Facebook and T-Mobile Launch Bobsled. With Huge Privacy Glitch. Or is it By Design? Skype, Google Voice and Telcos Beware, Anyway…

Out of left field, T-Mobile and Facebook launched Bobsled, a VOIP service that allows voice calls to anyone on your Facebook list for free.  At this moment the entire blogging world is busy writing about it, so I skip the basics… and just run to some funny experience while testing it.

First, here’s how you call from your Chat list: click the phone button.. then voila!:


As it happens, none of my contacts pick up my test call – I suppose the feature is too new, nobody knows where the funny sound comes from or how to react.  They will get used to it.  But here’s the real surprise: it has VoiceMail.  To the World.  Literally:

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve » Zoli Erdos)


Does Sprint Limit Using Google Voice?

(See update @ the bottom)
Well, this did not take long. I’ve just speculated that Google & Sprint wanted testers before the commercial rollout of the Android-driven HTC EVO on June 4th – a few hours later I see that theory proven.  I ran into trouble setting up Google Voice, and called the special number given to Google I/O attendees.  Apparently it’s a “discovery period” customer support group, and the rep I talked to was very (unusually!) courteous and helpful – at least she tried to, within the limits of information available to her.  Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.  Here’s the skinny:

I’m in the somewhat rare situation of being able to compare the HTC Incredible on Verizon and the EVO on Sprint, released a month apart, with essentially the same setup, same software releases.  Here’s part of the Google Voice configuration screen on both:

Google Voice Verizon vs Sprint

And yes, the shocking discovery: it appears that Sprint limits using Google Voice to international calls only.  Let me rephrase that: other parts (e.g. voicemail, transcription..etc) of the Google Voice service will still work, but if you can’t initiate calls using your GV number, than guess what, the other party will see your Sprint mobile number, that’s where they will call you back…etc – in other words the key concept of “One number to show”, which is what Google Voice integration is all about, is dead.

The Sprint rep told me she hoped it was a software glitch that would soon be updated, but frankly, the different wording suggests otherwise.  I’m afraid it’s a business decision by Sprint, and one that should be made very, very public.  Full Google Voice integration happens to be a key decision-making factor when switching to Android, for yours truly, forTechCrunch’s Mike Arrington and likely many others.  Not having it could prove to be a show stopper.

I hope it’s not final – Sprint, Google, HTC, whoever – please chime in here.  We need answers.

Update: The short answer, and it’s a good one, it’s not Sprint policy, just an installation glitch. Details:

All of a sudden I remembered that a few weeks ago when I set up Google Voice on the HTC Incredible with Verizon, it refused the accept my existing Google Voice number, so I tricked it: went ahead with the route of setting up a new number, but input y existing Google Voice number, then it worked.

I suppose something got fixed since then, as the Sprint EVO allowed me to link up with the existing GV account, albeit with the limitation shown above… so I started to wonder if I should try the same trick here.  I deleted the Sprint cell number from Google Voice, signed out on the EVO and even deleted the entire Google Voice app (probably an unnecessarily step, but who knows…).   Then I proceeded with the “new number” setup, but of course using the existing account information.  Got into a couple of loops with error messages, nevertheless following all prompts both on the mobile and the GV web side finally resulted in the perfect Google Voice installation, with identical results to the Incredible version (the phone shown on the left).  I’m a happy Google Voice user again.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)


Fun with Google Voice Transcriptions

google-voice I love this service, have been using it ever since the early Grand Central days, and I really hope my Google Voice number is the one and only final phone number.  Among many other benefits, I no longer have to check voicemail, take note of actions required and return the call – it all comes transcribed as an email, and I have a folder (label) just for voicemail.

Unlike some other services, Google does not combine computer power with humans, it’s a purely automated function.  Let’s be honest, transcription quality is quite crappy – but so far it’s been just good enough for me to at least grasp what the key message was about, ignoring the fine details… but today’s message is beyond hope:

Hi old Good Morning Zoli, This is on and I’m calling from. I’ll choose to India. Dot Com. Holly caught dog. G. E. The inquiry from y’all. So I don’t really want and what some P D of the fax of the do get them as P D F of majestic of the trip to the I don’t know if you would about the 05 I send you an email at all. Do you write down and if you can reply to that to dot with all the questions. Doctors needed. Lester guy who for the Isaac. You can also call me back. My number is masked number again is, masked alright expecting a call. Thank you. You have a great day. Bye bye.

Wow. No, Holly caught dog.  Perhaps Mark is right, time to re-check PhoneTag.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve )


Why Isn’t There a Reliable Pay-As-You-Go Internet Fax Service?

The title pretty much says it all, and frankly, how is this possible in 2007 is beyond me.

But wait, isn’t it 2009 (almost 2010?).  Yes it is. An therein lies the rub.  I wrote this two years ago, and the fact that most of it is still valid is quite sad.  Fax technology should be dead  – it’s ridiculously unpractical to translate meaningful text to dumb image, when on the receiving end they need meaningful text again. Yet in many professions faxes are still used, and from time to time all of us are forced to dealing with it.  That means finding a service appropriate for the ad-hoc, just-in-case use, nothing less, nothing more.

I’ve had a trusted old eFax numer for perhaps a decade, never gave it a lot of thought.  However, some glitches prompted me to check again. Here’s an updated version of the matrix I published in 2007 – the comparison of 10 Internet fax services by Top Ten Reviews:


What’s wrong here?  There’s not a single offer tailored for individual ad-hoc users.  I’m sure a busy office has enough fax traffic to justify the $10 or so that most of these services charge, but as a consumer, the grand total of faxes I receive in a year is perhaps 2-3, and I don’t send more than 5 per year.   $10 is not a huge amount, but why would I pay a monthly subscription optimized for 1-200 pages monthly traffic?

The free version of eFax (btw, how could the granddaddy of Internet fax services escape the comparison?) allows free inbound services, but no sending at all.   I don’t expect free sending, but why can’t I pay per use, only for the pages I send?   Oh, well, since the previous (2007) vintage of this post, I’ve found two free / pay-per-fax services that solve the outbound problem:  FaxZero and GotFreeFax.  Very well – problem solved.  Except now there’s trouble on the inbound front.

In the past two years two of my eFax numbers “disappeared”, and so did an alternative one @ FaxDigits (in fact FaxDigits no longer seems to exist). For now, any time I need to give my fax number to someone, I need to send a test fax to it first to check if it’s still operational.  That’s crap.  Yes, I get what I pay for, you might say – which is zero.  But like I said, I’m willing to pay, just not $10 per month – that would make the 2-3 faxes I receive par year really expensive.  I can’t believe I am the only one with such usage pattern and there is no reliable provider with a usage-based pricing plan to match such usage.

I understand it may not be economically feasible for a service provider to maintain all these phone numbers and charge pennies – so perhaps the solution is lump it with another service that already runs millions of phone numbers – Google Voice?  Let’s hope they will step up. 🙂

Finally, here’s Dilbert’s take on the issue.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve )