I’ve been chatting with Craig Walker of GrandCentral over the last little while mostly about new GrandCentral features and the Canadian phone numbers coming soon (yeah!), but I also asked him about Project CARE (Communications and Respect for Everybody). It is a social program they started right out of the gate aimed at helping homeless people more easily communicate with family, employers, social services, doctors, and so on. Using GrandCentral, individuals in need receive a free local phone number and voicemail box for life. The program is currently offered in the San Francisco area but there are plans to go nationwide.
What impresses me about Project CARE is that GrandCentral saw how their technology and services could really benefit people in need, right from the inception of the company.
“We always wanted to use our services to help the community around us” says Craig, “and we strongly feel that private companies can be very effective when deploying new and enhanced technologies to help social problems. We focused on the homeless because we realized that without a local phone number of voicemail system there is virtually no way to get out of the cycle of homelessness. How do you get a job if thereâ€™s no way to reach you? Housing? Health Care? We also started working with a number of battered womenâ€™s shelters who have similar issues of needing an ability to communicate with the outside world when everything else is lost.”
We had a recent dump of snow in our area, enough to close schools for a day and wreak havoc on commuter traffic, and my son asked me about what the homeless do in weather like this. Well, what do they do? I think it’s an unfortunate fact that we don’t generally think of people in desparate situations until our own situation turns a little upside down. Indeed, living on the street in winter is something my kids can’t comprehend. Kudos to GrandCentral for putting their great product to greater use.
I just noticed that Andy Abramson’s got Sitofono (www.sitofono.com) on his blog now. Sitofono is a web-based toll free service that lets you put a “call us” button on your website or blog for a flat fee. Customers (or loyal fans) just click the button to call you free of charge. Calls can be made either with a microphone headset or a regular landline phone.
Judging by Andy’s earlier post, he’s probably got GrandCentral going on this number too so your call will be routed to wherever he is or to a unified voicemail box that keeps track of all your wonderful feedback. But wait, before that happens he’s letting iotum determine if he’s available, how he’s available (like on his mobile, phone, or instant messenger), and of course how important you are so he won’t miss your call. Wonder who’s doing the dishes?
While I can appreciate Tom Keating’s wholehearted enthusiasm for the rash of gadget deals that abound today, Black Friday and all, I do pause ever so slightly when I remember that isn’t this time supposed to be well, Thanksgiving, as in the Giving of Thanks?
I’m hardly the first person to point out that giving thanks with the right hand hand whilst brandishing our credit cards with the left seems a little crazy. In Canada, many of us watch American news stations showing the 5 am line-ups, door crashing mayhem, and fist fighting moms. But we’re no better. The traditional Boxing Day Sale, the day after the biggest “giving” day of the year, is when Canadians lose their heads.
Who started this anyway? Okay, enough sour grapes.
As usual, Carolyn Schuk over at Voxilla writes a great post summarizing Skype’s appeal to business users. The bottom line is that today, Skype works well for a “small workgroup to increase productivityâ€, but it just doesn’t bring it for all around business-class communications.
One appealing feature of PhoneGnome is that it can automatically detect when you are making a local call and when you are dialing long distance. However, local dialing in my area is 10-digits. In other words, I have to dial the area code then the number. In many other places, local calls are still the 7-digit number which poses no problem.
In my case, PhoneGnome thought that 10-digit local numbers were long distance and so placed the call using my Internet telephone service (I use Gizmo Project).
There’s an easy solution. Here’s what Televolution tech support had to say:
- Log in to your PhoneGnome account.
- Click Settings > Advanced Settings.
- In Local Dialing Options, click the Custom button. DON’T change any other option on this page.
- Click Save.
This did the trick. Tech support clarifies that sometimes PhoneGnome miss-detects a given number but usually this setup is adequate for the vast majority of users. If, after making this change, your PhoneGnome still doesn’t automatically detect local numbers, contact tech support for further instructions.Another way to force PhoneGnome to dial using the local telephone service is to dial ##, listen for a high-pitched dial tone, then dial the number.
We just had our first winter storm blow through. The result was twenty-seven hours of no power. After the first two hours my son proclaimed the most boring day of his life (no computer, no Nintendo). In the midst of trying almost every home VOIP solution under the sun, I’ve still hung onto my landline. Good thing too. Even my cell phone battery died. Of course, my PhoneGnome didn’t mind. Without power or Internet connection, landline calls worked just fine thanks.
