What is Google Voice and Why is it Great for Teachers?

Telephone operators, 1952

Google Voice started out as Grand Central, a call routing service that a few bright guys (Craig Walker & Vincent Paquet) started a few years ago. Google saw the opportunity to disrupt the telecom world with Grand Central, and snatched it up. So what is it? Basically Google Voice is an independent call router and voicemail system. I'm going to give a brief overview and tell you how I use it.

It's a Number Without a Phone

The idea is that instead of having a phone with an "attached" number (the traditional way of doing things), Google Voice gives you only the number (for life, and for free!), and that number is completely independent. It does not "reside" on a device. Does that have you scratching your head? Read on.

When someone dials your GV number, many things can happen from that point. For example:

1. Google recognizes the incoming call as being from your mother and passes it through to ring your home phone, mobile phone, and work phone, all at the same time so you are sure to get the call. Or calls from your friends only ring your mobile and home numbers, but never your work phone. Whatever you want. You can have up to six different numbers ring when you get a call, in any combination depending upon the rules you create on the Google Voice website. I put my Google Voice number on my syllabi so parents and teachers can reach me. Much better than an office phone (and for those of you who share an office phone, this is a great solution).

2, If you choose, Google will send all callers of a certain type straight to voicemail if you so choose. For example, all unrecognized callers, or calls from that friend of yours that always results in a thirty-minute conversation. ;-)

3. Google receives a call from a pesky sales person that you have identified, and you will never hear from that person again. Their voicemail goes to your junk box. Or you can block that number completely and the sales person will get an "out of service" message. How often have you wanted that for your landline or mobile number?

4. Different Outgoing Greetings: People you have tagged as "friends" or "family" hear an informal voicemail greeting from you ("Hey what's up? Leave me a message) whereas calls from your students' parents get a different greeting (Hello this is Mr. Robertson, sorry I wasn't available for your call, I'll get back to you as soon as I can).

Call Screening

When you "take" a call, you don't have to be connected with your caller. You have the option to listen in to messages as they are being left (call screening). It's a very cool feature to have when you are out and about (same as listening to your old message machine at home). Sometimes you can't or don't want to take a call, but you don't want to wait for the voicemail to come in either. Screening is the perfect solution. GV also lets you break in and take the call while the person is leaving a message if you so choose. You can also send calls directly to voicemail after Google tells you who is on the line.

Call Translation

After Google purchased Grand Central, they added voice translation. I have found this to be a great feature. Say you are at a meeting where you can listen to voicemail. Google sends you a text translation of the message as email. I have to say, it works great. Not perfectly, but it usually gets 95% right, enough to know what the call was about. You also get the voicemail as an audio attachment. All of your voicemail is available on the GV webpage as well, where you can review, add the caller to contacts, etc. Basically you never have to write down message details again. Much like gmail, Google has plenty of storage so you never need to delete your messages.

Number Permanence

I really like the idea of having a number that stays with me. There are many cases where I don't want to give out my mobile or home number. Or have you gone through the ordeal of getting a new phone number and trying to notify everyone? With Google Voice it doesn't matter if you get a new office number, mobile number, or drop your land line number. You simply give everyone your GV number. Since I have the spam options on GV, I don't hesitate to give it out. I give out my GV number for all business transactions (utilities, comcast, etc.). I don't want those companies having my mobile number, and now it's never necessary.

Call Routing

Basically Google is acting as a call routing system. Somebody calls your GV number, and then Google switches the call wherever you need it to go. You also use it to make calls so that your caller will see the call as coming from your Google Voice number rather than your mobile, office number, etc.

For example, when you are listening to voicemail you can return the call by pressing the number 2. When you do, GV dials the person's number so that they see your GV number, not your mobile or wherever you are listening to your voicemails. Then Google connects the call to that phone. Another use: You can put a "call me" button on your website. People can call you without even knowing your GV number at all! They press the button, enter their number, and Google calls you both and connects the call. Slick!

Google also added SMS and international calling. SMS is totally free (and unlimited).

Should You Get It?

As you can see, Grand Central was a very forward looking idea. Google was wise to buy it out. Add on top of that the things Google has added and you have a very disruptive technology. It has been working perfectly for me. When people call my number at school, I have changed my outgoing message asking them to write down my Google Voice number and use it exclusively. This way I don't have people leaving messages for me on the school's outdated voicemail system. For those of you who have newer voicemail systems at school (for example the type that emails you the message) Google Voice may not be a high priority. But for me it has been great. No more dialing into the school system and pressing buttons to navigate about. I just hit the Google Voice website.

Other uses might include obtaining a Google Voice number for your parents organization. There are times when your parents don't want their personal phone numbers being used. Google Voice could be the perfect solution. You could also grab a Google Voice number to serve as a ticket or special event hotline. Possibilities are endless.

Google Voice requires a gmail account and you must request an invite. Go to: http://voice.google.com

UPDATE: There's an app for that! The Google Voice app works great on the iPhone and Android. And you can also port your home number to GV and ditch the land line if you like!

Infinitec officially launches IUM ad hoc streaming device: ships in July for $129 -- Engadget

So... you have a movie on your personal laptop and want to show it in class. Do you (a) email the huge file so you can download it to the computer that is attached to the LCD projector, or (b) hook up your personal computer to your LCD projector (wasting valuable time) or (c) stream the media from your personal laptop to the computer that is already hooked up to your LCD projector?

I'm going with C, and for about $129.

E-MU PIPEline: Wireless audio with low latency

Recently I wrote about the Sony Blutetooth receiver/transmitter. One thing that I don't like about using Bluetooth is the latency. For example, I have a midi keyboard as part of my teaching station and I really can't use it to play in time because the Bluetooth is delayed. Audio is therefore also out of sync if I project videos from the LCD projector that is on my cart.

