I’m an early adopter and I admit that freely. I opened a Grand Central account early its history, converted that to Google Voice when the time came, and have generally been impressed with the service. But I don’t use it much. I truly don’t feel that I can afford to use it for a variety for reasons.
The internet has created this crazy new paradigm of free services. The list is lengthy; Google apps, Twitter, Hotmail, Facebook, Blogger, Yahoo Pipes, Posterous, Gmail & WordPress.com are just a few. Free services are literally everywhere these days, like manna from heaven.
To be fair, I do use some of these free services. However, just as I don’t have all my documents in Google Docs, I have a hard time taking Google Voice seriously.
I’m told that GV’s terms of service preclude anyone from using it for business purposes. I’ve looked through their general terms of service and GV specific usage policies and I don’t see where that’s clearly stated. If true, that would seem to limit it to use to a home phone line or novelty applications in the realm of the telecom geek.
Even if Google does allow its use in business, I don’t think that I could. My concern is not so much about Google Voice specifically, it’s more about the free services mentality.
Free services are like doing business with relatives. I once hired a relative to do some work on my house. While the experience wasn’t bad, I vowed to never do it again. When you hire family to do something you just don’t have the same recourse as if you had hired a contractor. You don’t have the same latitude to insist on how the work is done, or when.
What…you think that you’re going to sue a member of the family if they leave the job unfinished? I doubt that very much!
Sometimes paying for a service is most ideal because you then have the reasonable expectation of delivery of that service. When there’s a problem, because you know that time will come, you have the equally reasonable expectation of support. The company that you are dealing with is presumably making money delivering that service, so they have both the motivation and resources to provide you timely support, or lose your account the associated revenue.
If someone contracts to provide a service then fails to do so we have various forms of recourse. We can complain to local, state or federal regulators. If the situation warrants we can sue for a remedy. We can sue for costs and damages. Heck, even Comcast, that bastion of customer dissatisfaction, will credit a portion of my monthly fee for down time. That is, if I take the trouble to call and complain.
What happens when some form of free service goes down? Both Gmail and Google Docs have suffered outages in recent memory. Twitter has been suffering repeated DDOS attacks this week. What if my business relied upon these services?
How do I explain to my customers that they can’t reach me in their time of need because Google Voice is having a problem? Or perhaps I can’t access their customer data because Google Docs is offline? I’d expect to have really unhappy customers under such circumstances.
In the event of a service outage they have a built-in excuse, “What do you expect, it’s a free service? We do what we can.” That just won’t work for me when addressing my management or customers.