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Brave New Phone Call (medium.com/stevenlevy)
210 points by olivercameron on Sept 23, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 139 comments

That's an awful lot of hype that sounds like it was written by (or for) someone who has never used Skype, or Hangouts, or <insert messaging app of choice here>, all of which do store-and-forward messaging for individuals and groups, and let you call people with a touch of button. Hangouts also shows me if someone's on mobile or desktop, and whether they're "present" or not, and while it doesn't tell me exactly where they are, that's arguably more a feature than a bug. Same goes for apparently recording everything forever (cue image of legal departments around the world reaching for the NOPE button).

What am I missing?

>What am I missing?

You're not missing anything, but that doesn't mean this won't be successful. There were tons of ride ordering/sharing apps before Uber; Uber just had the right interface at the right moment. AIM long predated Whatsapp and Skype. These are just a few examples of not-so-original products that became hugely successful because of some very slight twists on relatively old concepts.

Not being original in concept is far from a disqualifier for success. In all but a tiny fraction of cases, "first mover advantage" is a myth. If your goal is rapid, widespread adoption of your product, it's generally better to iterate on something that has proven acceptance by the market.

Sure, but Talko isn't the second mover in messaging apps, it's more like the millionth. This is a pretty mature market by now, and I'm still not seeing any obvious hook that would get me to switch.

There are a few innovations in Talko itself (telling people if you're driving etc.). That may be enough, and it may not. It takes a fair amount of pixie dust for these things to work out, so no one knows. But it does have a chance.

In a world where "Yo" gets more than 1 user (and a $10M valuation), I don't discount any app until it's removed from the app store.

I would never use an app that has the "feature" of broadcasting my current location and movement to friends and colleagues.

I feel the same way, but I get the impression that "kids these days" love that kind of thing, so the fact that you or I wouldn't use this isn't necessarily a bar to success.

That's the crux of the problems I see with this. I can believe it's a very good implementation of Skype, but the genuine novelties (location broadcast and record-by-default) are the first thing any remotely privacy conscious person is going to turn off most of the time.

Is a setting that [unless turned off] tells people what form of transport I'm using really better at avoiding unwanted intrusions than a status update? Am I going to be more or much less likely to leave it on in the background in case any of my friends choose to come and socialise with me if everything is being recorded in the background?

I can certainly imagine edge cases where those capabilities would come in useful, but it sounds like they're more likely to generate negative hype and corporate bans than encourage adoption.

Telling people my location or if I am driving is not a feature I want just like never used the status feature on any IM/text client ever had...

People should never expect an instant reply to any IM, text, or phone call. The receiver's status is totally irrelevant. Society is going to hell from this type of technology.

>People should never expect an instant reply to any IM, text, or phone call.

Why is synchronous, remote communication disallowed? You seem to have ruled out instant responses to any form of remote communication, which greatly impedes, well, communicating. If I have a chain of questions that rely upon previous answers, it's either going to be woefully inefficient to send as asynchronous communication (I have to enumerate all possible questions, which also means all possible answers to previous questions) with respect to either data (one massive email) or time (one question per email, wait for response).

>The receiver's status is totally irrelevant.

Not at all. If I need information that any one of 5 of my contacts have, I can narrow down who I need to ask based on status rather than sending out 5 questions and getting 5 responses. Alternatively, I could ask them one at a time and wait 5-10 minutes for a response before moving on, but that's a large time sink and doesn't scale well at all. A simple available/busy goes a long way.


"Why is synchronous, remote communication disallowed?"

No one said that... I am just saying it's the choice of the receiver of the message when to reply. To many people today seem to have the expectations if can send a message under a second they should receive a reply back in under a second. Ummmm No.

"Not at all. If I need information that any one of 5 of my contacts have, I can narrow down who I need to ask based on status rather than sending out 5 questions and getting 5 responses."

So your contacts status is needed for your convenience? What about theirs?

You sound young and really narcissistic. It's not all about you. To make it more clear for you... It's none of your business what I am doing and I will reply back when I f*cking feel like it.

At work, its all about the job. So as an enterprise tool its still valid to want timely responses, and to expect them.

> Telling people my location or if I am driving is not a feature I want just like never used the status feature on any IM/text client ever had...

That makes you the minority view.

Status's in IM apps were hugely popular, that you are unable to see the value to others indicates a lacking of either imagination or empathy on your part.

> People should never expect an instant reply to any IM, text, or phone call. The receiver's status is totally irrelevant.

If my SO is waiting for me to come home to turn on the oven, then being able to see that I am driving, versus calling me and having me not pick up (I typically do not answer the phone when driving), is a huge value add.

If I have one last thing I want my friend to pick up at the store, seeing "walking" versus "driving" lets me know if it is futile to call him.

These features are useful. Are they something that I'd always want to share with everyone? Of course not, but in the right situations they add value to communication.

"That makes you the minority view."

So what? I was giving my opinion... You do realize the majority view has been often wrong though out history?

"Status's in IM apps were hugely popular, that you are unable to see the value to others indicates a lacking of either imagination or empathy on your part."

