’s the caller ID option?
This confused me at first. The little tooltip says

By default, Google Voice displays the caller ID of your caller. You can also choose to display your Google number as the caller ID, so you know you received the call on your Google number.

I thought this meant your GV number would display as your number to the person you’re calling, but it actually means it’ll display to you as the number of the person calling you.

In other words, let’s say your Google number is 212-555-1234 and the number of the person calling you is 212-555-5678. If you activate the caller ID option, any time anyone calls you, the number will appear as 212-555-1234—or that you’re calling yourself! If you deactivate the caller ID option, the number will appear as whatever the caller’s number is (212-555-5678, in this example).

There is a separate setting you can use in the Google Voice app to say you want the number to appear as coming from your GV number even if you’re dialing from your mobile phone (this app is available only for Android and Blackberry right now—sorry, iPhone users, but Apple isn’t playing nice here).