Why Talko is worth talking about

I don’t usually review products or services, as my job in life is to ignore the market noise and find the deeper truths that can guide us. Today I’m making an exception to that rule, because I think a new product is a potential game-changer that is worth watching closely.

A few weeks ago I and my Hypervoice Consortium colleagues had the pleasure of meeting two of the three co-founders of Talko, Ray Ozzie and Matt Pope. Ray has the track record and software industry résumé to die for, and Matt isn’t so far behind. You know how to use a search engine to find their details.

Their mobile application is launched today on iOS, and you can try it for free. It is a re-conceptualisation of the phone call from the ground up. Whilst all the elements may have pre-existed, their combination is qualitatively new. This is important.

I have presentations of my own going back a decade that urge people to develop the three vital ingredients that they have included:

  • Mixing synchronous and asynchronous communications in a way that intelligently breaks the historical “call” model. In its place it creates a fundamentally new modality of rendezvous and interaction.
  • Making the conversation about something (“show and tell”), such as a picture or document; and not being beguiled by the distracting 2-way video serpent. See “Linking Photography and Telephony is natural and complementary” from this prescient article by Stuart Henshall from 2004, which in turn is based on the extraordinary insight of Douglas Galbi.
  • Having the “talk into motion”, such as through hashtags to track actions etc.
  • But there’s one more critical aspect. As the last 8 months of research we have done at the Hypervoice Consortium shows, privacy and security are paramount in managing voice data. Whilst Talko persists all voice data by default, any participant can retrospectively rescind that permission at any time. Furthermore, all speakers are equal and you don’t get delegated permission from on high to delete your own voice.

    In other words, if you want to reverse the default on call recording, you also need to reverse the default enterprise hierarchical power structure. That’s a “wow!” in my book, as it’s completely antithetical to how unified communications people think.

    The business model is also significant. Customers don’t pay for the translocation of data, but instead for a computational feature: persistent storage. OK, it’s “only” the identity function, and thus the simplest possible case, but still it’s a fundamental category shift. If you have to pick a moment signalling the beginning of the end of telephony as a business model, today is that day.

    The potential impact of this technology is large:

    • It redefines what is possible with voice. We briefly saw how valuable that can be with Nextel’s push-to-talk and the massive per-user revenues that drove.
    • It shifts the boundary between voice and text, and allows voice to have the emotive urgency it deserves.
    • It places voice in its true conversational context as part of a unified activity stream.
    • It removes the focus-destroying historical artefact of the “ring” as the primary means of engagement.
    • It drops the cycle time of gesture/response allowing for “lean conversations” and truly agile distributed teams.
    • There are naturally going to be challenges:

      • Will users get over the UX adoption “hump” to experience the value in sufficient numbers for the viral adoption effect to take place?
      • Can commodity unassured broadband (using WebRTC) with commodity cloud hardware (from Amazon and Microsoft) deliver enough performance and scalability?
      • What is the minimal necessary level of capability in terms of devices (e.g. tablets or even PCs) as well as service integrations (e.g. Salesforce) to create mass adoption? Is a stand-alone mobile app enough?
      • My hunch is that mass enterprise adoption will need to include the ability to drop business records, like a trouble ticket or sales opportunity, into the activity stream, together with the ability to subscribe to conversations about those business entities. Photos and documents are necessary, but not quite sufficient – but there may still be a surprisingly large consumer market, a bit like with BlackBerry.

        So, will Talko take over the world? It’s way too early to tell. I’m still getting set up to use it properly with colleagues and family. It’s clearly the best-ever attempt at reimagining the phone call. Indeed it fulfils many of the dreams of liberation from telephony that people had when Skype was born. Should it not set the world alight, we will all have learnt something valuable. But if it does…

        If nothing else, Talko signals that the race to transcend legacy voice with hypervoice is seriously on.

        You can read up more on Talko at Medium (quoting myself) and New York Times (quoting colleague Kelly Fitzsimmons) and GigaOm.


  1. Brilliant article all around, well done. The combination is qualitatively new and when the web and Android app are delivered, quantitative adoption rate will tell the rest of the story. I’m extremely optimistic regarding the future of Talko and communication. Seminal development!


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