I didn't say it may not have value for others but once again it has no value for me. The last thing I want to do is update my status in my IM/chat program every time I logon.

Your scenarios are totally irrelevant... In either case why does it matter if the receiver is driving? They could send a text or leave a VM if don't pick up (which would then assume maybe driving or just busy). What do these scenarios have to do with my point the sender shouldn't expect an instant reply to every communication?

My mistake, I am at work and hadn't read the article in question (until right now) but seen the comment about the app giving the status if driving or not which set me off.

My remarks were about personal communications which this app does not seem to be about. I do feel sorry for people in jobs who do have to reply at all hours of the day. That's not for me...

Downvote? My mistake, we should be slaves to our technology like the young folk and conform. I said nothing and everything is all right.

I think there's something to be said for picking up on something popular and doing it well; you don't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel.

I recall Pogue's article on walkie-talkie apps (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/technology/personaltech/ze...), and how even the best apps had the most god-forsaken interface design.

Being incumbent in a space doesn't mean you do a great job at something. Whether this makes Talko interesting and useful remains to be seen (I'm reserving excitement personally), but I definitely think there's a lot of room for improvement that Talko is taking advantage of.

It's not about the second mover advantage anymore (and certainly not about the first mover advantage). It's all about the LAST mover these days. Doesn't matter how many others have tried something before your or how successful those somethings are. Can you create an app / a business which will be the LAST to dominate its space?

Right. Google is successful because it was the last search engine. It provided a completely novel way to do search (links vs. keywords) and Facebook will be valuable if it turns out to be the last social network. However, to be the LAST MOVER you have to provide a value at some arbitrary, but huge, number. Let's say a 10x improvement over the incumbant (or various substitute products). That is why email is difficult to dethrone. It works well, is relatively secure (you can sort of choose your level of security) and spam settings make it reasonably painless. So this app is going to have to be a much better experience than hangouts (probably easy, hangouts is shit), or whatsapp, or email, or a phonecall, or instagram etc. This can be done, but the execution has to be perfect, the value proposition has to be 10x better than the one or two substitute services it replaces (largely phone & messaging) and it has to have a growth pattern that is substantial enough that it can be reasonably assumed that at least 80% of my contacts are using it.

so to be last mover here they probably need

>a product that is 10x better than a combo(or stand alone instance) of SMS/messaging apps/email/facetime/phone etc

>widespread user adoption


>a revenue stream

It seems cool, but it is a tough space to dominate.

um... didn't it become the 'last search engine' because it was so successful rather than vice versa?

I meant successful in financial terms. It is past edit, so I can't change it to valuable. This is basically an adoption of things Peter Theil says. Googles value (financial) has largely been realized many years after founding (prob 10). So if they did not have last mover inertia, then they wouldn't have been around long enough to extract the value from the market.

You are missing a beat here. The last mover is the winner of a space. It's kind of like saying I found my car keys in the last place I looked. Of course you did.

But how do you stay the last mover? This is about building a moat.

To continue your analogy: How do you prevent yourself from losing your car keys again?

> Uber just had the right interface at the right moment

and the right branding and a huge amount of backing and a giant pair of balls.

"and while it doesn't tell me exactly where they are"

You can (voluntarily) share this with the click of a button, at least on Android (paperclip->Location), which I think is the best solution.

But anyway, I agree. Sounds a lot like maybe a new feature or two to Hangouts (the long term rescind feature sounds nice, and Hangouts doesn't have an easy way to record an audio clip from within the app and attach it the way you would an photo, but I'm not convinced that is as important as Ray Ozzie thinks it is, and even if it is it would be trivial to implement on top of what already exists), not some grand new product market, especially when it doesn't even include video support yet while Hangouts does. If you buy into his theory of there being something "lost" with text, surely a lot is also lost when you lose body language with just voice.

Skype is not a well crafted product:

- if you send a message to someone offline, and you log off, he will receive it only when both of you will be online and if you use the same device you used when you sent the message. If it was too long ago he might miss it. - if you use multiple devices with skype, you will have to read all everytime you change device

so even if you've heard of skype, I can get why there's so much hype for a well-crafted product like whatsapp, but for calls.

Agreed there's a lot of hype, but Skype and hangouts are awful on mobile, so anything better would be nice.

I think you are missing the mini-slideshare aspect to voice and text/image sharing. Just looking at the app website, users can work as a team and use voice for annotation, which is pretty huge vs. text/images only. Plus, any voice elements seem to be treated as part of a larger conversation element that can be resumed or edited at will. Do Skype or Hangouts have these features? I know I can leave people messages like using an answering service, but that's not even close to the same thing.

Things are more than what they do; they're how they do them. A Kia Soul and a Mercedes-Benz S500 basically have the same feature set. But they're very different experiences.

I agree. I remember when the iPad came out, people said they weren't anything special, just a big iPod touch. But that seemingly insignificant tweak in size changed everything about use patterns. The difference is like that between a bathtub and a swimming pool.

