Google’s purchase of Grand Central is in the news, but as a user of the company’s service for the past few months, this writer can offer a few more important details and some insight into the service’s importance for the future. Because they are going to an invitation-based signup model as they transition to Google’s empire (as Google’s Gmail has been), it may not be as easy to find out for yourself for a while.
The short view, after reading the Official Google Blog, is that Google appears to want to centralize and integrate your phones, just as they have done with email, blogging, and other activities. They also want to add the voice capabilities to their growing productivity suite, including document and spreadsheet sharing, email and other activities. In a lot of ways, GrandCentral’s offering looks like Gmail for voice, allowing you to organize your incoming calls and voicemail, and even block “spam” calls.
Grand Central’s email to users made several important points about the Google acquisition of their company. It will remain free for now, as they transition to Google and add more features. In the current beta phase, existing users will be given five invitations to send to friends who wish to try it at this point. Those who don’t want their accounts moved to Google, can opt out before the transition.
One number, no matter where you are, and no matter what changes in your life. That’s what GrandCentral.com offers, with a few frills besides. The user base has been growing with their free service offering, they’re getting good reviews, and now they are the latest Google acquisition. They will be adding capacity, they say in an email to users, and use more resources to build and improve the service, inviting feedback from beta users.
There’s very little mystery to GrandCentral’s core service. You can list up to six telephone numbers at which you can be reached at various times, and by various people. GrandCentral will assign you a single US-based telephone number, and you can specify the routing of calls among your six numbers, voicemail, and a “dead end” recording for unidentified or “spam” calls, if you wish. Major corporations have used a similar “phone extender” service for years with the same concept of making you more reachable, yet allow you more control over who reaches you. That’s one of the points that Google makes in their Official Blog – more control.
There are other interesting features to the service, which with some VOIP startups is where the edges fray. GrandCentral does not feel cobbled together, it feels solid and professional. Call transfer, call screening (like with your old answering machine), and custom outgoing messages for specific callers are all part of the feature set. One particularly strong selling point for mobile phone users whose stored voicemail messages disappear in a few weeks – they say they will store your voicemail for as long as you want, available on the web and with email notifications.
GrandCentral appears to have a solid, innovative service, and it will be interesting to see how Google moves it into the Google fold, integrating it and expanding it. For more information from GrandCentral about their perspective on the changes, check out their FAQ.
GrandCentral.com, “Google FAQ”, http://www.grandcentral.com/about/google
Google, “Official Google Blog”, http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/07/all-aboard.html
GrandCentral.com, “GrandCentral is now part of Google”, email sent July 4, 2007