On tapping and talking

On tapping and talking.

There’s this (beautifully-designed!) new app I’ve been playing with a lot these last few weeks. It’s called Taptalk.

It reminds me a lot of early Snapchat. You take a photo, maybe add some text in there and pick a friend with whom to share. It also adds your location, which I find fun because I can see immediately where around the world someone is (my farthest away contact is in Australia, so it’s refreshing to get street photos from there). Unlike Snapchat, you can’t send a single photo to a whole bunch of people at once. But like Snapchat, when the other person gets your message, it feels like a one-to-one, as if it was written just for them. Because a person has to carefully craft the photo or video and then only send to one person at a time, the receiver ends up assigning more value and paying more attention to what you send them. One-to-many blasts in a feed, I’ll scroll by, but knowing you took time makes me want to take time, too.

On first install, you have to pick a username and then manually add friends based on username alone. So this means a lot of word-of-mouth type spreading of the app. I originally found out about it from friend @mh in SF, who sent me an invite via text.

After sending a few taptalks back and forth with him, I decided to play outside the boundaries of what the app initially wanted people to do. I’ve taken to doing some interesting experimentation on this network.

I didn’t have the patience to add people one at a time. I wanted to take a slightly different approach. So a couple of months ago, I tweeted my taptalk username.

Over the next week or so, just from this tweet and some other adds by friends, my contacts list grew to about 36 people.

I’ve tweeted it a couple of more times since and shared it with friends in person a few times, and now, my contact list is 104 people! (I find about a third use it regularly).

I find the service fascinating for a few reasons, but I think the main reason is because, after not caring about it for a while, I have a new fascination with networks now. For a while, networks were becoming ever more public – your posts are public to whomever wants to listen; followers instead of friends; get followers to get likes; get likes to get engagement; get retweets to get followers. See: Tumblr, Twitter, FB, Soundcloud, Youtube, &c. Recently though, social and the network are coming back to smaller, more curated groups.

Taptalk’s take on this is not only a network where you grow only by sharing your username and thereby keeping your friends list very tight, but it’s one where you can “introduce” people to others. I love this feature.

When you add a new contact, the app asks you to introduce them to others you know that you might want them to know, too. Anytime this ‘introduce’ screen comes up, I find myself taking care to look through my contacts and put interesting people together. Maybe something good will come out of their relationship, maybe I’ll get karma back in some way in future.

If I know the person, I carefully introduce them to others who I think they would enjoy following and sharing with. Maybe a new founder will get intros to all my other startup friends in New York; maybe they will also get intros to all my VC friends on Taptalk.

If I don’t know the person (see that part where I tweeted my username?), I introduce them to someone else in my contacts list I don’t know. Ha ha! I do this partly for the fun of it, but also because I am wary that if I were to connect an “unknown” with a “known” and it’s not a right fit, then it doesn’t feel good to me. I’ll feel as though I’ve let both of them down as nothing might come out of it.

(Sorry contacts I don’t know: I’m experimenting here!)

One funny thing I noticed today: a person I follow on Taptalk sent me a photo of some headphones, which was a taptalk in reply to a tweet I sent this morning asking for headphone recommendations. Maybe it was easier for him to take a photo of the headphones by just tapping my face. After all, how much simpler can a photo share flow get than Taptalk? A photo gets taken and sent in one tap of a face to the person you want. (The alternative is to take a photo, launch Twitter, put it in there, put some tweet text around it and then @-reply me).

Much has been written about Slingshot, especially in the context of Taptalk. At first glance, it feels like a lot of the same stuff that’s in Taptalk, with some tweaks like some Snapchat mixed in and an interesting way to get people to share more (share to play). But it’s those tweaks that really bother me. I currently have 132 photos to go through in Slingshot. That’s great, but that means I have to swipe 132 items to see them all. That’s broken. It reminds me of Jelly, if your question ever gets a lot of responses as one of mine did: I had to swipe ~200 times to see all answers. There was no easy way to scan and browse and get proper value out of it without giving it even more time than I’d already had. The other annoying thing about Slingshot is that it has turned into a bit of “give junk to get junk”. That is, in order to see the photos available to them locked in queue, many people have just taken to taking a photo of some random nonsense to get access. So over time, junk photos get sent to see photos, most of which are junk too, because the other friend thought the same and did the same: give junk to get junk.

My Taptalk username is ‘naveen’. Tap you later.