While all of those things are (apparently) possible in Skype and friends, they haven't been the focus, or what the product is all about. I use Skype on a weekly basis perhaps (not an expert, but a regular-Joe user), and replicating the kind of experience presented in the article seems like it would be a huge hassle, if not impossible based on my knowledge of Skype. That matters a hell of a lot more than whether or not it's possible, especially when it comes to adoption of an application for certain use cases.

Skype and Hangouts are synonymous with video calling/conferencing, and that's it. They may have more features tucked away somewhere, but it's not what they are.

> Skype and Hangouts are synonymous with video calling/conferencing, and that's it. They may have more features tucked away somewhere, but it's not what they are.

I had the same idea of Hangouts until switching to android.

On android Hangouts easily becomes the SMS app and instant messenging app as well. After a few days, I would go to Hangout and then think about how (voice ? IM ? SMS ? video call?) I'd like to contact the person. A bit in the same way Talko wants to be a hub for the different channels.

Do any of them do store-and-forward voice messaging? I don't think Hangouts does.

Do you mean like voice mail and iOS / whatsapp / Facebook voice messaging?

If you call somebody on the plain old telephone network and they're not around, you'll likely get voice mail. It wouldn't be hard for Talko to offer a better interface for this, but I have a hard time seeing killer app potential in this.

I absolutely abhor listening to voice mails and I know I am not the only one. That is a really bad example to use.

Why is it a bad example? I hate voice mail as well, but it is "store-and-forward voice messaging".

Agreed. I hate voice mail -- and while the clunky old interface (dial-tone buttons or what-not) doesn't help -- the thing I don't like is the concept of store-and-forward voice messaging in general.

Now that I think about it -- I did one type of store-and-forward voice+ messaging that I did enjoy somewhat. When a friend of mine went to Japan as an exchange student two? years ahead of me in ... 1995? We exchanged cassette tapes via snail-mail. Each usually was kind of a mix-tape of voice diary/message and some music or other stuff and was accompanied by a letter, maybe with news clippings, pictures etc (I think, it's been a while). It's really the only exchange of voice messages I can remember enjoying.

Perhaps the clue is in the fact that the media has to be part of, or inform the message. Modern (phone) voicemail is usually not (in my experience) actually made as store and forward, but more of a fall-back because synchronous communication wasn't possible. Generally if someone wants to forward me an asynchronous message -- I much prefer text. Either sms or email (or a letter) -- to voicemail. That said, if someone mailed me a cd (or audiofile on a thumbdrive) I'd probably listen to it, and have a rather different experience. Not sure if someone emailed me an audio-file. I'm a bit of a die-hard plain-text email person. I'll stretch to image-attachments, though. But I still feel we got oversold on the idea of multimedia, and it remains a bit of a "fad". I do realize I might be an outlier, though :-)

So maybe an app like this can help inform the media choice, and by virtue of that make store-and-forward voice messaging not-suck. As long as people use them as "voice logs" (like videologs) or something, and not as a means to transmit information. Which is just awful, IMNHO.

And I'll probably still prefer my plain-text -- but thinking about it, I could see it being a useful form of communication after all.

Apologies for rambling, but I think there might be traces of an interesting thought in there.

This sounds even worse. You won't be listening to a voicemail, which most people understand ought to be brief, you'll be listening to a recap of either someone's attempted conversation with you, or two people conversing.

Unless it works differently, somehow.

WhatsApp does this easily - the voice button is right on the main interface.

> apparently recording everything forever

I think you are missing the part where he says that any participant can rescind at any time.

Which will lead to a lot of drama.

Imagine - you break up with your partner, and he/she deletes the other side of the conversation.

This may not be a problem in work settings, but it has the potential to cause a lot of pain in personal conversations.

I've been using Talko for a little over 6 months, and I'm related to a founder. Discretion advised

It lives up to the hype. It's innovative in terms of an app that perfectly integrates synchronous and asynchronous communication at that same time. What's much more impressive is that it's one of the few pieces of software where I can confidently say It Just Works. The level of quality in every interaction and experience is carefully thought out and executed. It is modern enough that my girlfriend and I communicate with it exclusively. It's simple enough to facilitate discussion with >6 members of my extended family at the same time on a daily basis. That includes people ages 10 through >70.

I do communicate more with my family now than ever before. The key is the group aspect and being asynchronous. It's not pushy like a phone call where you're forced to make conversation with a single person. With Talko, we're always talking about a particular subject, usually with lots of pictures. I can be super engaged if I want to, or I can sit back and just watch it happen. What's awesome is that we all are experiencing it, even the people who miss it.

Talko's UX is helpful for guiding people to make the right decision about whether to talk about something in a 'new call', or to continue talking in an existing thread. This solves the issue of split conversations in the same thread, and if you want to talk about something for a long time (like your sports team every week), it's easy to bring up old conversations and continue them. Logged conversations aren't novel but are still great for nostalgia.

I've been happy to see them improve a lot in just the time I've been beta testing. They completely revamped some critical user flows which made a huge difference in usability. I know there are more awesome things ahead.

Give it a shot, and if you don't like it feel free to refute me! I am giving my honest opinion and haven't been asked to speak my mind from the Talko team in any way.

