Blog Archives

Start Your Voicemail Messages Without a Gasp [Voicemail]

If you’ve noticed how many people have voicemail messages that sound like they’re gasping for air when they record them, this simple trick from reader Gregor Samosa will help you leave smooth radio-announcer-quality messages. More »

Google Voice Arrives on iPhones with HTML5-Powered Webapp [Webapps]

iPhone/Palm Pre: Apple and/or AT&T don't want the Google Voice service to have its own iPhone app, and we think that stinks. Google is finally releasing the next best thing: a mobile site that basically replicates a dedicated Google Voice app.

The big advantage of Google’s new Voice app (which is already showing up for Voice users at Lifehacker HQ) is the direct contact access. Rather than having to store secondary numbers or use the somewhat old-school-looking Voice mobile site to pull up your contacts, Google Voice’s new webapp provides super-quick, as-you-type access to your Google Contacts. The interface is similar to what you see when you visit Voice in a full browser, with the same mobile look and feel as Gmail, Reader, and other products have recently received.

When you dial, it's not the familiar experience of having Google Voice call you, then call the other person—it's a direct dial to that person, probably using those same secondary numbers Google seems to have stockpiles of.

You’ll want to make sure your phone’s contacts are synced up with Google if you’re keen on using Google’s Voice app. It’s a free service, and requires a Google Voice account (which we hear they’re giving out more regularly).

If you’re already seeing the new Google Voice app in your iPhone or Pre browser, tell us what you think in the comments.



Google Voice Chrome Extension Makes Calling and SMS Even Easier [Updates]

Google Chrome: Google Voice Notifier, one of the 18 extensions we loved at launch, has seen a major update. It now converts phone numbers on the web to automatic dialing links, and initiates calls and text messages from a drop-down box.

The extension previously did little more than notify Google Voice users of the number of unread SMS messages and voicemails sitting in their inbox, as well as doing a little spin animation when updated and opening the inbox when clicked. In the new version, nearly any phone number in a recognizable format is converted into a click-able link. Hit that number, and a pop-up box asks you which phone you want to connect to. Oddly enough, it doesn’t work on Google Maps results, where I’d kind of most want that behavior, but does work from Google search results.

The new version also makes starting a call or text message to any of your known contacts very easy. Click the extension button, and a drop-down box with auto-filling fields appears. You can switch between calls and SMS messages easily, and if you click the extension button when you’ve got messages, you get a quick preview of your inbox.

The Google Voice extension is a free download, and works wherever extensions work with Google Chrome at the moment—Mac users will have to use the development channel version in this case. If you already had the extension installed, you should see it update automatically the next time you load up Chrome.

If you’re looking to sign up with Google Voice but don’t have an invite, we hear they’re getting a lot more invites out to those who ask for them.

Google Voice (by Google) [Google Chrome extension gallery via Download Squad]

Set an Effective Out-of-Office Message to Reduce Workload [Communication]

It’s easy to leave a short and ineffective out-of-office message, especially when you’re leaving it on the eve of a vacation or a conference you’re excited to attend. Doing so however, just ensures more work upon your return.

Photo by makelessnoise.

Over at Ian’s Messy Desk, Ian outlines how to create a good out-of-office message. First, what does a terrible out-of-office message sound like? At the worst end of things the message simply tells the caller that you’re not there which gives them nothing to work with except that you’re unavailable to help them or answer their questions. Ian suggests including:

1. Dates of your absence. Let the contact know when you are out of the office. It helps them decide what their next step is going to be; whether to wait for your return or to direct their request elsewhere.
2. Reason for absence. I like to let my contacts know whether I am on a business trip or vacation. A business trip means I am connected to the office in some way and might be able to respond to a message. If I’m on vacation, I’m out of contact range.
3. Who to contact in your absence. I try and leave contact information for alternate contacts when I am out of the office; a minimum of one up to as many as are needed.

The emphasis on the last entry is ours. Most of the phone calls you receive while you’re out of the office will be for matters that will need to be resolved while you are gone; if you leave proper contact information for the people who would most likely be able to resolve issues that crop up while you’re gone, you’re all the more likely to return to the office with those things done and taken care of. Leaving an ineffective message creates a mountain of work for you to wade through when you return.

For more tips on leaving an effective message check out the full article at the link below. Have a tip or trick for leaving a good out-of-office message or any other aspect of preparing to be away from work? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Ribbit App Delivers Voicemail Transcripts to Your iPhone [Downloads]

Ribbit Mobile, the voicemail and call-routing service that looks like a serious Google Voice rival, has launched an iPhone app to deliver voicemail transcripts with convenient call-back and SMS links, along with to-call list generation and other features.

