Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Google Deal for SayNow to Make Google Voice More Interesting

I’ve been a Google Voice user since before it was even called Google Voice. Back in 2007, I was fascinated by the potential of GrandCentral–the service Google acquired and transformed into Google Voice.

For one thing, once I gave out my new number to a handful of friends, I had this one goofy friend for whom I recorded a custom greeting. Every time he would call, I’d let it go to voicemail and he’d start every message laughing at some silly in-joke I’d leave for him in the greeting. Okay, I grant you not many people would go to the trouble to do that, but if you knew this guy, you just might. Update: A few readers pointed out in the comments that this feature is re-enabled in Google Voice, and they’re correct though it’s not exactly easy to find.

Ever since GrandCentral became Google Voice, it’s been a lot less fun to use. That custom-greeting feature is gone, as are some of the funnier Web calling buttons that GrandCentral had offered. Maybe that’s one of the reasons behind today’s acquisition by Google of SayNow.

Details are scant about what Google has in mind, but a source close to the deal tells us that the intent on Google’s part is to make Google Voice “even better in a world of Skype and Facetime,” which implies that the next step for Google Voice is some form of video calling.

SayNow made a name for itself by giving celebrities like Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers (remember them?) and the cast of “Glee” a phone number for fans to call and hear the occasional message. And at the start of the football season, ESPN used it to send the message embedded below from former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka to some 1.6 million fans on Facebook. Another feature gave celebs a way to hold live conference calls that fans could dial in and listen to. The biggest SayNow client was the rapper Soulja Boy, who racked up 50 million calls totaling some 100 million minutes of call time. If nothing else, Google can learn from the team at SayNow how to promote the service and get people interested in using it.

SayNow also has a serious side, an enterprise application called Big Call, aimed at making conference calls for businesses easy. The company says it was built by an intern in a week.

The deal for SayNow comes on the same day that Google made its long-awaited number-porting feature official, suggesting that Google Voice is going to be the focus of a lot more time and attention in the coming months.

Ditka’s season-opening greeting for Facebook users is below.