Edit: Forgot to mention that the voice quality is ridiculously crisp both in playback and realtime. It's much more clear than a call.

How do you hold your phone when talking with Talko? It seems that the photo stream plays a big role in the experience, so I assume that you keep it in the front of you instead of on your ear. Do you do this also when not inside or stationary?

Is the audio quality good when on the move? I've played with a few WebRTC solutions on a mobile and all of them call quality problems on mobile.

Thanks for that insight Hank. I'm curious - prior to using Talko, what was your relationship with voice calls? I connect with the note in this article about some people finding them intrusive compared to text / email. I'm intrigued by what Talko offers - wondering if you were similarly anti-voice beforehand, and that changed, or if you were ambivalent?

Sounds great. Just wondering - were you using another app with your girlfriend and family before Talko? Apart from the voice aspect, your experience sounds exactly like mine but with Whatsapp.

I'm curious to try a Whatsapp-like experience with voice, but neither my family nor I use the Whatsapp voice note feature. I think it's because recorded voice is just awkward.

> With Talko, we're always talking about a particular subject, usually with lots of pictures. I can be super engaged if I want to, or I can sit back and just watch it happen. What's awesome is that we all are experiencing it, even the people who miss it.

Sounds like a next-generation WhatsApp. I use WhatsApp mostly asynchronously, and occasionally with group chats with colleagues/friends. At a night out we had a group chat where we sent occasional photos of the night. It was a kind of casual inclusive running commentary.

This sounds like it makes that side of things more useful and accessible. I'm interested to give it a try. :)

Sounds fascinating. In fact, it almost sounds too good. My concern is that it seems intimate. There are not many people I want to connect with on an intimate level.

How does it differ from say group chat on Whatsapp ?

I would never use this product.


Because the last thing on earth is for my mom to know i'm available for a phone call when really i just don't want to talk to her.

Even if you prefer talking through a tiny speaker to texting, i simply cannot see this product taking off except with the technophobic. There is a reason i prefer texting, i'll return your message on my own schedule, i'll think more about my responses, and i'll make damn well sure that the person on the other end doesn't know i'm ignoring them when i am.

I agree with the comment about your parents knowing you're available to chat.

However, referring to the audio recording and playback capability of an iPhone as "talking through a tiny speaker" seems in itself pretty technophobic. Furthermore, your instant rejection of this idea furthers that concept. Typing on a tiny smooth keyboard isn't exactly the definition of the ultimate fulfillment of our technological capability. Regarding replying on your own schedule, I'm fairly certain that's built in functionality, to reply to a thread as you wish via voice, text, image, etc.

All that being said, I'm not sold on the idea and unsure whether or not I'd use it.

> However, referring to the audio recording and playback capability of an iPhone as "talking through a tiny speaker" seems in itself pretty technophobic.

There's something to that, though; for all the incredible advancements in mobile phone technology over the past decade, it's shocking how terrible the actual audio quality of the average mobile voice call really is. Even the most basic phone on a purely landline call sounds better.

And I think it's something many people have forgotten. It wasn't all that long ago that long distance companies (remember those?) used to actually compete over who had the best voice quality. "You can hear a pin drop" - remember that? Maybe not; I imagine these days many young people have never even used a landline.

I do think that poor audio quality is a decent part of why so many of us hate actually talking on the phone these days. Having to strain to hear, asking people to repeat themselves, accidentally talking over one another, all these things make for a much more awkward experience. And you just don't get that same feeling of connection or illusion of sharing the same space when you lose the subtle nuances of someone's voice.

Right, that's fair enough. I'm not the type of person to carry high quality headphones with me wherever i go (it's the listening to the speaker that i was referring to). I don't think most people do. I would argue that is why many people do not enjoy taking phone calls, that and the fact that it warms the phone against your head and kills battery.

That aside, i don't see why any reasonable person with any kind of social life whatsoever would give up this much info for the sake of receiving slightly better timed calls.

I don't see how this makes the awkward parental relationship worse than a normal phone, where a parent can just call literally any time and your phone will ring.

> Using the sensors on a recipient’s phone, icons tell you whether that person is on the move (walking or driving), how the person is connected to the network, and even what time zone she’s in.

Seems like an awful lot of privacy to give up.

Yep, I can see it now.

"I see you're at home so I know you're not out doing something, why aren't you responding to me???" - From a parent, significant other, boss, etc. Society in general doesn't really "accept" the notion of I'm busy doing my own thing, or I simply have no interest in talking to you right now.

If I couldn't disable that, the app would be a non-starter for me.

Funny you say that. It took me years to make my mum understand the concept of working from home. Whereas people my age seem to grasp instantly that if I'm home, I'm at my busiest.

I'd wager that in our various parents' generations (no idea how old you are) one of the biggest factors that determined whether you could chat with someone on the phone was whether someone was there to see you do it. If you're at work, your boss can catch you 'using company time to handle personal tasks'; at home, nobody is there to watch you like a hawk.

> at home, nobody is there to watch you like a hawk.

Which is really the main point of working from home. The freedom to work without the needless pressure and thus getting more done.