You may already know that I’m a relatively new PhoneGnome user, but so far I’ve been quite impressed with what this playing card-sized box gives me. When I spoke with David Beckenmeyer a few weeks ago he hinted that some great updates were in the pipe designed to really expand the PhoneGnome community. Ta-da…introducing PhoneGnome 2.0.
Today PhoneGnome 2.0 is available and I encourage you to read all about it on the PhoneGnome Blog page. Here, David works through what he and his team found were the biggest objections to PhoneGnome and how the company overcomes them.
Here’s a summary of what PhoneGnome 2.0 offers:
-Web activated calling: PhoneGnome uses your web browser to set up calls between two phones so there’s no software, microphones, headsets or other devices required. To use web activated calling, you must be a registered PhoneGnome user. Reigistration on the PG site is free and calls to other registered users are also free.
-Free PhoneGnome software: Download free software to use your PC or laptop as a fully-functioning telephone. Headset/speakers and microphone required.
-Original PhoneGnome box now a new lower price: a great deal at $59.00.
Dan Rosenbaum of FierceVOIP has posted his choices for best of breed for 2006, the “Fierce 15″. He casts a wide net, including infrastructure, enterprise and consumer VOIP solutions in his list. A few companies I recognize, many I don’t. Folks with important end-user applications or services of note include: iotum, Jajah, GrandCentral, SunRocket, SIPPhone (GizmoProject). To be considered “fierce”, he says companies have to explain themselves and their products clearly, without geekspeak. In many cases it was difficult looking past the sizzle to find the meat. I couldn’t agree more. Have a read. Agree or disagree!
I recently bemoaned the fact that I was having a hard time recruiting followers to my SightSpeed network. SightSpeed is an easy-to-use video calling application that lets you make free video and voice calls.
I found that asking friends to join using the “Invite” feature generated an autoresponder-type email that at least one of my buddies deleted without even reading. It looked too suspicious.
Peter Csathy, SightSpeed CEO, points out that you can embed a click-to-call link in any email, or paste HTML code for clickable “call me” buttons into your web site or blog. The email recipient or web user clicks the link or button to launch a SightSpeed plugin that automatically dials you up. You’re not asking them to download or trial anything.
I tried it and it works great. At work, my husband could see and hear me, but I only had the audio. He also started a text chat while we were talking from his end.
To use click-to-call links or buttons:
- In the SightSpeed window, click the Account button (top right).
- In the Account Management menu, click Account Information > My SightSpeed.
- Copy the Easy Email Link or Private Link code or copy the HTML code for the SightSpeed web button of your choice.
- Paste the code into your email, web site, or blog.
I’ve been playing catchup a little this week so I’m reading the flurry of posts that started with SightSpeed’s Peter Csathy on Video as the Next Big Thing in Social Networking. Luca Filigheddu and Ken Camp had some interesting things to say. However, PhoneBoy really put it together for me.
First, he says that until video is literally built in everywhere, like right in my laptop or as part of a web site, the masses on the whole may not bother. I see this already in my efforts to get friends and family to join SightSpeed. After all, it’s free, it works, and it’s easy. What’s the holdup? Seems that my friends are either a little suspicious of something FREE off the Internet (what’s the catch) or they simply don’t have a webcam. Why can’t they could just rush down to Staples immediately and spend $40 on a web cam and some gel pens? Not everyone’s a Staples geek like me. If the technology isn’t right there staring them in the face, it’s not a priority.
Phoneboy goes on to say that even if technology catches up and “the ability to do video is as ubiquitous as a mobile phone”, people may still not use it to interact on the Internet. It depends on what you have to say and how you want to say it. For example, I can convince my parents to use SightSpeed because they see huge value in the ability to see and talk to their kids in other cities. My friends are lukewarm on the idea of video calling me just to chat because it seems unnecessary (and they can’t do dishes or look for car keys at the same time).
That said, I’m still trying to get friends, family and colleagues into my SightSpeed network. I may have to resort to webcams as Christmas presents. Because SightSpeed has a great feature that lets you email video messages, I’m just gonna video mail them until a) they tell me to stop, or b) give in and try it.