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Ray Ozzie on Talko, His New Venture to Give Business Collaboration a Voice

Sometimes, written words just don't do the job.

Ina Fried

Ray Ozzie has been quiet for a while now, but it’s not because he has nothing to talk about.

The Lotus Notes founder and former Microsoft executive has been working for the past couple of years on Talko — a mobile app to allow workgroups to share information, largely through voice.

Ozzie knows betting on voice is a big, and in some ways contrarian, wager. People talk less than ever even as they are using their phones more.

“It’s either what we are up against or the hugest opportunity,” Ozzie said in an interview.

But Ozzie says that while the traditional phone call may be a relic, voice still has a place, particularly when workers are physically distant and not often at a computer. It’s also good at handling nuance and complexity, a shortcoming of text messages.

“It’s hard to get a complex emotion or a complex thought out by tapping on a screen,” Ozzie told Re/code. He notes that the current answer — stickers and emoticons — only go so far and don’t translate as well to business conversations.

For now, Talko is an iPhone-only app that aims to gather groups of friends or workers into “calls,” though calls can be either live conversations or a sequential series of interactions — interactions that can include a combination of text, voice and images. Conversations are recorded and saved by default, with the opportunity for users to add tags to specific comments.

The company, originally known by the placeholder name Cocomo, is starting with a freemium model. Free customers will have their conversations saved for 10 days, while meetings will be preserved perpetually for those who pay.

Talko’s backers include Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock, Kapor Capital and Ozzie himself. Talko isn’t saying how much money it has raised.

But if Talko’s approach is a gamble, Ozzie said the real surprise is that so few companies are focusing on the business impact of mobile.

“It’s kind of shocking where there is monetary value, there really hasn’t been a ton of mobile innovation,” Ozzie said. “Mobile has not yet really reshaped productivity.”

Part of the genesis of Talko was a push-to-talk button that was included as an afterthought in Ozzie’s last product, Groove (a largely ill-fated effort that was eventually swallowed up by Microsoft).

“We were really surprised at how much that got used,” Ozzie said of the button. “When things got stressful and you needed to get something done, when you needed to express urgency, people would gravitate to that button.”

Among the early testers of the product has been Walter Zimbeck, who is working on creating a new generation of 3-D printed parts for jet aircraft.

Zimbeck, a friend of Talko co-founder Matt Pope’s, said he tried the app, but found it didn’t have a big impact in how he communicated with his small group of Baltimore-based co-workers, who all sit within a few feet of each other. However, he said it quickly became a lot more useful when he started using it to manage communications with some collaborators in Phoenix, three time zones and thousands of miles away.

Wil Baker, a project engineer at Honeywell, said Talko is great for sharing a quick text or photo, but even better at communicating more complex sentiments quickly.

With voice, he said, “you can tell the sincerity or the sarcasm.”

Zimbeck said that going back to listen to recordings has had the unforeseen benefit of letting him hear how he speaks in business settings and explore ways of communicating more effectively.

“I can see where my shortfalls are,” he said. “With this tool I am working to improve this voice.”

While sharing voice, text and photos via iPhones is nice, both men said they look forward to eventually being able to share video, as well as seeing Talko add support for Android devices — two features that Ozzie and Pope say are in the plans.

For those who want to hear more from Ozzie, we are thrilled to announce that he is joining our already star-studded lineup for Code/Mobile, which is being held Oct. 27-28 in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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