If it were to communicate with everyone sure, but for my significant other and 3-5 closest friends, not at all.

Too much hype. I've never seen anything like this live up to the hype. All the great (popular) products that we use came about in an organic, almost underground manner. There were no "launches" or big announcements. People just started using them and sharing them in a natural way. Tell me one product that launched with this much hype and lived up to it.

Wolfram Alpha had a fair amount of hype around it. I don't know if they've delivered on their promises but they seem to be continuously improving it.

While impressive, WA never got as big as they thought they would, in my opinion.

The Segway. Changed life as we know it.

But yes. I also don't see why we have to discuss an obvious advertorial ... I guess that's what passes for "new tech" these days, whatever has a big enough army of flaks behind it.

iPhone? :P

I think GP meant "product" in a What'sApp\Facebook\Instagram sense of the word. These all (as far as I recall) sort of spread without big "this is gonna change everything" hype\announcements (up to a certain point, I've no idea what that point was - something between ten and a hundred million users?), they just started getting used by people because they were fun and engaging.

Good call.

The iPhone might be the exception that proves the rule. The original iPod was OS X only, didn't have as much space as a nomad, etc. But people used it organically and pretty soon it took over.

The iPhone would probably have been Samsung's instead of Apple's without the whole iPod/iTunes/Movies business.

> Of course, those stored conversations might be available to government subpoenas, national security letters and perhaps even NSA voodoo. But the bet is that customers will understand that having a record of conversations is an invaluable thing.

Why not encrypt them? Convenience seems like an excuse. If your monetization is focused on business users, offer them security. I think it will be really hard to succeed as an post-Snowden US company without offering encryption.

"he sketched what his app would be like to users. Not long after, he filed for some patents."

I really wish we would leave this culture of patenting behind.

at least the patent system should require a working implementation before something can be patented.

No, it shouldn't. People should be able to invent something without having to build it.

The filing can come, and then they can spend a decade trying to build it without worrying about a big company spending 100x and building it in 1/10th of the time.

If they didn't file a patent and didn't have an invention to show and BigCo still beat them to having a working patentable invention that just means the "invention" was an obvious idea whose time had come, which is really the biggest problem with modern patents, IMO.

The self-centered egotistical notion that these ideas are something unique to one inventor as opposed to the reality where the vast majority (though certainly not all) of ideas are just obvious consequences of timing and everything that came before is really, really goofy and it is crazy that we award the first person who happens to legally file such ideas a nearly 2 decade monopoly on them.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Read the writings of Thomas Jefferson who very clearly had a much higher bar in mind for awards of patentability than the rubber-stamping we do today:



Just a couple of examples, but pretty much whenever Jefferson writes about patentable ideas he always stresses how high the bar must be on both real novelty of the invention and high social value of the invention.

If he had any notion of what patents would turn into today I'm absolutely positive he would have violently opposed the inclusion of them to the Constitution.

I agree the bar should be higher, I just don't think demonstrating a working invention should be a requirement.

Patent doesn't have to mean monopoly; it can just mean licensing rights.

Exclusive licensing rights are by definition a monopoly.

Right but it doesn't mean that nobody can make products using your patent; it means you benefit from it when they do. Which is not so much a societal problem.

Or as Kodak did, use your patent to prevent anyone from using the technology. Which is a problem for society.

iPhone-only social app = public beta, in terms of maturity.

Unless it supports all three mobile platforms or has published a full-featured API (or protocol specs) from day 1, any proprietary communication app is a non-starter for me (Hangouts included).

How one is supposed to promote it over WhatsApp, Telegram, LINE, and the likes? Hey, this new cool app does almost the same thing, but it's not available to the majority of your contacts!

In the real world, popular apps may be walled gardens, but they are cross-platform. Whatsapp supports 7 mobile platforms, Skype supports 6 platforms (5 mobile), LINE supports 9 platforms (6 mobile), Viber supports 8 platforms (6 mobile), WeChat supports 12 platforms (9 mobile variants), Telegram supports 7 platforms (3 mobile), Kik supports 3 mobile platforms, even Google Hangouts supports 2 mobile platforms. How an iPhone-only app can be considered seriously?

I disagree. For startups it's usually more important to focus their resources than to support everything. http://blog.semilshah.com/2014/08/25/ios-first-android-much-...

What a joke, I hate those biased generalized articles.

> 1. Early-stage startup teams cannot afford to handle the hardware fragmentation that plagues Android.

You have a full stack of iOS devices, too, maybe even more expensive. It's a point if you develop quite near hardware features or want to do pixel-perfect designs without auto-layout, but that's difficult for iOS, too, these days. A messenger app is really not that device specific.

> 2. Study after study demonstrates iOS users are not only growing in key geographies, but are more valuable customers.

If it's about hype and money, you might be right, but if you just need users with a much more social diversity, Android is likely on your side.

> 3. iPhone 5c and future low cost models will likely steal share from Android relative to yesterday. Dunno. You say "likely", too, so why is that even considered as a top 3 argument?

