Where is it: www.voice.google.com
What it is: A service to tie your voice and texting requirements together.
How does it work: There are two aspects to this service:
Phone - You can get a telephone number in an area code of your choice, they will even give you a limited choice of the prefix and the final number. From here it works similar to any other phone number, but with enriched features. When someone calls your Google Voice number, it will forward the call to any, and all numbers that you program into the system. It's possible for someone calling your Voice number to actually be ringing your cell, home, and office phone at the same time. Whichever one you answer on, your then connected. (The calling person will not know what phone you're answering on.) If you don't answer, then the Voice message system takes over, takes a message, and sends you an email transcript of the message. (The quality of the transcript varies greatly from message to message.) To place a call, you can initiate the call from your computer, or smartphone app. The person you're calling will see only your Voice number regardless of what phone your actually using. Each call received is saved in a record, as is each call. Each record can be individually deleted. There is also a notepad application so you may annotate each call individually. Finally, you can block individual numbers with a choice of one of several messages. Any calls and texts handled on your cell phone do incur the time/cost of your cell carrier. It is also possible to place calls from within Gmail.
Texting - Using the same number, you can send and receive texts just like on your phone. One additional feature however is that received texts are emailed to the email address of your choice, and you can respond by replying to the email. (This type of response will appear as a normal text response to the other person.)
What data do they collect: What you supply them with, for example: telephone number, name, email, etc. Additionally, they may also collect data such as you IP address, place cookies on your system, etc. They do not disclose information to third parties. This service becomes part of your overall Google presence, so any other information on their other services will be tied in such as from Gmail, YouTube, Plus, etc. For the transcription service, you are given the option of releasing the call recording and transcription to Google to help improve the service.
How well does it work: I've used this system for several years and it works nicely. I give student and parents this number. I don't really get many parents calling me, but they always appreciate the ease of contact. Students have never called me but tend to text an occasional question about an assignment, or other related class issue. If anything, I think that both the parents and students under utilize the service, but it does at the least provide the possibility of better communication.
How do they support the site: There are three ways Google makes money off this service:
Foreign calls - They charge for calls to foreign countries. I'm not really sure of the actual rates, but it appears to be, in general 2¢ a minute: and they provide a 10¢ credit to start.
Businesses - Businesses can sign up for paid accounts that have additional features such as consecutive numbers, shared mail boxes, etc.
Sponsored Ads - Like Gmail, Voice may present ads on the page.
Trivia: This service started out life as GrandCentral, and was purchased by Google in October 2009.