Welcome to Talko!

Ray Ozzie
Ray Ozzie
Sep 23, 2014 · 4 min read

Today I’m thrilled to bring Talko to life. It’s something that I’ve dreamt about for years now – revolutionizing the voice experience. Here’s why.

Marshall McLuhan is often quoted as having said, “first we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” I’ve spent the vast majority of my career as a builder – using software to shape tools into various forms that help people communicate with one another and work together more effectively.

The tools we use to communicate shape the very foundations of culture, society and business: how we innovate, how we solve problems, how we organize and how we act. Continued innovation is key to continued progress.

When I first began working on communication tools for productivity in 1984, it was a PC-centric, document-centric world of words, numbers, slides and forms. Over the next 30 years, such social productivity tools have fundamentally reshaped how we work – largely by helping those sitting at their desktops to email, collect, organize, share and track their documents.

Documents remain a foundation, but there can be no doubt that sands are shifting. The cloud, SaaS, lean and agile practices are shifting how we manage information and do business. But even more dramatic is how mobile/social innovation has spurred changes in how we communicate on a daily basis.

A tipping point is upon us. The phone, not the PC, is at the center of how we now communicate – although the ‘phone call’ has become an increasingly rare occurrence. We avoid ringing others and despise being rung and, quite frankly, the ‘phone app’ is languishing. Email is less-and-less our go-to tool (even at work), as more often we find it more natural to just pull out our phones and start tapping away. Our text-based conversations have become increasingly brief, with less depth and substance. Trying to convey emotion so tersely, we lean on emoji and stamps.

We’re certainly having fun, and while we are interacting with others 10x more, the reality is that we’ve found ourselves conveying 10x less.

We’ve embraced many new tools, each of which are now shaping us. Tapping out short messages can be quick and very effective for ‘signaling’ and simple coordination, but our overreliance on these tools will severely limit how we’re able to meaningfully connect with those we need and those we love. And for what we need in our new, mobile-centric style of work, this staccato form of communications isn’t enough to make us productive. It isn’t enough when we need to get things done.

I passionately believe that there’s immense latent potential in voice – to convey tone and emotion, to quickly resolve issues, to make decisions and to get things done. There’s simply no faster and no more effective way to express essential emotions such as urgency, anxiety, understanding, confidence or trust. Quite simply, amazing things can happen when we just choose to talk.

We have mouths and ears; why aren’t we using them more? Our smartphones have microphones, speakers and Bluetooth; why aren’t we using them more? Universally it’s agreed: the phone call just sucks. If the only way of using your voice is to interrupt someone, talk quickly, and then hours later forget some key detail of what was discussed, then the phone call truly deserves to die.

The phone call is stuck in the past, and it’s boring. Visualizing voicemail is innovation? VoIP or web calls using classic “ring and answer” over the internet is innovation? Web-based conference calling is innovation? In 1964 Bell’s Picturephone was innovative. In terms of progress, is this the best we can do?

A thought experiment: If the phone had never been invented before the ‘net came along, what would’ve happened when startups realized that voice could be transmitted over IP? We can hyperlink and share voice just like text and photos! We can weave voice into apps! We can apply algorithms to stored voice to recognize keywords, create transcriptions and more!

Yes, experimentation with new concepts involving real-time voice can be quite challenging both technically and in terms of user experience design. But in light of the fact that recent technical innovations such as WebRTC have made things so much easier, the dearth of voice innovation has been stunning.

There’s real value that can be delivered by helping people and teams get things done faster, with less iteration, with less miscommunication.

Hence Talko.

In early 2012 we got the band back together again, intending to revolutionize the call using the full capabilities of the smartphone and the full capabilities of the cloud. Eric and Matt assembled a great distributed team spanning Boston, Seattle and San Francisco.

At about 12–18 months, we began to deploy early versions of the product to hundreds of “normal people” and tens of business teams. At this point, with well over a year of significant daily real-world use, I simply couldn’t be more excited. I’m both surprised and so very pleased at how the product was refined and improved during this period; I’ve never before enjoyed the benefit of such a great partnership between users and designer/developers. We will forever be grateful to you risk-takers for shaping the product into what’s being released today. Thank you!

Initially the Talko app is iPhone-only and it’ll remain that way for some months as we continue to learn and refine from a broader base of users. But being a social product, it will of course be available soon on both Android and the web.

We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us. Our mission at Talko is to make communication human again. We want to shape communications tools that will increase both the value and the humanity of peoples’ interactions.

I truly hope you enjoy what we’ve built for you. Please find a few friends or colleagues and try it out together, because Talko is for Teams. I very much look forward to hearing what you think, and to learning about those areas in your work and life where it makes a difference. You can find me in Twitter, or shoot me a mail.


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