We prefer SMS solutions that let patrons text their library using a regular phone number, so that they can easily store it in their contacts list. Since Google Voice provides a phone number and can receive text messages, it was a good fit. By default, Google Voice wants to send text messages to a mobile phone you connect with your Google Voice account. You can also reply to them on the Google Voice website, but alerting is a problem. How do you know you have a text message in the first place? Google does not provide email or Google Talk chat alerts in Google Voice currently.
But this is where LibraryH3lp comes in. To configure your Google Voice gateway, sign into the admin site and select a queue for this gateway, or create a new queue for it. Create a "voice" gateway, and provide your Google login (username and password). Note that you never supply your Google Voice phone number. You'll probably also want to setup your Google Voice account to ring one or more of your public service desks in case someone calls it expecting to have a phone conversation. While you may advertise the number for your text message service only, once the number is in a contacts list, someone will very likely try to call it at some point.
Now, text messages sent to your GV number will arrive as regular LibraryH3lp chats. If you were offline when the message came in, you'll get it the next time that queue comes online. You reply from within your chat client, and these messages can be transferred just like any other chat in LibraryH3lp. If you're using our webchat client, LibraryH3lp will detect that your patron is coming in on a phone number, and you'll get a character countdown to assist your staff with making shorter replies, like this:
You won't get this countdown by default in other clients, but there are still things you can do. You can train staff to watch for a special queue name for text messages. There is a character count plugin for Pidgin that looks very promising (I have not tested it, but I have no reason to believe it would not work).
All of that said, we need to add a few caveats. Google does not currently provide an official API for Google Voice. Thus, this gateway works through screen scraping and polling, just like the other Google Voice applications coming out now. This means that if Google changes the code in the Google Voice SMS display area, it may break the gateway until we can account for the change. It also means that Google may throttle traffic if it detects some magical and unknown level of activity; the gateway application already tries to account for this, but further adjustments may be needed. Lastly, so far, Google has not shown signs of shutting down Voice applications, so we are optimistic, but we can't guarantee this will always be the case.
The Android gateway is still a safer bet. It uses published APIs to work with an open operating system. But as we all know, budgets are very tight these days, and free or very inexpensive solutions are extremely useful.