When Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) grows up, it wants to be ... an operator?

Of course. Google is all about connecting people with search solutions, so why shouldn't it aspire to play traffic controller for voice communication? To that end, the search giant acquired GrandCentral.com, a free service that helps users organize their telephone numbers, earlier this week.

A registered Grand Central user gets a primary number to sort through various user phone numbers, allowing him or her to route calls, record messages, and set distinctive ring tones.

The purchase took place fairly swiftly. The news broke on the GrandCentral.com blog on Monday, and the site has already been slapped with the Google Beta tag. Get used to that tag, Grand Central. Google's Gmail was introduced three years ago, and it's still in beta.

Talk is cheap, and that's good
Services like Grand Central are bad news for the traditional telcos. Phone companies charge premiums for many features the site offers for free. Your local phone company isn't too fond of the cheap or free international calling offered by eBay's (NASDAQ:EBAY) Skype, though it may reluctantly offer a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service to compete with cut-rate providers such as Vonage (NYSE:VG).

We shouldn't pity the telcos, though. They diversified when high-tech invaders crashed their party. From wireless service to online connectivity to television programming, telecoms have simply tossed their nets out a little farther.

Meanwhile, the dot-com party crashers have been awfully muted in their efforts to join the telecom business. Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) acquired DialPad two summers ago, but the resulting product -- Yahoo! Voice -- doesn't appear to be much of a Skype killer.

Google also launched a free 4-1-1 directory assistance service -- just call 1-800-GOOG-411 to check it out -- but it hasn't received a lot of media attention. It is referred to as an "experimental" offering when you call, but that's really just the old school way of saying "beta."

The cyberspace battle for directory assistance may get interesting, now that Local.com (NASDAQ:LOCM) was awarded a pair of patents for ad-supported mobile and voice-enabled 411 services. While the strength of those patents may dictate how "experimental" the GOOG-411 initiative becomes, the Grand Central buy indicates that Google is serious about voice chat services.

Teaching new-economy stocks some old-economy tricks
Selling radio ads and print spots, and even branching out into coupons, doesn't seem like the Google that has attracted investors over the past three years. Then again, with the shares growing sixfold since going public, it's hard to complain.

Google is still the market share leader in online advertising. That's actually driving Google's entries into many of these more conventional forms of marketing. Whether it's broadcasting ads through terrestrial radio, buying out magazine ad space, or even beaming commercials through satellite television, Google's all about evolving into a one-stop shop for any company's promotional needs.

The push for Grand Central fits right in. Like the midtown Manhattan terminal for which its new purchase is named, Google wants to be in the heart of all of the action. And it's got more to gain from, say, forwarding an incoming call from your cellphone to your landline, than you might think:

  • GrandCentral.com attracts users and gets them to stick around, making Google a busier part of your online time.
  • It's a great way for Google to serve up local ads -- the leading source of easy money in targeted paid search.
  • It's also one more thorn in traditional phone companies' sides.

That last point is important. If it's not obvious by now, Google really does want to be an operator when it grows up.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a huge fan of Google, and it would be his homepage if it weren't for Fool.com taking up that piece of real estate. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.