The TechCrunch Quick Guide To GrandCentral

We’ve followed new telephone management startup GrandCentral since its debut in September 2006. The company has deservedly received a lot of blogger and mainstream press: Tim O’Reilly said “The Web 2.0 Address Book May Have Arrived” when talking about it, and the New York Times did a long overview article in March.

The basic idea around GrandCentral is “one phone number for all your phones, for life.” As we change jobs, homes and cell phones, there are a lot of phone numbers to keep track of, and keeping everyone up to date with your most recent phone numbers is a real cost. If you use GrandCentral you can give out a single phone number. What happens when that person calls that number depends on his/her relationship to you, and what you are doing at the time.

Our follow up coverage wasn’t entirely positive. In late March we noted some hiccups with the service that led some beta testers to abandon it. But we’ve continued to use the service, covered its mobile site launch, and in general I think it is one of the standout startups of the last twelve months.

For those of you who aren’t using it yet, I’ve put together my user notes over the last couple of months. There are a lot of features to get used to, and to get the most out of the service you should be aware of at least some of them.

This is a service to keep an eye on – They are certainly still working out some of the bugs, but the GrandCentral team has created a truly useful service with less than $6 million in capital. I would not be surprised, given this acquisition climate, to see someone pick them up in the near term.

Here’s the TechCrunch Quick Guide to GrandCentral:

Getting Started

GrandCentral will be free for light users, but most users will end up paying $10/month for the service once a lot of people start using it as the primary way to contact you by phone.

The center of the Grand Central universe is your Grand Central phone number. This is (theortically) the last phone number you will ever give out, so picking one that you like is important. The GC registration process begins by picking an area code or U.S. state. Once you’ve done that, GC will show you a number of available phone numbers. If you want to see if any of the numbers spell anything interesting or memorable, check out this site, which will show you various words made from the numbers.

After you’ve chosen your GC phone number you go through a standard registration process and then tell GC your home, work and cell phone numbers. When someone calls your GC phone number, GC will ring your real phones based on rules you set.

The Basics

A big hurdle to using GC is the fact that no one knows it’s your new phone number, and they keep calling your old number. To get the maximum benefit from the service you need to route as many calls through it as possible. The only way to do that is to let your contacts know that your new GC number is the best way to reach you. Before you send out a mass email and reprint a thousand business cards, though, make sure you plan on sticking with the service.

The next thing you need to do is record a greeting that people will hear when they call the number. You can customize greetings by specific callers or groups, so business callers can get one message, and friends can get another.

You’ll also want to import your address book. Supported formats are Outlook/Outlook Express, Yahoo, Gmail, vCards and CSV files. You can also add contacts manually.

Then you set up rules for phone calls. Have business contacts always ring your cell phone. Have family ring all of your phones. Friends go to your home number. Or whatever. You can also set certain people to go right to voicemail if you never want to talk to them directly.

You can also temporarily set all of your calls to go immediately to voicemail or to forward to another phone (this is great if you are out of town).

Handling Calls and Voicemails

Once you start taking calls you will fall in love with the service.

When someone calls your number they are asked to record their name unless they are recognized as a contact by caller ID. Your phones then start ringing based on the rules you’ve set. When you answer, the GC automated system tells you who is calling and asks you what you want to do with it. You can either accept it, send it to voicemail, send it to voicemail and listen in, or accept it and record the call. Hitting “4” during a call turns recording on or off. If you are listening in on a voicemail, just hit “*” and you can jump into the call.

Voicemails are sent to your inbox – they can be reviewed by calling in or via your computer (see “mobile” below as well). All voicemails can be forwarded to others, or you can request an embed code to place it on a website.

GrandCentral has said that they will soon be releasing a feature that automatically transcribes voicemails into text and will deliver them to you via email or SMS.

Mobile Access

GrandCentral recently released a Mobile product. Visit via a mobile browser and get a stripped down version of your inbox and other core features.

You can listen to and administer your voicemails directly from this mobile web page, without dialing into your voicemail system directly.

Advanced Features

GrandCentral also has a number of advanced features that will appeal to some users.

  • CallSwitch: Hit “*” while talking and your other phones will ring. You can then answer any of them and the call will transfer over
  • WebCall: embed a call button on your website and let people call you (the caller will not see your phone number)
  • Gizmo: GC will use your Gizmo ID as a forwarding phone number – get calls on your computer (great when traveling abroad)