Posted in: Beta, grandcentral, voiceapps, voip

Grand Central – I like the application but there’s one big catch

I have been playing around with Grand Central for the last week or so. Grand Central’s basic value proposition is that they give you one phone number which you can then route to any other number you choose based on business rules. As a former Vonage subscriber, it’s very similar to the functionality that Vonage offered — I was able to forward my VoIP number to any other number I liked or have almost any combination of numbers ring simultaneously or in sequence.

Grand Central has a lot of really nice and useful features for users. Instead of going into the laundry list of configurable features, I will do my best to summarize it as follows; the more of your private information you give Grand Central (your address book, for example) and the more you invest in business rules, the more you can customize the service. For my basic trial, I chose not to upload my address book (I realize this diminishes some of the functionality you can get from the CallerID and group business rules, but I generally don’t hand out my address book to any old service) and chose to go with most of the default presets. I have the service set to ring my mobile phone whenever anyone calls me on my Grand Central number and have replaced the Skype number on my email signature with my Grand Central number.

One thing I really like about Grand Central is the experience I have as a call recipient. I have my service configured to “screen all unknown callers” – this has the effect of requiring anyone who calls me to verbally identify himself/herself before I accept the call — think of it as voice caller ID. I also get to see the caller ID number as well, which is a nice touch. I also like the ability to listen in on a voicemail message as someone is leaving it and jump in and take the call if the content is interesting.

Ironically, the features that are most appealing to me as a user tend to be the ones that are most annoying to someone trying to call me. A handful of folks expressed some shock/surprise at the “voice caller ID” aspect of the service, but they were willing to play along and identify themselves. The one person whose voicemail I interrupted to take the call was mildly annoyed by the fact that I had the ability to listen in on voicemail and jump in if I found the content interesting — it basically undermined their belief that they only got my voicemail when I was in fact unavailable. I am not sure that I would make use of the ability to jump into a voicemail (as I used to be able to do with my old school answering machine) again for future calls.

Overall, I think this is a very well done service. However, there is one big gotcha — I am not really looking to hand out yet another phone number to my business associates or personal friends. This number, for my uses at least, will always occupy a second-tier status in that I feel fine freely giving it out to folks with full knowledge that it can be canceled, changed, or otherwise modified if it gets abused – I think of it as a shill for my real number. I am not sure how valuable my “second number” is or how much I would pay to keep it, but I do know that it lets me do some things that are clunky for me to do with my SkypeIn number.