The founders of CloudTalk want to get people talking again – but in a way that will appeal to all those people who would rather text than make a phone call. Today, the company unveiled its new application for the iPhone and Android, including multimedia capabilities and a more intuitive user interface.
The service involves the exchange of voice messages, but it’s not merely voice mail, which CloudTalk Chairman and CEO David Hayden refers to as a dead end. Instead, people record voice messages and send them like you would a text, but you’re conveying much more with voice than mere characters.
Before they got here, however, the company’s founders set out to do considerable research, including interviews with the texting generation, pre-teens and others who’ve come to prefer texting over talking. They asked kids about their texting and communication habits and explored the reasons they didn’t like talking on the phone, including those times they don’t want to talk in front of their parents.
This all started a couple years ago, before it became so obvious to everyone else that there’s a whole lot of texting and not a lot of talking going on. Talking and the exchange of human voice is vital – you can’t really convey intimacy without voice, Hayden says. But the company’s founders also wanted to make sure they weren’t developing something to merely satisfy adults, and they wanted to design it in such a way that talking was central and not just a feature.
The company started out as Pana.ma in April 2009 and later the changed the name to better represent the offerings. The vision, according to Hayden, is to allow anyone to share their thoughts and emotions through their voice with anyone and to be able to do so in a way that it is convenient, natural and personal.
John Linney, chief marketing officer, says they wanted it to be as easy as texting but add emotion and everything else you get with a phone call. Basically, you send voice messages rather than make a direct phone call to someone. Unlike a voice call, it’s an asynchronous conversation, so you’re not interrupting someone to have a conversation, which is one of the things that most concerned people who were part of the research group.
Some of it sounds similar to Bubble Motion’s Bubbly “Twitter with a voice” service, but Bubble Motion works with operators around the world, particularly in Asia, where it’s caught on as a celebrity voice blogging service. CloudTalk’s service is over the top, done using the Internet, so it’s not telephony based, which lowers the cost. In fact, users aren’t required to have phone service in order to use it, and CloudTalk is not working direct with wireless operators.
One of the benefits of recording a message is kids can re-do it if they don’t like how it turned out on the first or second try. In that sense, they’re perfecting their message and saying it the way they mean for it to come across. They can even whisper their messages if they need to keep it private.
Highlights of the new app include multimedia sharing, group messaging, Facebook and Twitter integration and organized news feeds. Features that users said they liked will remain, such as the voice messaging for sending real-time messages within a social circle; text messaging; and setting up public communities. Voice messages can be tied to text or a photo and there’s no limit on the number of people who are included in a group conversation.
Hayden says it’s about bringing voice back into the conversation but not at the exclusion of other mediums that people are using.
The consumer offering is free but the company is developing an enterprise-side version that will include premium features that businesses pay for. It’s easy to imagine, for example, private groups for large or small businesses that want to have discussions about technical issues around a specific project. Employees even find the system useful for avoiding early morning conference calls with overseas colleagues.
At South by Southwest last month, the company announced its Partner Program, which enables mobile and Web application developers to integrate CloudTalk into their apps. The atzip mobile app is built on CloudTalk’s platform and involves sending messages for socializing, so you describe what you’re in the mood for doing, such as coffee or a movie, and hook up with someone interested in the same activity.
CloudTalk’s app can be downloaded at the iTunes store or Android Marketplace. The company will be speaking and exhibiting at the APPNATION conference in San Francisco on April 27 and 28.