for those of you who have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, google has just released a [surprise! beta!] service called google voice. google voice, essentially, is a free online service attempting to solve common problems that the current phone system has (for example, i have 3 phones and 7 SIM cards, and depending on my location, use only 2).
a few of the great features include:
- unlimited online voicemail storage - google will store your voicemails online so you can keep them forever. this is nice for people like me who stored a bunch of very important (or personal) voicemails, only to find that thirty days later they were gone.
- voicemail transcription - google will transcribe your voicemails and send them to you as an email. i tried it on one or two voicemails i asked Saulemander to leave for me, and it worked 90% well, even given his mumbly low voice. it is also very nice if you are in a meeting, or a movie, and can't listen to a voicemail, but could easily peek under the table to see it.
- merges numbers - for those of us who have many phones, this will allow you to give one phone number to everyone, and calling it will forward to every phone you add to your account (for free). this means you can add your home number, your work number, and your cell, and when your girlfriend needs to call you, she doesn't need to think about where you are or how to contact you. i assume you can filter numbers based on your contacts (for example, your colleague calls, and you only forward it to work), but haven't really checked yet.
- free US-based SMS - free text messages to anyone in america. that is awesome. skype may already have it, but now google does too.
all told, this sounds really awesome. i was lucky enough to get an invite, and set it up and everything. once i get some more time to configure, i'll send you all my new number.
it makes me a bit nervous though.
i love google. i really do. (though i'd never judge anyone who works as a genius at yahoo!.) but i can't help but think that google's mission statement "don't be evil" may be evolving slowly. they have more data about me than any other company in the world. generally speaking, that's never been a problem before, because they use the data only to make my online experience better (which it certainly does). i can't remember the last time i clicked on an ad that wasn't one of google's suggestions. and google's suggestions are often not bad ones. in fact, they're really just search results that are kicked a bit higher up the list because they paid for it (and google makes that clear).
and gmail reads through my email to figure out what the message is about and advertises accordingly. for example, sending an email to my mom about an upcoming trip to chicago mentions airfare, hotels, and good pizza places. that's useful. and it doesn't bother me if i don't use it. and i trust that no human will ever read that email.
but this voice thing may be crossing a line. just a little. if they start to store my voicemails, and transcribe them into text, i can't help but think that i'm giving a lot of data about my personal life. of course now it's no problem; but yahoo! caved, and aol caved, and microsoft caved, when the government required that they give them their search result data (google did not). but who knows what will happen in the future. as google's mission statement becomes more flexible, and they become more like microsoft, will i regret giving google all of my voicemails and call history?
i'm going to the states soon, which will be a perfect time to set this up and use it. but i can't decide. what do you guys think? am i crazy? or am i just starting to realize how much of me is located in google's servers?