Because Ribbit knows exactly why Google Voice was rejected from the App Store, it doesn't offer its own calling, SMS, or address book features in its iPhone app—just a convenient access point to the audio and text of your voicemail. If you want to call or SMS back somebody who left you a message, you're using the iPhone's native apps to do so. That doesn't help you hide your personal number and create a separate call-tracking list, like Google Voice does, but, given the notably better transcriptions, at least with a Business-Grade account, that’s not where Ribbit is looking to sell itself.

Ribbit Mobile is a free download for iPhones running at least the 3.1 firmware, and it requires a free Ribbit account.

Ribbit Mobile [iTunes (Direct link) via ReadWriteWeb]

Google Voice Gives Users Invitations to Hand Out to Friends [Invitations]

Getting a Google Voice invite has, until now, involved either dropping a request penny down the well, being a legacy GrandCentral user, or knowing someone at Google. Now Google Voice has started giving established users invitations to hand out.

They're being "rolled out gradually," three at a time over the next few weeks, so users can look for them in their account's lower-left corner—and their friends can begin the begging process starting now. If you're new to Google Voice, take a gander at our first look at Google Voice. If you end up with an invite in your inbox soon, then head over to our guide to easing your transition to Google Voice.

Top 10 Underhyped Webapps, 2009 Edition [Lifehacker Top 10]

As with rock music, video games, and other awesome pursuits, great web applications often don’t get enough credit for what they do well. We’re revisiting and updating our favorite underhyped webapps to give a new crop of contenders their due.

Photo by thievingjoker.

10. Freckle

Like previous underhyped champ Remember the Milk, Freckle doesn’t require you to learn a new set of rules or input methods to track how you spend your time working for clients. If you type “Writing copy for Benderson Corp. 1h45m,” it assigns a 1-hour-and-45-minute billing for Benderson. Want to make something non-billable, but still tracked? Add an asterisk after it. Freckle offers visually appealing reports about how you’re spending time for clients, but also how you’re spending your own time, giving you the chance to assess how you’re spending your time. A plan with one account and one project is free, and any of Freckle’s other plans can be tried for 30 days free, so if you don’t find yourself addicted to its charts and graphs, you can return to your spreadsheet. (Original post)

9. TinyChat

Setting up a live video, audio, and screen-sharing chatroom for up to 12 people at once seems like something that might require a dozen software installations and point-by-point walkthroughs. If you aren’t pitching a client so much as just trying to get folks talking, TinyChat handles the task admirably, and nobody has to do a thing but follow a link and turn on a mic or webcam. The rooms aren’t password-protected unless the chat owner has a paid account, but you can require chatters to sign in with a Twitter handle to verify identity, and control just who gets to jump in with their video or audio feeds. Pretty impressive stuff for a free web service. (Original post)

8. ScreenToaster

Your boss asks you to demonstrate exactly how “that thing you do with that program works,” but you’re at work without screen recording software installed. Fire up ScreenToaster’s site, load its Java-based applet, and you can record surprisingly decent quality screencasts and demonstrations, with audio voice-overs, at the push of a single button. When you’re done recording part of your desktop or the whole thing, you can have ScreenToaster upload the finished product to YouTube or ScreenToaster’s own site, download your screencast as a QuickTime or Flash file, and re-record audio if you didn’t hit it the first time. Here’s our own quick ScreenToaster test. Tell your viewers to hit the full-screen button for your screencasts and it’s like you’re hovering right over their shoulder, semi-patiently showing them just how it’s done. (Original post)

7. Lovely Charts

Sure, it’s a pretty presumptuous name, but Lovely Charts succeeds at what it promises. The Flash-based webapp produces very clean-looking charts for all kinds of purposes, be it a flowchart to describe a process, a diagram describing a network setup, conference seating, or whatever you might want to sketch out on the back of a napkin. You only get to save one chart at a time to edit later with a free account, but you can export any number of charts to JPG or PNG as often as you’d like. (Original post)

6. Instapaper & Read It Later

It's a really cool article or blog post you just stumbled across, but at the moment—right this second—you don't have time to read it. If you had a bookmarklet or browser plug-in for either the Instapaper or Read It Later service, you'd be able to quickly send that web page to your account for bookmarking. Once there, it can be stripped of all but essential text for reading, saved for offline reading in your iPhone, marked as read when you're done with it, shared with others—you get the idea. Read It Later offers a Firefox extension for offline reading, easy saving, and a lot more functionality in general, but Instapaper keeps it clean and simple on purpose. Both are great services that quietly do similar, and extremely useful, things. (Original posts: Read It Later & Instapaper)

