GrandCentral, Where Are You?

By  |  Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 3:19 pm

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…


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. eyebee Says:

    I’m glad my wife and I got in before that cut-off too. I don’t give out anything but my Grand Central number. I can access the VMs from my computer and my cellphone, and I like the anti-spam feature. I can think of other features I’d like to see, such as messages that can be changed depending on the time of day for one.

    I too, look forward to its (hopefully) eventual re-launch

  2. JEF Says:

    I think you can apply for a beta invite. They are pretty generous in sending them out.

  3. Adam Teece Says:

    I loved the service too, but wish it would forward text messages. That is about the only thing that is missing. I am intrigued by the new service coming out called Amphibian made by the people at We will see how that turns out.

  4. g55g Says:

    I love the idea of only having one phone number for ever that just rings my other phones. I am dying to use this service (although I’m a little wary of yet more of my personal information and activities linked into Big Brother Google). Are there any alternatives?

  5. John Says:

    I love grandcentral. I use it everyday. I’m waiting for to come out of beta. That one is supposed to be the best alternative to grandcentral. British Telecom just bought ribbit. So they will have the incentive to give users what they want.

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