Brad Feld

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Google Voice Was So Very Close To Working

Jan 19, 2010

I hate the telephone.  I hate voice mail.  I’ve tried hard to simplify how this works in my world.  I only have two phone numbers (my cell phone and my work phone, which is an IP phone that rings in all the different houses / offices that I have), schedule all phone calls, and use PhoneTag as my voicemail transcription service (both my cell phone and my desk phone forward to it when I don’t answer.)  I never listen to voice mails (everything is an email), rarely get phone calls during the day, and have done a pretty good job of getting rid of phone interruptions in my life given how busy I am.

Even though I’m in a reasonable stable state, I have one thing that bothers me.  I still have two phone numbers – one for my cell phone and one for my desk phone.  When my assistant Kelly schedules a call, she does a pretty good job of using my cell phone when I’m on the road and my desk phone when I’m in my office or at home (my cell phone doesn’t work in my house in Eldorado Springs at all and barely works in Keystone – thanks AT&T).  However, she still has to do the manual translation of my location to phone number (blech) and I occasionally (well – regularly) end up somewhere other than expected.

I thought Google Voice might be the solution.  However, I don’t want to have to tell the world a new phone number.  Plus, a lot of people call me back via caller ID so when I call on various phones they just call me back on that phone.  So I came up with a hack to try.  I’d forward my desk phone (call it 4) to my Google Voice number.  Then I’d give out my desk phone to everyone going forward.  Google Voice would then ring all of my other phone numbers, including my cell number.  On no answer, Google Voice would transcribe my message and email it to me.

Problem #1 happened when Amy emailed me from Keystone (when I was in my office in Boulder) and said “your phone is ringing off the hook today – make it stop.”)  I have an extension 4 phone in Keystone.  Easy fix – I changed my IP phones so Keystone was 1, Eldo was 2, my office was 3, and the 4 just forwarded to Google Voice.  I then set up groups in Google voice to easily forward only to the phones where I was (e.g. when I wasn’t in Keystone, 1 didn’t ring).  Problem #1 solved.

Problem #2 happened the next day when I got an email from a regular caller saying the phone “just rang and rang” and voice mail never picked up.  I heard of this from a few more people – the only thing I could come up with was that Google Voice wasn’t answering every now and then or there was some kind of forwarding black hole that I hadn’t figured out.  I’ll give Google Voice the benefit of the doubt on this one, but I still couldn’t figure out the black hole.

Problem #3 was a delay that I was starting to notice when talking on my cell phone.  The forwarding from my desk phone (4) to Google Voice to my cell phone was introducing enough of an IP delay to be noticeable.  I tried to mentally adjust for it but it was unpredictable.  This gave me a headache (a physical one, not a virtual one).

Problem #4 was caller ID wasn’t coming through correctly.  Again, I’ll give Google Voice benefit of the doubt – I think I probably could have figured out how to hack our phone system to forward to caller ID to Google Voice which would then forward it on.  But I didn’t.  And the Google Voice intro that announced the caller often was either blank (presumably the caller didn’t say anything), it was cut off (possibly due to the forwarding), or it was hard to understand.  Regardless, I found myself feeling less comfortable that I knew who was calling.

Problem #5 was the Google Voice transcriptions were unreadable.  I find the PhoneTag emails to often be entertaining, but they are never incomprehensible.  In contrast, I found myself having to listen to three out of four of the Google Voice messages because the transcriptions made no sense.

But Problem #6 sunk me.  Suddenly, I was getting a lot more phone calls!  My previously silent phone was ringing more often.  I hadn’t really thought this through but in hindsight it was obvious since I was generating so many more ring points.

At some level, I could bit the bullet and just try giving out the Google Voice number and see what happens.  But, after a week of being back in my old routine, where my phone rarely rings and when I get a PhoneTag email message I can quickly see who called and why, I’m sticking with the old way for now.