5. YouMail

Not everybody can swing a smartphone, many smartphones don’t offer visual voicemail, and very few people (at the moment) get to play with Google Voice and its transcribed voicemails. For those feeling like their phones are under-powered, there’s YouMail. Sign up, follow YouMail’s instructions on setting up your phone to hand over your phone’s voicemail duties to its service, and you’ll be able to listen to or download voicemails from its web site or smartphone apps. With the limited free or paid unlimited transcription plans, the halfway decent speech-to-text versions of your messages are emailed or sent by SMS right away. If you want different voicemail greetings for different contacts, YouMail can do that, too. Whether you’re rocking the cheapest phone they had at the store or an iPhone, YouMail’s a great add-on. (Original post)

4. PDF to Word

If you need to grab elements from a PDF, edit part of its text, or cut down its size, you might try converting it to a Microsoft Word file. For doing that task, PDF to Word is more than just adequate—it's darned impressive. We were kind of amazed at how well even the most complex of PDFs we had access to (an invitation to a snooty art installation opening) were flipped into almost exact facsimiles in Word format. Simply upload a PDF, provide an email address, and your document is on its way to you. Maker NitroPDF has other free PDF tools worth checking out, and paid software to entice you with, but PDF to Word is a webapp that does exactly what it says, no catches or gimmicks. (Original post)


It’s hard to say that doesn’t have a fairly persistent marketing push behind it, but for all the helpful functions it offers, the service doesn’t get enough notice. Besides giving anyone 100MB of temporary file-sharing space without any sign-up required, can handle the rare faxing job, record voice memos by telephone, set up quick multimedia presentations, and more as developers hack on the open API. Having recently been assigned as Yahoo Mail’s default large attachment handler should bring out of semi-obscurity, though its deeper functionality still deserves a bit more attention.

2. Fonolo

If calling a company’s customer service line and dealing with automated answering systems fills you with a certain kind of dread, you need a Fonolo account. The free service has diagrammed the customer service phone trees of more than 500 major firms, letting you click the point in the call you want to be at (“Press 4 to cancel an account …”), then taking care of the tedious number-punching up to that point, calling you to connect exactly where you want to come in. With its latest update, Fonolo can even record your call, giving you the power to get better customer service with detailed records. (Original post)

1. The Aviary suite

Aviary is a webapp maker that specializes in fully-featured Flash apps, and they’re seemingly engaged in a dare to see how much users can get done entirely in a browser. Jackson West called Phoenix the best online image editor, and our readers agree. They’ve got a lighter, faster version dubbed Falcon, and if you want to annotate an image that’s already on someone’s server, you can paste its URL after and it’ll quickly import the image for your editing pleasure. Most recently, and most impressively, they’ve launched a full-featured audio editor that we totally geeked out over. If you can remember their name, you can benefit from Aviary’s host of impressive in-a-pinch tools.

What underrated webapps are making life easier for you? Which smaller-scale sites do their jobs better than the big guys? Trade your tips in the comments.

Google Voice Message Playback Comes to Gmail [Gmail]

If you’re both a Gmail and Google Voice user, you should be thrilled with the latest feature from Gmail Labs: The Google Voice Player feature embeds a voicemail player inside Gmail so you can listen to new messages directly inside Gmail.

To enable it, just hit up the Labs link in Gmail, find the Google Voice player in mail feature, click enable, and save your changes. Now not only can you read your transcribed voicemail from directly inside Gmail—you can listen to it, too. In fact, your message status will even sync to Google Voice, so if you've listened to it in Gmail, it'll show as listened to in Google Voice, too. Handy.

Record and Transcribe Notes for Yourself with Google Voice [Notes]

In our first Lifehacker Wishlist, we came up with five wanted features in Google Voice, including an easy way to record and transcribe notes for yourself. Mark Stout suggests a Voice settings tweak to fulfill that wish.

Stout’s method involves setting up a special group in Voice’s caller settings for yourself (dubbed “Special Transcription” in his case), adding your cell phone number as the only member, setting up a very short greeting for that group, then setting the “Direct access to voicemail” question to No. He calls his own Voice number, records a memo, and it’s transcribed and sent to him via email. If you rely on listening to your voicemail over your phone, this makes pressing the “#” key during your uber-short greeting somewhat tricky. Then again, if you’re cool with Voice’s mostly-okay transcription, you likely don’t listen to your voicemail all that often.

Hit the link for Mark’s full run-through, and leave your own methods for recording an audio note to self, with Google Voice or without, in the comments.

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