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Brave New Phone Call

Ray Ozzie’s new app Talko hopes to give people their voices back

Steven Levy
Sep 23, 2014 · Unlisted
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It is a gorgeous late summer afternoon, and I am sitting with Ray Ozzie in his spacious home office in Manchester-by-the-Sea, 30 miles up the coast from Boston. The software visionary who created Lotus Notes and who later succeeded Bill Gates as Microsoft’s chief software architect, is explaining to me how the humble phone call is not dying, as many might believe, but is busy being reborn.

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How can an app displace 135 years of telephony?
The first step is by being an app and not a facsimile of a desk phone. Unlike the “dialer” on your mobile, or even the call button on your contact list, Talko presents the opportunity to begin a conversation by simply touching on the image of the person or team you want to talk to, whether they are ready to join right now or sometime in the future.

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Talko is built so anyone can easily grasp its operations. But to understand its origins, and why this company has a chance to finally drag telephony from the Bell and Watson days, you first must know about Ray Ozzie. While he’s not a household name, he is one of the towering figures of the software world. And throughout his career, he has manically focused on one area.

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“I live and breathe computer-supported cooperative work — that’s my thing,” he says. “I love communications tools.”

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Left: Eric Patey. Right: Matt Pope. Photos courtesy of Talko.
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While Talko offers a number of compelling features, one in particular is destined for controversy: it stores all conversations by default. Unless you are being bugged by the FBI, the spoken words of a phone call have always disappeared as soon as the sound subsided. In that sense, traditional telephony is more ephemeral than Snapchat. But Talko calls are persistently available, like email or texts.

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Ozzie sees Talko making its money with premium services to workgroups and corporations. The company is currently funded by a small group of investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Reid Hoffman via Greylock Partners, Kapor Capital and others.

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