The purpose of Google Voice is to have one phone number to give others -- I don't have to decide whether to give out my private land line (I don't have one), one of my cells, or my classroom number--or all of them, if I really, really needed to be reachable. (No, thank you.) However, the privacy of my Google Voice options is what appeals to me most. I don't have to give anyone my direct numbers if I don't feel it's wise.
When I call from my Google number I can do it from any phone or from my computer. I can hold a conference call, switch calls, and/or record the calls (this is only legal if I notify the other party).
When someone dials my Google Voice number they can speak with me, leave a voicemail, or send me a text message. I can, in turn, program my Google number to ring anywhere I want it to. I can even use custom ringing. For instance, when a contact calls my Google Voice:
- I can have it ring on all my phones at once.
- I can have certain contact's numbers ring on only one of my phones.
- I can have certain numbers always go to voice mail.
- I can make it screen my calls.
- I can listen in on messages as they are being left.
- I can block calls, place calls, forward calls, and more.
One of the best parts is the way I can get my messages.
- I can listen to voice mails from any phone I want.
- I can use my mobile phone's browser to check my In Box.
- I can get email or text notifications of my voice mails.
- I can listen to them online.
- I can send them onward to someone else or another of my own numbers.
- I can even get them in written words; Google Voice uses speech-to-text.
Now if I move schools, mobile providers, etc. I don't have to change my phone number. (This is the same reason I use a post office box instead of giving my street address to strangers or very important senders.)
And did I mention that this is all free? If you live in the US (sorry, my international friends!) you can get a Google Voice number by invitation only, as the service is still technically in Beta. Here's how. Go to this site and fill in the form. In a week or two you'll get a message from Google inviting you to pick a number. You can search for personalized numbers or take a random number. You can search by location or zip code to see which numbers are available. I didn't want to have a random number; I had several pre-chosen that I was hoping to get because I wanted something that reflected my personality and was very easy to remember, like my name or nickname. Unfortunately, my first ten choices or so were already taken. So I settled on 7122NoFear.
Google Voice looks to be pretty amazing. Right now I doubt I'll even need or use its full capabilities but I'm very excited about the potential. I am already giving that number to my students, their parents, and visitors to my web sites, wikis, and blogs. I haven't felt the need to give it to family and friends yet but it would be a good idea to do that soon or before I am faced with changing phone companies.
It will take some more reflection before I decide how else I can use this amazing service to its best advantage. I can see many advantages for business people yet I want to think through how educators can extract the most benefits.
What would you do if you had a Google Voice number?