FIRST LOOK: Ray Ozzie's Talko cloud calling/messaging iPhone app

When Ozzie's latest venture, Talko, released its free calling/messaging app for iPhones, I decided to give it a whirl.

A screenshot of Ray Ozzie's new Talko app

A screenshot of Ray Ozzie's new Talko app

I never did use Ray Ozzie's Lotus Notes or Groove (acquired by Microsoft) collaboration tools, mainly because the companies I worked for didn't use them, though I have interviewed the famed software designer and watched his colorful career unfold over the years. So when Ozzie's latest venture, Talko, released its free calling/messaging app for iPhones today, I decided I would give it a whirl and rope my colleague, Michael Cooney, into testing it with me.

Another colleague, Tim Greene, wrote our story on Talko's unveiling but couldn't play with us since as our Microsoft reporter he wields a Microsoft Phone. Talko is available only on the iPhone for starters, with Android and web versions in the works. Alas, no mention of Windows Phone in ex-Microsoft chief software architect Ozzie's announcement of the app.

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I decided to test the product having done a bare minimum of prep in order to really get a feel for how intuitive it is to use. The answer: Pretty intuitive, though there is some trial and error involved, too.

The first thing the app did was hit me up for an email address, which I had to verify by putting in a code that was messaged to me. Talko then, like pretty much every app, tried to get me to hand over my contact list and photos to it -- I said no on the contacts and yes on the photos. Nevertheless, somewhat to my chagrin, I did notice a couple of my contacts showing up, including one who -- non-coincidentally I assume -- works for Talko investor Greylock.

I did, however, add my colleague Michael to my Talko contacts so that we could test the app.

I initiated our newfangled Talko conversation by creating a team ("nw") and inviting Michael to join it. I gave the conversation a name ("Testing Talko") and issued my invite. Initially, Michael didn't respond, so I hit the keyboard icon and texted within the app, asking "Now what do we do?" The app includes an at-first-annoying autofilling keyboard that I got used to soon enough.

In the spirit of hitting as many buttons as possible, I clicked the camera icon and added a disturbing photo of a belly-up frog in my doctor's parking lot from this morning. I then hit the microphone icon and added a voice message about the photo.

Since Michael wasn't picking up right away I changed the status of this conversation from "In Progress" to "Important." THAT got his attention and our voice conversation began (a microphone icon lets you speak, or not). Our ensuing voice chat lasted 13 minutes and 44 seconds, an incredibly memorable bit of palaver that we'll no doubt refer back to over and over again (the audio graph nicely changes colors when the speaker switches). Well, that's the idea anyway: that this app could be used for business meetings that participants can take part in on the fly or dip into later on, playing back the discussion. The audio recordings can be edited and searched through, including at double speed.

As we talked our way through the app (and yes, the app did get us to talk on a day when we might have otherwise relied strictly on email to connect between our separate offices), we brainstormed about how we might actually use Talko.

Could it be useful in a case where a reporter is out in the field, say covering a conference keynote address, sending along a photo, letting the editor listen to the keynoter, while the reporter texts his or her thoughts? Maybe. Or could it work for planning a news story among editors and reporters? Perhaps, though we would need to wait until the app is available on more smartphone brands.

As one colleague suggested, this has the feel of a tool that could wind up part of a broader offering (oh, say like Ozzie's earlier Groove and Microsoft SharePoint).

Then again, maybe Ozzie is onto something here. He's definitely enthusiastic about bringing voice back to its rightful place: He blogged: "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."

In fact, one of the reasons I've kept tabs on Ozzie over the years is that he is a guy willing to talk. I remember sniffing around on Groove years ago before it was announced and came across Ozzie's home number. I called him, he answered and we chatted.

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