Back in May of 2007, I reviewed GrandCentral–a service that provides a virtual phone number with a seemingly limitless bag of tricks–for Slate. My verdict was mixed. But GrandCentral passed one important test: Sixteen months later, I’m still using it. In fact, I’m using it as Technologizer’s business line at the moment: It’ll ring my call phone or any other phone I want, lets me screen calls, and includes slick Web-based voicemail. Did I mention it’s free?
In other words, I discovered that even if every GrandCentral feature isn’t perfect in every respect, the service does so many interesting things that it can be pretty darn useful even if you only use a fraction of its features. I’d happily recommend that anyone who thinks it sounds intriguing give it a try. Except I can’t–because you can ‘t.
A little over a month after I wrote about GrandCentral, it was acquired by Google. Which promptly closed GrandCentral to new subscribers while it integrated the service with Google’s systems. It’s apparently still working on it; GrandCentral is still available for existing users, but has never reopened for new signups.
Recently, I pinged Google to see if there was any new news about the future of GrandCentral. A representative quickly e-mailed back with this statement: “Since we acquired the company, we’ve been migrating the service over to Google’s infrastructure and adding new features. Other than that, I’m afraid I don’t have more to add at this time.” Which is pretty much what the company said when it bought the service.
Of course, the fact that Google isn’t talking doesn’t mean it doesn’t intend to reopen GrandCentral, possibly in a version that’s even more interesting than the original one. I’m just a little worried that the fact that Google is Google means it doesn’t have any great incentive to work as quickly as GrandCentral fans and would-be fans might like: No matter how excited it is about GrandCentral, it’s probably not all that high on Google’s to-list for organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible.
Hopeful data point: Back in 2006, it bought a neat Web-based word processor called Writely and shut it down to new members for months while it integrated it. But it did, indeed, reopen it–and then it turned it into the word-processing component of Google Docs, which is a far bigger deal than Writely ever would have been on its own, and clearly a reasonably high priority at Google.
So while I’m worried that GrandCentral might fester, I’m also optimistic that it won’t. And I wouldn’t be particularly startled if Google relaunched it at any moment. I hope it does: I’m tired of people asking me about it and having to explain to them that they’d probably like it if only they could try it.
Oh, and if you want a more pessimistic take, check out Farhad Manjoo’s “The Google Black Hole” on Slate…