Has Google Got Your Tongue?

Example No. 2,351 that it’s a Google world and we’re all just living in it: The search giant announced late Wednesday a slow rollout of Google Voice, the company’s first attempt at unified communications. But Google Voice could also serve as a clarion call that a different kind of competitor may have arrived for UC providers such as Microsoft and Cisco Systems.

“The new application improves the way you use your phone,” wrote product managers Craig Walker, Vincent Paquet and Wesley Chan on the Official Google Blog. “You can get transcripts of your voicemail and archive and search all of the SMS text messages you send and receive. You can also use the service to make low-priced international calls and easily access Goog-411 directory assistance.”

Google Voice builds off the company’s June 2007 acquisition of GrandCentral, which allowed users the ability to have one phone number for all work, home and cell phones, and Web-accessible voicemail that featured live call screening. “You’ll find these features, and more, in the Google Voice preview,” Walker, Paquet and Chan wrote. “If you’re already using GrandCentral, over the next couple of days, you will receive instructions in your GrandCentral inbox on how to start using Google Voice.”

Google Voice, Day 1

Technologizer founder/editor Harry McCracken is a GrandCentral user who on Thursday wrote on his Twitter account that he had upgraded to Google Voice. So TechNewsWorld decided to contact McCracken to see how the service was working so far.

“Please state your name after the tone and GrandCentral will try to reach your subscriber,” the recording said. (GrandCentral? Not Google Voice?) After about six rings, he answered. “In fact I thought about not taking your call because if I hadn’t, you would have gone into my Google voicemail,” McCracken told TechNewsWorld.

McCracken said he had limited experience with the transformed Google Voice but was anxious to test the services. “I just got started using GrandCentral a couple of years ago, and overall it’s been useful. Sometimes the voice quality is not all that great, and it will be interesting to see if Google Voice can do better.” He’s aware of other companies offering similar features, “but they aren’t free. If Google can do a good job of putting my voicemail and email together, that has a lot of potential.

“I just wonder when they’ll stop calling it ‘GrandCentral’ and start calling it ‘Google Voice.'”

More Google-Related Privacy Concerns?

“Potentially, my voice conversations become completely searchable. Everything in my life is becoming searchable, which I think is kind of interesting,” Charlene Li, founder of the technology research firm Altimeter Group told TechNewsWorld. “Google is my brain and memory. Because the services are so good and so compelling, we’re willing to put so much of our lives in the hands of Google, and that requires a tremendous amount of trust. What’s interesting is that Google has earned that trust in many cases. We’ll see how this goes.”

Because Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information, and much of that information is transmitted via voice, there is as much potential for bad things to happen as good if the company fails to respect user privacy, Li says. A transcribed voicemail offers the chance for targeted, relevant advertising revenue based on what’s in the message.

“In the same way that people are used to having their Gmail read (by Google) and having ads thrown next to that, there are a lot of privacy conditions for that. But people say, ‘hey, it’s a free service, and I’m fine with it.’ If you give them permission to look at the conversations, you want to know — what do they do with that, and do you trust them?” Li said.

Dialing Up Enterprise/SMB Customers?

Google Voice is “unified communications for the people,” according to Michael Morgan, analyst at ABI Research. Suddenly, a simpler version of integrated voice/email/short message service features that are found for a price in products like Microsoft’s Office Communicator and Exchange Server, and Cisco’s Unity and IP Communicator are now available for free to anyone. “That’s usually a corporate, enterprise experience,” Morgan told TechNewsWorld. “To have that functionality now that’s technically available for free to the public, that’s got a lot of potential.

“There are a lot of SMBs (small to medium-sized businesses) who use Google Gmail now as their central mail service. You throw this on top and suddenly they’re essentially as competitive as the large companies.”

A sticking point for Morgan? Many people like to be stuck with their original phone numbers. “We’re going to have to give up our phone number. We’ll see how many people they can convert. There will be added functionality but there’s that desire to keep the phone number. But this definitely creates a lot of different opportunities (for consumers). A central repository from which to build out that personal information management, where if you have a Gmail account, now our phone numbers can become more and more centralized.”

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