Monday, December 27, 2010

Add your Phone to the Cloud with Google Voice!

Telephony has been around for a long time, however despite advancements in some areas (cordless phones, cell phones, voicemail etc), some aspects have remained archaic:
  • We frequently need to call multiple numbers and leave multiple messages before getting locating the person we need to talk with.
  • Voice mail is tied to each phone number. I have to check my voice mail on each of my phones. 
  • My phone isn't smart. It treats every call equally. If I get a lot of calls, its difficult to sort out what's important from what is annoying. 
  • There is no connection between my phone and my email. 
  • My phone is a physical object therefore if I leave it or forget it, I can't use it. 
The engineers at Google noted many of these same things and came up with a solution: Google Voice.

I have been using Google Voice for a year now and have come to love some of the advanced, innovative features that it offers.

In a nutshell, Google Voice helps individuals take control of their telephony by providing a free, US based telephone number which connects all of their phones (work, home, cell, etc). Give out your Google Voice number and it will ring the phone of your choice based on criteria such as the time of day or the caller.

Google Voice can also send you the text of a voice mail message to you via email. You can read the voice mail or play the audio from it. There are lots of times when I don't have time to check my voice mail messages that I have appreciated the ability to quickly scan the transcription to determine if there is an issue that needs my immediate attention.

The transcription of voice to text was pretty rough at first, but it has become remarkably more reliable since its inception. Here's a transcribed message that was sent to me on December 8, 2009:

Early voice mail transcription from Google Voice. Click to view larger image.

This is a voice mail that I received exactly one year later on December 8, 2010.

One year later: click to enlarge.
Still not perfect, but much better. At least you can understand general purpose of the message. Note that the words in grey are those that were unable to be reliably translated.

Logging into your Google Voice account (something I do infrequently) allows you to see a listing of previous calls (received and missed) and voice mails. You can archive or delete messages  as you wish. Within your Google Voice account you can also send free sms messages to any phone number.

Here is how I am personally using the Google Voice service:

My business cards, email signature, social media profiles all list my Google Voice number (which happens to spell out my last name!). Any time someone calls this number, the call is relayed to both my cell phone and to Gmail account. I have connected Google Voice to my Gmail account using the recently released "call any number" feature. This enables me to place and received calls using my computer (conserving my cell minutes!). I receive transcripts of voice mails in my email account and on my iPod touch.

I use the recently released Google Voice app on my ipod touch to send sms messages, check my voice mail, and "auto dial" my cell phone. It is not possible to make direct calls on my ipod touch using this app. Instead, when I click "call" the application dials my cell phone and then connects me to the person that I have dialed.

In education, Google Voice has some great potential uses:

  • Preserve your privacy be creating a Google Voice number to give out to your students and their families. At the end of the year, de-activate the account. 
  • ESL students or students in speech therapy can use Google Voice to practice their diction. The more accurately they pronounce the English words, the more likely the transcription program will correctly transcribe it into text!
  • Use Google voice to record mp3 files that you can share with students. You could even read books aloud for students who struggle with reading. 
  • Include a "call me" widget in your blog or wiki for students to leave questions for you. Calls can be sent directly to voice mail and you can respond to them as you wish. 
  • Record custom greetings for parents. You could even leave a recorded message each week updating them on classroom events and important dates. 
If you're intrigued, I would encourage you to view my other post" "10 Google Voice Tricks that will Rock your Phone." 


  1. Check out "Talkatone." Here's a free app. that you can download to your iPod touch that works in conjunction with Google Voice. This will allow you to make phone calls on your iPod touch from the US to anywhere in the world (for free) using your Google Voice account. I've tried it, and it works great! I've not yet figured out how to "receive" phone calls yet on my computer or iPod touch, but I will try that. I might have more questions for you. Thanks!

  2. Great tip, Nicole. I'll check it out. I was happy when Apple finally added a built in mic to the ipod touch.

  3. I found your blog through your comment on The Innovative Educator. You suggested that librarians could create a Google Voice number for research questions. Great idea. Definitely going to do this. Thanks. Glad I found your blog.

  4. @Eliterate Librarian, please let me know how it goes!


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