This solution does not use Bluetooth so you can't pair your iPhone or Touch to it, but if you use a recording/teaching cart and want to funnel the output of your D/A converter wirelessly to your stereo, this looks like a great solution. It was designed for allowing guitarists to go wireless, as well as an in-ear monitoring system, so the latency specs (under six milliseconds) are excellent. These units can also run off an internal rechargeable battery for about five hours. $99 bucks, and you'll need two. Range of almost 50 feet, so better than Bluetooth in that regard as well.

What is lala.com and why should I care?

A few months ago I heard a rumor that Apple was thinking about buying a music streaming site called lala.com. Well, I had never heard of it, so I spent the next few days checking it out. They have since acquired it (mainly to get the talented programmers folded into the iTunes team) but it is still up and running.

You need to check it out too, and I'll tell you why. Do any of these things interest you?

1. You can put your entire digital library online for FREE and listen to it from any computer.

2. You can preview new music in its entirety rather than just a 30 second clip.

3. You can buy streaming rights (they call it a "Web Song") to new music for one thin dime and listen via the web whenever you like.

4. You can also download songs for 89 cents. 79 if you already own the Web Song.

5. You can link to your friends and get/make suggestions about different music.

6. You can make a playlist and embed that list onto any website where people can listen to the entire list (once) for FREE.

Sound unique? It is, and clearly there are some ideas here that interest the likes of Apple. Who knows what Apple will decide to do with their new acquisition, but I decided to dive in.

I have to tell you, it's great having access to my entire library online. Lala has an app called the "Music Mover." Basically it looks at your collection and matches it to its licensed catalog. Anything they already have is linked to your account, and (here's the cool part) anything they don't have gets uploaded and hosted. No limitations, no cost. That is pretty sweet.

The embedding feature is great. Recently my colleague and I embedded some recordings of pieces we are starting to work on in our rehearsals (example above). You can see the embeddable players on our website. This is a great way for the students to at least hear the music one time (after the full listen, they get the traditional 30 second clip). And of course if the kids want to purchase, it's only a dime for the streaming version. If you've been trying to convince your students to "do the right thing" by purchasing the recordings of the music you are working on at school, purchasing streams at one tenth the cost of mp3's is a pretty nice alternative.

I think this Web Song idea has some promise. Think about it, for 100 bucks you can get 100 songs from iTunes, or you can get 1,000 Web Songs. Sometimes you might want the download, but I think the streaming version can be a great (and extremely economical) option. I don't know if Apple will keep the feature (or the site for that matter) but for now I'm finding it to be really helpful.

Anyway, head on over to lala.com and check it out. I'm "Brian W." on lala if you want to look me up.

Harnessing the Web for Better Music Teaching with Diigo

The Inefficiency of Web Surfing

I surf the web...... a lot. I gave up on saving bookmarks in my browser a long time ago. If you have more than 100 bookmarks you know why. It's a losing battle. Looking at your bookmarks, you'll be lucky if you can even recall what 25% of your bookmarks are about, based on the name alone.

So nowadays I find myself thinking "what the heck was the name of that site I stumbled upon for sightreading...." or "what was that high school on the west coast that had a great looking website...." Then I do what most of us do: I "Google it" until I can find the site again.

Hopelessly inefficient.

I've also added many links to facebook. Sure, that's a nice way to share something you've found, but what if you want to get back to it later? Facebook does not have a way to organize or search links that you have posted. You have to page back through your links to find what you want.

Again, hopelessly inefficient.

Enter Diigo.com

Then more recently I found out about diigo.com. I posted about it, and some of you have checked it out. But clearly I did not make enough of an impact upon many of you, so I thought I would blog about it. I'm hoping that by the end of this post I will have convinced you to give diigo a try. I believe it has enormous impact for us as teachers.

So in short, diigo is a site for bookmarking sites. Big deal right? Well, on the surface yes, it can seem like no big deal, just one more thing to worry about. But there are two big reasons why you should try diigo. The first is for simple productivity. How many of you have large music libraries at your school or district? Can you imagine trying to find music without a database, master list, or other system? Some of us have taken on the task of creating a catalog system for our music libraries, so we know first hand how wonderful the outcome can be. Now, instead of picking through drawer after drawer in search of a piece, we find it quickly and easily.

Well, that is what diigo does for the web. Every time I find a website that has something of interest, I send it to diigo where it gets cataloged for easy retrieval. And I can get to my diigo links from any computer easily (or even from my phone). Diigo allows you to add tags to your bookmarks, so for example I can visit my diigo page and type "wind ensemble" and I will instantly pull up all of my bookmarks tagged as such. Very powerful.

The second major reason to try diigo holds exponential power for us, and that reason is collaboration. Diigo allows you to create groups. I have created a group called (shockingly) teaching-music. Anyone who is a member of that group can share any of their diigo bookmarks to the group. Imagine the possibilities. Sure, we all teach music, but we all have our areas of specialization. If everyone shared even just a few of their favorite websites, we could build a library of thousands of helpful sites. And it all happens automatically. The group library can be sorted, searched, discussed, etc. You can receive automatic updates via email anytime links are added by others. You can post annotations over the top of sites that point out specific features. It holds tremendous promise.

Right now our group has just five thirty-two members. I hope you will seriously consider joining and adding just a few of your favorite sites. College students, I'm talking to you too! Even though you are not out in the field yet, you know a lot of great sites. One of the biggest problems we face in our profession is a resistance to working together. Please everyone, let's step up to the plate and be willing to share.

First, join diigo (it takes seconds) and then join the teaching-music group.