If you’ve not been following this story, Google Voice (formerly Grand Central) offers free domestic calling via “click to call” on their site. A number of hacks have emerged over the past week or so to take advantage of this, particularly a Gizmo5 hack and Asterisk hack(s). Long story short, the Gizmo5 solution rapidly devolved. First it worked, then calls started getting cut off after 3 minutes, then 20 minutes, and now officially Gizmo5 is going to charge .02 per minute for Google Voice outbound calls, with thier new service GizmoVoice.
This thread on dslreports describes “the rise and fall of the Gizmoogle mashup” and explains why Gizmo5 had to start charging, suggesting that Google (Grand Central) blocked Gizmo and that Gizmo is now actually paying for the calls directly with their own termination service and using spoofed caller-ID:
in order to not lose face [Gizmo5] decided to keep the service open but route all calls through there [sic] own outbound servers with spoofed caller ID. they can not afford to do it for free so they are charging .02 per minute.
The current gizmoogle mashup is nothing but gizmo5 outgoing service with caller-id spoofed to your GV number.
The thing I find most interesting about all this, and what I don’t see being discussed much, is what it says about Google’s strategy with Google Voice. The story of how a small swarm of hardcore VoIP users could have such a huge impact in such a small amount of time, upon such a giant in the industry, Google, and their new flagship entry into the Voice space: Google Voice.
Google has elected to follow in the footsteps of others by offering free click-to-call calls with their free service. A user initiates a call on Google’s web site and Google pays for two outbound calls, one to the caller and another to the called party, and then bridges the calls together. However, the fact that Google was overwhelmed by the Gizmo5 hack, in just a few hours, suggests they don’t want to give away too many free calls. Every service before Google that has tried this same approach has run into the same dilemma: they use “free calling” as a trick to get customers, but then it works too well, and they have to start imposing limits on the free calls.
If mighty Google was overwhelmed by a few hardcore VoIP enthusiasts within a few hours, what is going to happen when this service comes out of “beta” into full production? They want the service to be popular, but they can’t afford for it to be too popular? That sounds like a problem.
UPDATE 9/13/2009: Google is now also blocking calls to “high termination cost” numbers like those used with many free conference calling services. See: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/voice/thread?tid=7fd24f8e03c376d2