Monday, July 16, 2007

GrandCentral from Google quickreview

A freind of mine asked me for my thoughts on Google's latest acquisition: GrandCentral, so, here's my take on GrandCentral. Kind of a quick brain dump.

Bottom line: I really like it. It's not quite ready for primetime, but it's damn close. It's a game changer for the voice business.

A bit-o-detail:

It works as advertised. I won't go through the full feature list (you can see it here). Amazingly, it's all actually there. No coming soon teasers. And, it's all pretty well thought out from a usability perspective. Without much work at all I was able to use (and easily remember how to use) pretty much all the features across the entire system.

It's a small step toward my friend Brad's cognitive web where things computers should be able to do for you, actually get done for you.

Some things I liked: The Webcall button; put it on your blog.. user puts in their phone. GC calls you, asks if you want to talk, if yes, calls them/connects. Smooth.

Excellent for people with multiple phones and/or locations. Ring em all, or just a few. Set the hours that it rings certain phones.

And it remembers (alot). Once somone's in the system, it remembers details about them so things only have to be done once then it uses that over and over (like the first time someone calls you.. it asks for their name.. so it can ask you if you want to 1) talk 2) send it to voicemail 3) send it to voicemail and listen in (and break in if you want) or 4) take the call, and record it. Next time that person calls, it reuses their previously recorded name associated with that callerID. Slick.

It saves everything as a MP3, and you can forward them like emails. Being an avid Gmail user, I can see how this will very easily integrate into existing Gmail accounts.

You can quickly set up a 'different' phone for it to call you at. So set it to call your parents house when you're visiting or a friends cell number when you're having dinner. Your friends phone starts to ring and someone says "is -your name- there?". Sneaky fun.

A pretty good (considering the rich feature set) cellphone interface as well. Not truly great, but this is almost impossible to do on anything other than, maybe, an iPhone. It works though and if you need cellphone access to your Grandcentral webpage, you can get it.

It's fun too. When the 'operator' answers the phone when someone calls you... after it records the callers name it uses a 'ring tone' you can choose while it contacts that caller. It can be US, Japanese, European, some NY guy saying in a thick NY accent 'ring ring.. I'm ringing here'.. (seriously.. that's one of the rings) and others. Goodness.

There's a bunch of 'Have some fun" suggestions which are basically suggested ways to frak with people which are pretty funny. They have attitude.

I could go on for awhile, but I'll stop there.

It's about 98% done. There are several little things they could improve on, and if they're any good at taking feedback(I gave them a bunch over the weekend), I'm sure they will. Mostly interface stuff that would make it slightly easier/more intuitive to do something. No deal killers for me though.

A potential downside: This IS your number now. They say for life. How comfortable are you with Google having access to everything that flows through your telephony world forever? 18 mo. ago I'd have said.. cool. Today.. not so sure. I'm not saying I wouldn't, I'm just's Google. They're generally good.. but I've gotta think about it a bit.

Another downer: it's a pain to change your 'main' number with everyone. Everything starts with the number they assign you (which you can choose from by area code or by town.. like Lyons or Arvada, but oddly, not Boulder). You choose it through a GoogleMap mashup (surprise!).

They do hint that some of these features will be 'premium' and don't tell you exactly which ones. Personally, I'd like to not get dependent on something and then find out it costs more than I think it's worth down the road (no pricing hints either).

There is one really important business implication:

It's going to completely freak out the phone companies (POTS or cell) once they figure out how this puts Google directly between them and their customers. I mean freak out, as in 'death to Google' freak out. Should be interesting to watch.

30-40% of what they could do is in here. Once they get integrated with GoogleLand, I'd expect to see it expand even more into 'damn.. that's amazing' territory.

It's still closed beta, but you can sign up to get an invite on the reserve page. I asked about 2 weeks ago and just got the invite so I expect they'll be accelerating it's opening up soon.

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