Monday, October 02, 2006


Grand Central is an example of bootstrapping a good, but simple, idea into a complete web service.

Here's the basic idea.

You probably have at least two or three phone numbers: work, home, and cell. For folks to call you, they may have to call all three. Worse, if they don't get you on any of them, they leave three messages. More numbers? More calls, more messages.

Sign up at Grand Central and they give you a phone number -- you can pick an area code and a phone number from the block they've bought for that area.

Next, you stick your other numbers into your web profile. Voila! When someone calls your Grand Central number, it rings them all. If you don't answer, it lets the caller leave one voice mail.

On the road and want to add your motel room? Just go on the web and add it. Then, when you forget to take it off, people can reach wrong numbers in a Motel-6 in Wyoming for the cost of a local call.

That, all by itself is cool.

But because it's a web service, you can customize it. Calls from your mom go to all your phones. Calls from your boss just go to your work and cell phones. Calls from your former employer automatically go to voice mail. Calls from your ex are marked as spam.

You can use arbitrary MP3s as rings and greetings, and tie special messages and tones to each caller or caller group. (And when I say "rings" I mean what the caller hears.)

Voice mail? They'll store it on their server. You can pick it up from your phone. You can pick it up on the web, like audio webmail. They'll forward it to you as email. Take your pick, or do all of them.

For someone who's going to change addresses and phone numbers and employers, this also provides a single phone number that never changes. It doesn't replace phones or phone providers. You still have those, but it adds a layer of indirection.

If, in 5 years, we all have Skype phones, with new VOIP numbers, we just add them to our list of phones, or replace the ones that are there.

Basic service is free. Premium service, which does things like offer to keep all your voice mail forever, costs money ($15/month? Something like that).

Turns a simple, but good, idea into something genuinely cool.


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