Nay-saying Innovation Through Blogging

This is probably a futile attempt to prevent a flood of discontent with a pinkie’s worth of words, but I’ll try anyway.

The so-called VoIP Blogosphere, which is rapidly moving from a mutual admiration society to a constantly-mention-each-other-in-order-to-jointly-grow-our-Google-dollars society, has grown enough to actually have an impact on the success of new products.

It looks, from posts from a number of sources in the past day or so, that the latest target of the chummy “me too” nay-sayers is GrandCentral (GC), a product that launched, in clearly marked “beta” form, three days ago.

The attacks are undeserved.

Carolyn Schuk wrote more extensively of GrandCentral here, so I’ll just describe the basic idea behind the brainchild of former Dialpad execs Craig Walker and Vincent Paquet: Get a phone number and use it as a sort of hub for all your phone services. Give your GC number to anyone you want, and when a call is made to you, the service will find you wherever you tell it to (your home phone, your cell, your work phone, your weekly meeting of the “Getting Things Done” support group, wherever). If you don’t answer, the call goes to a single voice mail account, stored on GC’s servers.

It’s a simple but powerful idea aimed at people with too many phone services, too many numbers and, for me most importantly, too many voice mail depots to keep track of.

Some of the criticisms — minor glitches when GrandCentral.com is viewed in Firefox, a clumsy address book import feature — can easily be dismissed as typical of a beta offering . . . and just as easily fixed in new releases.

The nay-sayers main beef is that they don’t need another phone number. I have 9, wrote Ken Camp. I have even more, Dameon Welch-Abernathy followed.

Perhaps GrandCentral is nothing special to people who collect phone numbers (for reasons that escape me) and have little trouble wading through an Asterisk conf file to make some sense of a mess of their own making.

For those of us who have trouble remembering our three numbers (home, cell and work), and find it annoying to check for voice mail at all three, being able to easily combine all our numbers into one is quite nifty.

And some of GrandCentral’s other features are definitely innovative. The ability to annotate voice mail messages for later referral, for example, is something I am finding very useful, and something that is not available with any other service (why not?). A single-click to mark a call as “spam,” an elegant method to record individualized outgoing greetings, and easily made customized outgoing ring tones are all interesting features.

The keyboard-armed critics of GrandCentral say they have too many numbers already. They probably also have too many telephone devices that they have played with and thrown in the their closets after 15 minutes. And they have 15 softphone clients installed on their computers, and about 8 different methods to make video calls.

I would want a simpler life too. That’s what Walker and Paquet are offering with GrandCentral. Let’s hope the bloggers don’t kill their efforts before they get it out of beta.

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  • aswath

    Based on my post (Aswath Weblog: GrandCentral Could be Grander), I will be a nay-sayer. But my points are two: there is no need to have a monthly subscription, if they imitate Rebtel kind of call flow; as a rule, I prefer a CPE based solution and not a service provider solution.

    Regarding the extra phone number, AIM PhoneLine also issues a new phone number. I guess, the trick is to round up a beloved partner (you know what I mean).

  • marcelo

    Interesting points, Aswath, and certainly more serious than the “I don’t want to change my habits by giving people a different phone number” criticism (especially since Grand Central can easily answer this complaint by offering number portability).

    GrandCentral does, indeed, convert an incoming call (from the caller to your GC number) into an outgoing call (from GC to your cell phone, landline, or wherever you point your GC number to). And its business model is predicated on charging for this service, which, in a somewhat round-about way, is the same as charging for termination (a-la-Vonage, etc.).

    GC gives away 100 minutes of such connections. Use that up and you can buy “a bucket” of 400 minutes for $9.99, or unlimited minutes for $14.99 per month, which may be a bit pricey for something that is being pitched primarily as a convenience.

    Ultimately, a CPE-based solution, as you write, may be preferable (though calls routed through a hardware device to a cell phone number would also, necessarily, convert an incoming call to outgoing). There are a couple of devices on the market that can offer some of the functionality of GC (specifically a device that includes some kind of call gateway, like the Linksys SPA3XXX series), but these have no way of acting as a voice mail central depot, like CG offers.

    A hardware PBX (such as Asterisk and, to a greater extent in that it integrates email and messaging, Communigate Pro ) can emulate more of CG’s functionality, but most definitely not its ease of use, accessibility and eye-catching appeal.

    Perhaps the hardware solution will come in the form of low-cost PBX appliances, which I do believe are coming soon but will take a while before they gain anything approaching critical mass.

    Will CG’s business model have to change over time as hardware solutions materialize? Of that I have no doubt. For now, CG’s solution is the best I’ve seen.