Nevertheless, the most important point here is: It's a messenger. For teams. You don't want split between iOS and Android devices and Talko itself sees this as negative point:

> (The corporate beta testers I spoke with sighed wistfully when reporting that a couple of team members could not participate because they didn’t use iPhones.) “We can’t build a business on this until we have all of the above,” says Ozzie, who wanted to make sure his engineers aced the iPhone first; [...]

iMessage's strength is its SMS fallback (still, who wants to send expensive text messages these days), but Facebook, WhatsApp etc. are generally much more used.

For startups it's more important to deliver what they promise. For a startup which boasts to replace telephony, it is about being available to everyone with a phone. iPhone first strategy may have worked for Instagram (an app for phones with a better camera). But times change, smartphones are getting cheaper, iOS is loosing market share, messengers is a crowded business.

Want to say two things to you.

1) Absolutely agree.

2) Extra marks for totting up those cross-platform stats. My opinion of Viber went up (even though I'm an open-source head) when I saw that they have a Linux desktop client. Same goes for Skype back in the day.

Did you read the article? They are already working on supporting other platforms. It IS a "public beta", like you said.

I, as an Android user, don't like feeling like a second-class citizen. Make it cross-platform from the get go I say.

WeChat does a subset of this and is extremely popular in China. Basically it's like text messages, except voice. This looks a lot more polished though, and obviously includes many more features. I can definitely see it being handy. It's often easier to speak a message than type it, and if you care about the presentation of your message, voice to text will often take longer than straight text. (Plus can't communicate everything voice does.) But I still rarely use WeChat since voice clips aren't my default mode of communication, and there's friction in using a completely separate app/service just for that. Including it in an all-encompassing messaging platform though, sounds great.

Chinese does have the additional complication of using a writing system that's not geared very well for fast entry on a mobile phone though.

It depends on what input system you use. If you draw characters with your finger, as many Chinese do, it's pretty slow. If you're on Android and use Google Pinyin you can swipe across letters just like you can in English. Based on your swipe gestures it predicts what you're trying to type pretty well. If you're a Chinese typing expert, you can use Wubi[1] which can be used to achieve typing speeds higher than most English typists.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wubi_method

Entry seems pretty fast to me. The pinyin system means that you can enter a few letters using the English alphabet and it will show you the most likely character. For common words, one or two letters per character is enough. I am not a native Chinese typist, but even by guessing at the proper spelling, the predictive entry system is good enough for me to type at a non-too-terrible speed.

Not a native speaker either, but I hate typing in Pinyin on a touchscreen device (iPhone in my case). You have to get almost every letter right, whereas if you type English and miss up to 50% of the letters, autocorrect can usually still save you. I agree that Pinyin feels pretty much as fast as typing English on a real computer, though.

(German is also incredibly frustrating to type on a phone, as there are more ways to compose words than autocorrect could ever possibly know.)

There are basically two styles of Chinese input: easy and slow via pinyin, or hard but fast via radicals. Both have their drawbacks.


I find it very surprising you have said pinyin is slow. It has the downside that you need to look at what you're typing, but it's certainly not slow. With modern IMEs it's more akin to something like Swype in it's usage.

I am appalled when in other regions in China where they do not use pinyin, watching people spending over a minute trying to tell their friend that they just got on the train.

My GF uses WeChat voice clips all the time.

It is strange watching people have entire conversations using Voice Clips.

I disagreed with it more until she showed me the (hidden!!) option to make them not play back through speakerphone, which WeChat, of course, defaults to.

Talko wants to be Google Wave for voice.

I think it might succeed.

Looking forward to browsing the code, with an eye to self-host, after it crashes and burns and the ashes are cast upon the winds to be spread to all corners of the world under the APL...

That was my first thought exactly.

The post reads like PR. But what I found interesting is just how deeply synchronous and asynchronous communication are intertwined. This may be obvious to many of you, but for me I have always wondered why so many communication channels coexist (without any friction whatsoever) and what specific human purpose they all serve - e.g. when/why I send email, voice call & SMS? (not including the many proprietary ones).

Why a pure messaging app (like Whatsapp) wants to do voice, and why a pure voice app (like Viber) started doing messaging. Perhaps, both are needed within the same app to make it all work - but then why don't they do email? Why not have an app that calls, messages and mails? :)

Well smartphones are probably that app - they are a great communication tool just because they enable SMS, email and voice call together (all in the same seamless package).

Would love to get some thoughts about where you think this app sits in the communication app spectrum - what need it fulfills (I can't see using it, because it does nothing for me). But generally speaking, I'd love to discuss communication apps! :)

What problem is this solving again? Proprietary app, Proprietary system. I'll stick with the universal phone call, SMS, and e-mail as my way of communicating with people.

Why are people always hell bent on changing the way we communicate? I tried the app and it does not offer enough to keep me using it.

The telephone system is based on protocols, not "apps". Where is the protocol description of Talko?

Apps are the protocols of the 21st century.

Apps are significantly worse than protocols.

I never compared the two. And I'm not disagreeing either, but realistically, what's the last protocol that's gained mass developer/user usage? Facebook? Twitter? Skype? Whatsapp? Most of these services aren't even accessible without an app. The only recent protocol that comes to mind is bitcoin, but acceptance is still lacking.

