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Teach your phone new tricks with Google Voice

By John L. Beath
Today’s world has us managing phone numbers and struggling to stay in constant contact with editors, spouses, children and friends. Fortunately, technology keeps getting better, especially when it comes to phones and phone management. In a previous column, I wrote about Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology and using Ooma for my home phone numbers. So far, this is saving me about $100 per month. I no longer have a standard phone bill from Verizon for my home phones, but still have my two old phone numbers and free long distance.
With two home-based phone numbers, my cell phone and international cell phone, it can be a challenge to route calls. Google recently solved this problem with Google Voice. This new service assigns the user an additional phone number and an easy to use and understand online control panel. Why would you want another phone number? Google Voice gives you one phone number for all your phones.
Call anywhere in the United States for free using Google Voice from your phone or the Web. You can choose which phone rings based on who is calling. For example, a call from China to your Google number will ring on your international phone, not your home phone. When someone leaves a voicemail on your Google number, it sends a transcription or mp3 of the message. You can also read your voicemail via text message on any phone you choose. Through an online control panel, you can forward, embed or download voicemail messages.
What about text messaging? Google Voice users can send, receive and store text messages online for free.
Also, during a phone call you can switch to another phone on your system without the other person knowing. I’m still trying to figure out the use of this feature, but it might come in handy if my cell phone battery runs low while I’m using it at home.
Another Google Voice feature is conference calling. Also, you can screen callers by listening to a voicemail as it is recorded. If it sounds important and you want to talk, just pick up the call. Tired of unwanted calls? Send them directly to voicemail or have calls from a certain number blocked entirely. You can even set up custom greetings for specific callers – how cool is that? The service also offers inexpensive international calling rates, making it easy and affordable to place calls overseas or forward to an overseas phone.
Free 411 calls will save you money, too. Google offers Goog 411, a directory assistance service integrated into Google Voice. After dialing your own Google number from one of your phones, you connect to Goog 411 through your Google Voice’s automated voicemail system.
Podcasters and radio hosts will love Google Voice because the service offers the easiest way to record phone interviews. Any time during a call, a simple press of a button starts or stops recording. To assist with compliance of laws that apply to call recording, an automated verbal announcement is played whenever recording starts or stops. I can’t think of an easier or more efficient way to record interviews than Google Voice.
Getting Google Voice service takes a request from your Google account or an invitation from someone with Google Voice. Start the process by signing up for a Google account here. Due to a limited number of phone numbers throughout the country, the average waiting period is about three months.
UPDATE: Google Voice is now available to everyone! Check out the Google Voice blog for more information: http://googlevoiceblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/google-voice-for-everyone.html
For more information, watch these Google YouTube videos:
John L. Beath is OWAA president and owner of Pacific Lure Communications. He is a writer/photographer and owner/editor of 14 Web sites and 10 online stores. He is also an Internet marketing consultant for several businesses. For more information about getting connected on the Internet, visit his site at www.webuildyourwebsite.net.
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