Just for fun, I tracked the other day how I communicate with people. Not how I interact with people, or “socialize,” but how I carry on a direct, one-to-one conversation with someone. The results were a little ridiculous: I used Facebook Chat, Twitter messages and replies, AIM, Gmail Chat, text messages, phone calls, Skype, and even the chat within Words with Friends, a Scrabble game I play with my girlfriend.
That’s totally backwards. Instead of making communication easier and simpler, it’s turned into a siloed, time-intensive experience that involves tons of inboxes, different means and methods of communication, multiple devices, and a lot of effort I don’t want to have to give.
So I humbly propose an alternative. Instead of the nine things I use (and the at-least-that-many you probably do too), let’s use one system that can handle 99% of our communication: Google Voice.
Google Voice is often thought of as a replacement for your cell phone carrier, but it isn’t that at all. What it is, is a better way of managing short-form communication. Here are a few of the great features of Google Voice (many of which I’ve already talked about):
- Access it from anywhere – Google Voice is available anywhere you have the Internet. There are mobile apps, a great site, and a great website for when you’re at a computer. Since a lot of communication happens on our phones, it’s incredibly well-integrated with your phone, but it works elsewhere too.
- Searchable – Search is the one thing Google does better than anyone else, and having all your communication easily searchable and retrievable is no small feat.
- Multi-method – Google Voice can handle your voicemail and your text messages, and can interface with your email client or within itself. Phone calls aren’t going away, but Voice handles those just fine.
- Excellent filtering – Want your friends to hear one greeting, your co-workers another, and random strangers just to be ignored? You can do that.
Here’s what I want: I want for everyone to be defined by their phone number again. It worked before as a primary way of getting in touch with someone, and I want it again. I’m tired of saying “I’m @piercedavid on Twitter, davep3355 on AIM,” and defining my place to them ad nauseum. I want to be a ten-digit phone number that everyone knows what to do with.
Since Google Voice became open to everyone, anyone can sign up and get a Google Voice number. Once you start using it, I think you’ll see how nice it is to be able to send and receive text messages from your computer or phone, listen to your voicemails online, search to find the directions you were looking for, and more. Here are a few more reasons Google Voice is better than our current systems:
- One identity – As mentioned above, you’re a phone number, and everyone can get in touch with you regardless of their software, operating system, phone carrier, or whatever else.
- One inbox – instead of checking 11 things every morning, wouldn’t it be nice to just log in to Google Voice and see what you’ve missed?
- It’s Free – It doesn’t cost anything extra to use Google Voice, especially if you use it from the computer. Text messages are free, you can make calls from your computer for free, and you technically don’t even need a phone.
- Short messages – Text messages will let you send up to 160 characters. While I would argue that 99% of the time, particularly in the IM/Twitter/Facebook chat spaces, that’s more than enough, you can send up to five text messages at a time, which gives you a chance to talk about more. But long conversations full of short messages are easier to follow and respond to than 1,000 word emails anyway.
- No “online” necessary – If you’re offline, or out of service, it doesn’t matter. The best feature of email is that your inbox just waits for you, and being out of touch doesn’t cost you anything. This is the same: do what you need to do, and your inbox will be there when you’re back.
- Conversations by person – Instead of arbitrary “subjects,” Voice organizes the conversations you’re having by the person you’re having them with. It makes more sense, if you ask me: how much more often do I remember “I was talking about that with Claire the other day” than “that email subject was “hey look at this!”?
Now, I won’t pretend that Google Voice can replace email for long-form and document-based conversation. But for basic communication between two people, if I had it my way, we’d all talk over Google Voice from now on. It’s easier to find people, faster and more convenient, and just a smarter solution for chatting.
Who’s with me? If you are, sign up here and pass it on! Let’s make this a thing.
If you’re looking for ways to get even more out of Google Voice, here’s a couple of great links: