Hopefully, you don't hand out your phone number to just anybody you meet on the street or online. But if you'd like to gab with people while retaining some anonymity, Jangl can hook you up. Launched today, this service provides users with virtual telephone numbers that route calls to your real phone number and messages to your e-mail in-box. Rather than being designed as a buffer between you and the masses you meet out on the town, Jangl (also here) focuses on allowing voice calls for relationships that begin on the Internet.
This privacy screen could add a safety layer if you're selling stuff or dating online (Match.com already uses Jangl's technology.). You can add Jangl widgets to your blog, MySpace account, e-mail signature, and elsewhere. Sure, you could use Skype or other VoIP services to click and call people from your computer, but most of those options are tied to a PC and could lead inadvertently to sharing more about yourself than you intend.
I found Jangl's concept tricky to grasp at first. It doesn't assign you a single phone number that anyone can dial. Instead, each Jangl user receives a different Jangl number to reach you. As this works in 31 countries throughout North America and Europe as well as in Israel, Mexico, Hong Kong and Brazil, you're spared from high long-distance fees. When you call someone's Jangl number, the recipient finds out once you leave them a voice-mail, which directs them to sign up with and respond to you via Jangl.
Unfortunately, if someone wants to cold call you, they only need to know your e-mail address. So if you're already tired of receiving contact requests via e-mail from users of LinkedIn and the like, brace yourself for potential Jangl voice-mail spam--especially if your e-mail is listed publicly. Just imagine the time you could waste listening to voice-mails from advertisers, suitors, or crank-calling middle-schoolers who decide to Jangl you. Of course, you can block pesky contacts permanently, but it could feel crueler to reject a voice-mail than an e-mail from a caller who seems to mean well. It's not Jangl's fault if you put your e-mail address on display, so be forewarned. At this point at least, you can't import contacts en masse from various e-mail or social networking accounts, so perhaps this will slow down potential Jangl spammers.
There are some other downsides. For instance, Jangl's 4-digit, sign-in PIN feels weak. If somebody guesses your PIN, they'd only need your real telephone number to sign onto Jangl and check out your messages and settings.
The founders of Jangl want its name to become a verb, a la Google and Photoshop. The success of their grand plan will depend upon how easy and cheap Jangl remains--and how it can minimize potential annoyances. To their credit, you don't need to hassle with any equipment or software; just visit Jangl.com to set up an account, and then click a link from a verification e-mail. You'll also need to make a call from your registered telephone. This process is simple enough, although I wish the verification note described the setup steps better.
You'll need to visit Jangl's site to organize messages and contacts, but within the next several weeks, you should also be able to check voice-mails via telephone. Jangl is currently free, but pricing plans are set to come within the next month.