What is Google Voice?
Google Voice is Google’s telecommunications service for U.S. residents (and U.S. residents only) which allows for PC-to-PC communications anywhere in the world, for PC-to-phone calls within North America (north of the US-Mexico border), and between Google Voice users and those with a Video Chat browser plug-in.
The Google Voice service allows for low-price international phone calls, while domestic phone calls to the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, and Canada are free. Other features offered by Google Voice include voicemail, call screening, unwanted call blocks, call history, voicemail message-to-text “voice transcription”, and conference call support.
How Does Google Voice Work?
How Many People Use Google Voice?
Due to an FCC report that was filed by mistake, we learned that Google Voice had 1,400,000 users as of October 2009. That number is likely to have increased significantly in the 15 months since, given that the service had only been on-line for about 6 months at the time. According to the same FCC report, roughly 570,000 of the Google Voice users used their service every day of the week.
How Long Has Google Voice Been Around?
Google Voice began as a service called GrandCentral in 2005. Google bought Grand Central in 2007, but seemed to stop supporting the service, leading to many complaints by old-time users about lack of customer support by Google.
In March 2009, Google relaunched Grand Central and renamed it “Google Voice”. A few months later, in mid-September 2009, Google announced Grand Central’s services were shut down, and asked everyone to move over permanently to Google Voice. Improvements were made and features added to the new service.
Google Voice and Egyptian Protests
The power of a computer-based telecommunications service has been put to the test in the recent Egyptian protests against the government of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. As the Mubarak government blocked traditional journalistic sources of news, Google and Twitter led a collection of western Internet and social media companies in helping the Egyptian people get their word out to the world.
According to Professor Dina Ibrahim of San Francisco State University, Google Voice has been key: “”It’s very difficult to get a complete picture however, Google Voice and other services have been incredibly helpful in terms of providing alternatives for people to get their message out there,” said Professor Ibrahim.
How Google Voice Affected Egyptian Protests
Hosni Mubarak has been the president of Egypt since 1981, after Egyptian army officers assassinated Anwar al Sadat for signing the 1979 Egyptian-Isreali Peace Treaty. Over the years, Mubarak has adhered to provisions of the treaty and been a strong supporter of the United States in the Middle East, but he’s also been a repressive military figure who has squelched democracy movements in his own country. He also has failed to strengthen the Egyptian economy over his nearly 30 years in office.
With one of the best-educated populations in the Middle East, but with 9 out 10 people under the age of 30 out of work, the Egyptian people took to the streets in protest in early 2011. Western journalists flocked to Egypt to report the story, which embarrassed the Mubarak government. Eventually, the Egyptian government used an old tactic of paying mercenary thugs to attack people in the street, and these “Mubarak partisans” began attacking journalists and reporters with cameras. Within days, this eliminated traditional journalistic broadcasting.
That’s where Google, and especially Google Voice, came in.
Google and Twitter put out word to collect 1,000 Egyptian-English translators to help their service. With these translators and their new telecommunications infrastructure in place, Egyptians were able to take to their computers and get the word out about what’s going on in Cairo and other cities themselves. Western journalists used Google Voice to get the word out.
At present, Hosni Mubarak has announced he won’t run for office again. There’s a sizable chance he’ll have to step down from office in the coming days, weeks, and months, as the story goes on and international pressure mounts to see democratic institutions put in place in Egypt. Whatever happens, the power of Google Voice to get around central government power and military power has been evidenced.
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