UPDATE: Here’s a newer blog post on what features should be in GrandCentral 2.0. You can add your suggestions too.
I became a beta tester for Google’s GrandCentral more than a year ago.
Since Google has done little to publicize its telephony service, here’s a brief explanation of what GrandCentral is.
- It’s a unified messaging service. That means people call one number and the call is forwarded to whichever phone number you assign to the caller. For instance, you can have calls from business contacts be automatically forwarded to your office number, while calls from your relatives always go to your cell phone. There’s also a cool feature which allows you to temporarily have calls forwarded to another number. I use this feature when I am visiting my dad in Vermont, because my cell phone has limited service at his house.
- It’s a customized voicemail service. You can create different voicemail messages and then have different types of contacts hear different messages. Using the business versus personal analogy, you can have one greeting for work contacts and another (more risque, perhaps) greeting for your friends.
- It’s a Web-based visual voicemail service. You can see and play all of your messages from the Web interface. There’s also a mobile version of GrandCentral, which works fairly well from a Treo and an iPhone (these are the only devices I have tested it on).
In short, it’s a service which has a lot of potential. When Google bought GrandCentral in July 2007 (see this news article) many people, including me, were extremely excited.
(You can see how GrandCentral works by clicking on the button that looks like this… it is on every page of my site.)
But since then, GrandCentral has done little innovating. Vasanth Sridharan of Silicon Alley has done a nice job documenting how Google has let GrandCentral wither on the vine.
There are a number of areas where I think GrandCentral needs to improve. Here’s my list… I’d love to hear what you think!
- iPhone integration: There is one unofficial GrandCentral app for the iPhone, which is fine. But why isn’t there an official GrandCentral application? One big problem I have with the iPhone app is that there’s no way to mask the caller ID I am transmitting. So, people end up calling my iPhone directly even after I give them my GrandCentral number. That means that they leave voicemail on the phone rather than through the GrandCentral service. It defeats the whole purpose of having a unified messaging service.
- GMail Contacts synchronization: Why can’t I integrate my GMail contacts with my GrandCentral callers? In an ideal world, there would be one inbox for my GrandCentral calls and my GMail. But until that day comes, I would at least be able to have my GMail contacts list update when I add a new contact to my GrandCentral account. And I would like to be able to know when a GMail contact calls my GrandCentral line, even if the contact is not in my GrandCentral address book.
- Truly customized voicemail greetings: As I mentioned, I can make customized greetings for groups of people. But I would like Google to one step further and make it possible for me to make individualized greetings for each contact. This feature does exist. I’m not sure if it’s new or whether it’s been around for a while. However, if I didn’t see it, I wonder how many others didn’t either.
For instance, if Ari Herzog calls me, he can hear a greeting which says, “Hi Ari, sorry I am not around, but please leave a message and I’ll get back to you…”I already had this service before I started using GrandCentral. My previous voicemail provider was YouMail. I look back on YouMail with fondness. I made customized greetings for the people who called me the most. So, for my friend Chris, I said something like, “Hey Chris! What’s up? Hope you and your wife are doing well. Leave me a message and we’ll catch up soon.” Friends got a kick out of it when they called.Google could do that, but for some reason they have not.
- PPC integration: To me, the real killer app would be if Google integrated GrandCentral with AdWords.Rather than clicking on a PPC ad and going to a landing page, you could potentially click on the ad and be connected on the phone directly with the advertiser. That would eliminate any opportunity for users to “bounce” from Web pages and prematurely end a PPC conversion.
- Google Analytics integration: As I mentioned, I have a GrandCentral button on each page of my site.But I have no way of knowing how many people click on the button, unless they go through with the call. And I have no way of knowing where people who call me (thereby “converting” in the lingo of analytics) came from. Did they find me through a Google search? Did they come from another site? Knowing this information would be incredibly valuable to me. Now, maybe there is a way to do this. But I don’t see it documented on the GrandCentral site or in the Google Anaytics help section.
It seems like it’s been long enough since Google bought GrandCentral for the search giant to at least start integrating the service into its vast family of services.
Not only would bringing the two families together help GrandCentral users, it could help Google make more money through AdWords and help Website owners and marketers increase conversions.
So what’s the hold up Google?