Ray Ozzie aims to change the way we talk with Talko
SAN FRANCISCO - Stop texting. Stop talking. Stop e-mailing. Because Ray Ozzie thinks he's found a better way for you to stay in touch using your mobile device.
Appearing Tuesday in the Apple App Store is Talko, which uses Voice over Internet Protocol technology to create multiperson conversations that combine voice, text and photos all laid out over an evolving timeline. An Android version is in the works.
The free app keeps conversations for 10 days. An enterprise-focused premium option - the foundation of the company's business plan - will keep threads indefinitely while providing other administrator features.
'What if the net had come before the phone, how would voice be woven into our online experience?'
Ray Ozzie, founder of Talko
'I asked myself, 'What if the Net had come before the phone: How would voice be woven into our online experience?'' says Ozzie, 58, a tech scene legend who oversaw the creation of Lotus Notes and served as chief technology officer at Microsoft a decade back. 'The answer to that question is Talko.'
A variety of investors are betting on Ozzie.
'Our discussion was very short,' says Joseph Ansanelli, a partner at Greylock Partners, who provided early funding for Talko, along with Andreessen Horowitz and Kapor Capital.
'It was a combination of Ray, who is always re-inventing the way we share information, and this idea in particular and how it could impact the way professional people communicate on mobile,' says Ansanelli. 'Talko is taking these different ways in which we communicate today, and seamlessly bringing them all together in one place.'
Ray Ozzie, 58, is the founder and CEO of Talko, a new app that uses Voice over Internet Protocol technology to blend voice conversations with other media such as photos and text.(Photo: Courtesy of Talko)
Talko blends voice conversations and images along with text messages. When you initiate a Talko conversation with one or more people, those folks also have the option of joining live. The entire chat is then recorded and saved with its attendant media.
During a demo of Talko, two usage examples were touted. One featured a business meeting that overlaid images and texted comments with the ongoing conversation. The other was personal, spotlighting the arrival of a new puppy into the home of Talko co-founder Matt Pope.
'Talko is like a diary of an event as it unfolds,' says Pope, who, along with co-founder Eric Patey, worked with Ozzie at software maker Groove networks, which was acquired by Mircosoft in 2005.
The app was beta-tested in recent months at Denver-based private satellite company Digital Globe. A small team there used it to keep in touch during a rocket launch.
'It was tough to break the typing habit, but we quickly found that we made good use of the app's voice feature.'
Ed Locher of Digital Globe, which beta-tested Talko
'Pre-Talko, there would just have been a lot of texts flying around,' says Digital Globe marketing director Ed Locher. 'It was tough to break the typing habit, but we quickly found that we made good use of the app's voice feature. The difference in terms of how we communicated was fairly dramatic.'
Talko is anchored to the premise that we fundamentally prefer to hear each other speak, with other media simply amplifying the conversation.
'Voice can augment our affinity for images,' says Ozzie, who says his incessant travel schedule was partly responsible for his epiphany about Talko. In particular, conversation threads on Talko that shared news about a grandchild made the technologist feel closer to his family.
The Talko team started its journey trying to solve what it saw were three problems with the way people stay in touch with smartphones.
'The first issue with texting, which is what many of us do, is the possibility for error while typing,' says Pope. 'Two, there is a complete lack of emotional context in texting. And lastly, add the simple fact that texting requires you to be always looking down at your phone, usually while you're walking.'
One technological challenge involved making sure the quality of the voice connection was high, and reducing the time required for each new item to post 'to well below half a second. Speed is immediacy,' says Ozzie.
Another priority was making sure the app was utterly intuitive.
Talko co-founders (left to right) Erik Patey, CEO Ray Ozzie and Matt Pope.(Photo: Courtesy of Talko)
'In the past, an enterprise solution that was saving a company money was easy to force people to use,' Ozzie says. 'But this is an era of high expectations for the natural usability of a product. If it's not obvious, people won't use it.'
While the Talko team is eager to see just how many people adopt their app, they're already busy working on new functions, which may include the ability to add video and documents to an ongoing conversation stream.
'I just don't think we're really communicating with each other in a way that fully uses the power of our voices mixed with technology,' says Ozzie. 'My dream is to change that.'
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