How Google Voice Could Change Communication


The rise of the Internet is behind amazing transformations in the way we communicate. We can tweet our thoughts in 140 characters, enjoy video conversations and broadcast live video. Yet the venerable telephone is still hanging around. The phone has transformed and changed with the times, which is one of the reasons that it’s still around. What started out as a wired tool has morphed into a wireless one and instead of transmitting simple audio, we use the phone for accessing nearly infinite bits of data in every way currently imaginable. But one thing hasn’t changed: phone numbers.

In today’s communication scenario, people have multiple numbers and phones. There’s typically a home number, a work number and one or more cellular phones. I actually have more than half a dozen active phone numbers for some of my contacts. I don’t want to know — or have to figure out — which of their numbers I should be calling. Instead of allowing the technology to smartly route our conversation requests to the appropriate contacts, we’re stuck in the 150-year-old paradigm of using phone numbers. Shouldn’t we be worried less about the arbitrary numbers assigned to people? It’s time to upgrade the method we use to contact our friends. We need a method that moves us away from calling numbers and toward calling people.

We do something similar with the Internet every single day, although many people don’t even realize it. Every one of those readable URL addresses we type in is just a way for us to let the technology do the hard part. Each web site has a numerical IP address, just like a phone number, but we don’t have to remember them. Instead, the DNS system was created to handle the translation so we can just go to instead of trying to remember something like Conceptually, this is the same type of solution we need for phone numbers: a DNS-like system for people is what I’m envisioning.

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  1. You’re right – phone numbers are archaic. A contacts system where I just have one contact and can just select how I want to get in touch with them (email, voice, SMS, twitter, whatever) and then the system figures out how to reach them makes much more sense.

  2. Michael Wolf Thursday, July 2, 2009

    Google Voice is fairly under-hyped, IMO, which is strange given its a Google app. The app is possibly the most disruptive app to hit voice since Skype, which is saying alot. Integration with other Google apps makes it more powerful, and the feature-set on Google voice itself is very impressive (my favorite is transcription – even though it still clearly needs work).

    Great analysis, Kevin!

    1. Thanks Mike. I agree that Google Voice is under-hyped, but I think that will change dramatically as the service continues to roll out. Since it was essentially only used by old Grand Central members up until recently, I don’t think Google wanted to hype it. Now that they’re opening up the floodgates, the hype should be building and awareness raised.

      Google’s service integration is a huge value-add, and not just for the Voice product. As standalone services, each might be mediocre compared to some other competing services. At risk of using a word from my post, it’s the synergy of Google’s services that make the group of them worth more collectively than individually.

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