Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Free SMS on Any Smartphone with Google Voice

Google Voice is not a new service. It has been around for a couple of years providing free call forwarding to thousands of users. The concept is simple. Pick out a new [local] phone number from the website. Provide the phone numbers of all of your phones (Home, Mobile, Work etc). Then when someone calls your GV number, it rings all of your phones until you answer. Voice mail for all lines is handled through one mailbox on GV.

There are many other features that are less used. The following is a scenario where a contractor who travels to areas damaged by storms, needs a local number to provide customers. Many people will trust a "local" contractor before one from out of town.

My favorite feature of GV is free text messaging.  This post is aimed at guiding you through changing your number to your GV number and getting the most conventional SMS experience possible out of your smartphone.

There are many great advantages to using GV.  You eliminate your SMS plan with your carrier that is sometimes marked up by literally 10,000,000%, no really. You virtually get unlimited SMS for free. Another perk is that you may send and receive text messages on the GV website.  You don't need to be anywhere near your phone to LOL to your friends! In fact, your phone could literally explode and you could still send and receive texts on the website. Read messages automatically sync [after a minute or two] between the website and the app. So if you have an entire conversation on the GV website, you won't have hundreds of text notifications on your phone when you pick it up. Disclaimer: these experiences are from me using the GV Android app without any other third party apps like Handcent.

However, there are a few caveats to using GV. First, you must "change" your number to your GV number. Sending a mass text broadcasting your new number is more difficult in GV. The smartphone app proves to be time consuming and the online GV interface limits you to about 10 recipients at a time. I used Mass Text Personalizer because it is compatible with Android 4.0 and also supports GV. (On 4.0 be patient. It will force close but just keep clicking 'wait' and leave it alone)

Your phone must have the Google Voice app installed. This is available on Android and iOS, maybe more platforms. Make sure this app installs on your phone without any problems. You will not be able to do anything with the app until you set up your GV account on the web interface.

The last forewarning is GV does not [at this time] support picture or video messaging (MMS). I for one, do not send many pictures or videos over MMS. There are plenty of services out there (see facebook, imgur, picasa, google+, twitpic, etc) that provide an accessible picture viewing experience on a smartphone. This was a non issue for me.

Another thing I did was block SMS to my primary number (the number provided by my carrier).  Then be sure to remove SMS from your plan. This should save about $30 per month depending on your plan, on most of the major carriers. Remember, carriers charge you for receiving SMS messages whether you open them or not.

The GV app is compatible with many different SMS apps.  Handcent will work just fine. If that is an app that you are used to using, you will feel right at home.

This is how I use this service. share your experiences and suggestions in the comments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dance Party with Google TV and djtxt

What do Google software engineers do in their spare time? They make awesome independent websites, that's what. Djtxt.me is a crowd sourced playlist generator (read: party sourced jukebox) that runs in a browser on top of Grooveshark. (If you don't know what that means don't worry, keep reading.) Guests viewing the screen can send a text message with their phone to a number provided; first registering with their nickname, then sending one containing a song title and artist. If the songs are found on grooveshark, they play in order also displaying who requested the song.

While the concept is amazing, it doesn't really work well in practice when using a PC or laptop to host the djtxt.me site. Having many people crowded around a small screen is not much fun when you're just trying to party like a rock star.  It's kind of like when poker night turns into "OMG LETS WATCH LOL CATZ ON YOUBUTE" night. This post will focus on using the service on Google TV (2.0) which is an interface that makes more sense for use in a party setting.  We will be utilizing the full Google Chrome browser capabilities (including javascript) that are baked right into Google TV.  With the Google TV 2.0 update came access to the actual address bar in the browser compared to just a search box that accepted a URL in the first release of GTV.

The concept is simple: go to djtxt.me, drag the shortcut to your bookmarks folder, navigate to grooveshark.com then click the djtxt.me bookmark. That way only works on a computer with a browser that allows you to drag the bookmark somewhere to store it. GTV however does not allow this. The fix is relatively simple. The bookmark is nothing more than an enormous line of javascript code. Use the following steps to get this code into your TV!

  1. Read and understand the tutorial.
  2. From a computer drag the bookmark for your party to your bookmarks folder or bar.
  3. Right click on the bookmark and click edit. (These steps should be similar with all browsers, this procedure was written and tested with Google Chrome) 
  4. You should see a URL field containing a bunch of code (javascript:(function(){if('undefined'==......). Copy and paste this text being careful to not include extra spaces at either end. 
  5. Email this text to yourself using a web-based email service that you can access already on your GTV.
  6. Open the email from the GTV browser.
  7. Copy the text from the email.
  8. Go to http://grooveshark.com
  9. Press the Menu key. Select "Go To..." to open the URL bar. (you should then see the URL to grooveshark)
  10. Paste the text from the email into the URL bar, replacing what is there. Again no extra spaces at the beginning or end. 
If done successfully you should see the djtxt screen as usual. The service is $2/hr for a private number and SMS support. You can try the demo for free although you will be contributing songs to a public room. (deleted escort/stripper joke)

At the end of the party you have the option to view and play the entire playlist from start to finish via a unique URL that is available to you and those you share it with. During the party, you can even skip songs and delete a song if it pulls up a version or remix (or the wrong song) you don't like by mistake. 

In practice, we found that it was pretty accurate. Only one crash during a 7 hour party.  Opened grooveshark back up, pasted the text in and all was well.  It even retained the entire playlist.  LOL's were had by all when they saw who requested Amish Paradise and the Barney theme back to back. Take advantage of this while you still can. Its such a great way to have a [dance] party. Much better than "youtubing" or skipping songs over and over on Pandora.