Yes, it's a problem with the industry. We have all of these proprietary, unfederated apps instead of open, federated protocols because the only business model anyone can come up with is to wall people into services they have full control over and then siphon up all the data they could get to hand over to the ad networks. We need to come up with a better way of financing the implementation of these services so that people can have better services.

> what's the last protocol that's gained mass developer/user usage?


And BTW, Whatsapp is non-federated XMPP. The Twitter protocol is HTTP, its API is documented and clones exist; like Whatsapp it is non-federated.

The distinction you describe is one I'm sure the mass market fully appreciates.

I think this could work well for people who are 'time rich' where talking is by far the better way to convey more information. For the rest of us drones though we have less choice about when / how long / how loud we can talk so texting or messaging is an attractive alternative.

I can't helping thinking "right problem, wrong solution". I would take the bet that there's more ongoing demand for voice calls than many in the tech community realize -- but I don't think this demand is primarily among close-knit teams.

Our team used Hipchat for a while, which was notable because it had a button for 1-click voice or video calls... a button no one ever clicked.

This seems anachronistic. Does anyone prefer voice messages to a text or email?

Depends on the case, but yeah, those extra emotional cues are very important to me now.

My business consultant, a retired SV engineer & entrepreneur, has been incessantly reminding me, "make that one a phone call, not an email," for four years now. And he's absolutely right. Many situations jut work better when people can hear your voice and v/v. I feel I can communicate far more effectively over the phone in many cases than I can via email. Any time you could do with some extra empathy, e.g. during negotiations, introductions, heavy procrastination, tense moments--you pick up the phone and the extra boost is like getting free money compared to email.

I feel exactly the opposite. All my life I've felt clumsy with spoken words. I much prefer to write.

Writing gives me time to think and to edit and to find the odd word that eludes me.

I do realise that not everybody feels this way. Many of my friends hate writing and will basically ignore important emails as if they had never existed.

I guess our brains are wired differently.

Perhaps you're too hard on yourself with regard to spoken words. Keep in mind that these are technologies. The phone is a form of technology that you can use to communicate. It will have pros/cons compared to email. And using it effectively is a skill that can be learned.

I often hire subcontractors and I cannot tell you how much I wish they would just call me when they fall behind, rather than emailing or texting about everything. It turns a bad situation into an even worse situation, where on at least one side of the conversation, there is an extra question mark or exclamation point behind every piece of punctuation. In contrast, some of the most effective people I know will call whenever there is any kind of a speed bump, because they recognize the potential advantages of a voice conversation. It's there for anybody to use, and it doesn't really care if we use it or not, but the phone has its advantages.

"Writing gives me time to think and to edit and to find the odd word that eludes me."

That's great and all, but you're now just talking about you and your thoughts - the core of a publication, not the 'us' that's the basis of conversation.

You're talking about your needs and your comfort level. What about the needs and comfort of the recipient/reader?

do you also prefer turn based(or pause-able real-time) games to real time games? continueing the calls vs messages thing..face to face is even worse..i always want to say something like 'can you email all that you said just now' or i'll email something like 'as discussed in the meeting..'..i mean..can they put it all down or writing so that i can refer to and think about it? i mean, often in meetings, you just need to digress..then ask 'where were we?' and half the people can't recall..if its like that, why meet? yea, i know some people that say tl:dr about long emails too..

To be clear, I love talking on the phone or in person with people. But I really hate voice messages. It feels like a chore to listen to them. I'm honestly not sure why.

Communication by voice needs a counterpart. And it is done live.

It's not that simple. Radio works fine. I think voice messages are a horrible match for the phone system for some reason -- maybe because we're conditioned to talking to a hand-set means synchronous communication.

Maybe it'd be an intersting experiment to have a group of people go into one of two booths -- one with a smart phone/hand set -- one rigged like a recording studio -- and ask them to record an imaginary message to "... eg: a family member" -- and see how/if the messages differed?

Also see my comment up-thread about snail mail and cassette tapes.

The thing is that many of the advantages of a phone call (and in-person talking) over email etc are due to the very low-latency and the ability to quickly react to nuances and adjust what you're saying to reflect them.

A voice message basically does not have any of that.

Certainly it will have some advantages over text, but a voice message isn't a phone call.

I wrote the article. One comment about the iPhone only issue. Of course I probed this with Ray -- a communications app is really handicapped if you can't share it with all the people you want to contact. His answer was that Talko wasn't going to take a shortcut of writing one version and porting it to different systems--they wanted to get one totally right and then then work native on the others. That's why, he says, that Talko right now is totally free in beta form -- kind of a tryout period -- and that no monetization will occur until Android and Web versions work fully. He thinks that Android folks will appreciate a fast native version in a few months (my estimate) rather than a balky one now and forever.

They've brought IRC to the phone.

Back in the day we'd hang on party confs and chat online at the same time, and you'd idle for weeks at a time, never disconnecting, always logging the convo. So you could get someone's attention via voice, talk about the voice call on chat, send links and pictures, or private messages, etc, and go back to everything except the voice stuff.

