Just about two years ago, we wrote about Google giving away free voicemail accounts to homeless people in San Francisco. While a very nice thing to do, it was also a bit of marketing genius by both Google and SF mayor Gavin Newsom. After all, they were getting great publicity for giving away something that was already free (GrandCentral — which is now known as Google Voice). We wondered if they wouldn’t pull the same stunt in the future. Well, it’s the future; and they are.
Again, this is actually a very nice thing they’re doing, but it’s also an ingenious way to promote what Google clearly considers to be one of its killer products: Google Voice. This time, they’re giving out Google Voice accounts to U.S. veterans in Washington D.C. as an extension of their Project CARE program. This Saturday, Google is joining a dozen or so other Washington D.C. organizations at an event at the D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center to hand out Project CARE cards that will give veterans a unique Google Voice phone number and voicemail account.
As Google notes:
In today’s connected world, many of us don’t think twice about picking up the phone to place or receive a call. However, for a homeless individual, a phone number can be an important lifeline, connecting you with prospective employers, health care providers, family and friends.
Of course, giving away these phone numbers (which again, are free) doesn’t really mean much without an actual phone line or mobile device to attach it to. And Google doesn’t really explain how they’re going to serve these veterans who don’t have any access to a phone. But they do say that they will be helping them to set up the accounts, so presumably they’ll ask them if there is some other phone number of someone they know that they can attach the new Google Voice number to.
The grander gesture would be for Google to give out a bunch of Android phones along with the Google Voice accounts. They don’t have to be the next high-priced Nexus Ones, but I’m sure Google has plenty of G1s laying around, which as yesterday’s latest and greatest Android toy, Android fans are setting aside to jump to the new phones. That would be a nice little extension of bringing back the “don’t be evil” slogan.
Update: A Google spokesperson has reached out with the following additional information about the program:
I wanted to just clarify that Project CARE phone numbers are different from regular Google Voice accounts in that they don’t actually need to be linked to a working phone. When you setup the account, people can call your Project CARE number, just like a regular phone number, and you will be able to access those messages from any computer (e.g. at the library or a shelter).
That’s good, though I could see getting access to a computer still being a bit of a challenge for some. To be clear, Google also verified there is no VoIP element to this different version of Google Voice, so you can’t make outbound calls using this system — the Android phone would be good for that.