We don't need 'voice' or one particular thing, we need all of these things in a continuum of historical communication of all mediums. A very thin personalized Facebook feed of every communication, essentially. Just show everything everybody has said, done or shared in chronological order and make it easy to read. That's all anybody needs.

It sounds like a useful set of new features. I just wish every new batch of features wasn't heralded as the "amazing new way you will communicate in the future!" I also wish that people could look at these innovations and see ways they could be modified, improved, made to complement other ways of doing things, etc. Instead it seems like the pitch-culture of tech forces people to pretend as though one particular set of features shall be the entire future universe entire and perfect, as though you would never need more (or less), or to use it in a different way than designed.

"On a whiteboard, Ozzie has jotted down a long checklist of emotions easily conveyed by voice, but difficult to decipher in quickly thumbed-out bursts of text: concern, pain, urgency, empathy, clarity, seriousness, confidence, anxiety, trust, strength, accountability, anger, fear, stress, confusion, doubt…"

Isn't this why we don't use voice? Voice is so rich and emotionally expensive. note: I haven't tried the product but I guess I am always a bit skeptical of voice products.

The product looks cool, and even had me a bit excited.

But then I saw "iPhone Only".

I agree that startups should stick to one platform when they are starting out, except when your product relies on the network effect to be useful.

Couple that with a big PR launch and its a failure from the start.

The product is irrelevant to a large portion of the world and handicapped to anyone with friends on Android.

Sounds like the basic elements of his former Groove groupware, which worked really well, before it was bought by Microsoft, and disappeared down the memory hole. I always wondered if that was the cost of Ozzie's hire, or if they just thought it would cannibalize their existing server-based products. Fifteen years of missed opportunity.

Whoever cracks having the verbal equivalent of hypertext will change the world. This is a step in the right direction.

Maybe in the sense that SGML foreshadowed the open web -- but not really. AFAIK SGML was mcuh more open that this.

Granted, open isn't enough: wikis were a great idea, and while wikipedia might be one of this age's wonders of the world -- both stand on top of HTML and HTTP.

This is about as exiting as an office suite. Any old office suite. Not that people don't use office suites, it's just that it's broken tech, that locks people in caves. Bigger caves, yes, but still caves.

I wonder what had happened if they'd just made all of Lotus Notes Free software, rather than bundle it around in various zombie reincarnations?

The reason people stop using voice is that it doesn't work anymore. My experience is that if both parties are on a mobile phone, then there is about a 50% chance that there will be significant periods of time in which one party is completely unintelligible, or the call will drop.

It sounds like the app opts people in to having calls recorded by default, which isnt legal in my state. It will be interesting to see if any legal challenges are brought -- I sure wouldn't use it.

What is the product and who is the customer here? It is the users of the app that are for sale? If so, is there anything that would allow me to host my own version of this for my family?

you know. i like asynchronous. and i like not having to explain why i didn't pick up the call/message back immediately. gosh. the wonder that is email..

"If you’re under 30, the very idea of getting a cold-call from someone besides a close friend or family member seems intrusive, if not borderline odious."

If you're not in my contact list, I do not answer the phone unless previous arrangements have been made. I might listen to the voicemail in a couple minutes, assuming you leave a message. Really old people (white/blue hair) will not leave messages which makes for an interesting protocol breakdown.

I also don't do the ankle bracelet / house arrest thing, so people leave me a message on my phone and their brains explode that it took me 12 hours to notice and respond back. The very concept that I can own and pay for a smartphone but not look at it for half a day is literally unthinkable to them.

Thats the new world.

I'm the opposite; I pick up unknown numbers because, hey, who knows what it'll be. (Having once called several people from jail, who all didn't pick up because they didn't recognize the number, enforces my tendency to do this.)

Then again, I very rarely get unknown phone calls.

I also rarely listen to voicemail. Anyone who leaves me a voicemail is nearly guaranteed to be someone who doesn't know me, and doesn't know that they can contact me in one of a dozen different ways that I'm more likely to notice before I even see the voicemail icon.

Unified communications has a limited appeal, and I don't see anything in here that addresses the reasons for that limited appeal.

It's not going to work, no matter how much Ray Ozzie is widely admired (his remarks on Google Wave is really insightful).

Here is the deal breaker: here is no easy way to edit sound so far on phone, nor computer. It means no editorship, implies less or no control. Users demand control over their own contents. It's the ultimate user psychology.

im so tired of that web layout with massive font that you have to scroll like a mofo to see any content.

so tired.

Stopped reading due to incapacitating fit of laughter @ 'The software visionary who created Lotus Notes'

And why would that be, if I might ask? Sure, it turned into a rather buggy/bulky/annoying proposition, but for a product that had a great run and many firsts from 1989-1999, it was truly remarkable and powerful, and Ozzie was definitely a visionary.

Ignoring its influence and importance is a sign of youth perhaps (making some assumptions here).

TL;DR: Sales pitch. Yawn. At least, Lotus was something new in its time.



Stopped reading at 'The software visionary who created Lotus Notes'

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