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Aug. 4, 2016, 8:30 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

Talkshow has become a new troll-free way to run Q&As, host liveblogs, and talk to readers

“We’re coming at this with the assumption that, if you build a platform for people to have texting conversations in public, you’ll get some interesting, different kinds of conversations out of it.”

Talkshow Industries CEO Michael Sippey likes to use the word “intimate” when talking about Talkshow, the texting-in-public messaging app he launched in April.

Intimate at first seems like an unusual descriptor for Talkshow, which lets users broadcast their one-on-one or group conversations to anyone interested in listening in. The app in that respect is about as intimate as Twitter or a Reddit AMA. Where the app earns that label, however, is in the many ways it mimics the experience of texting. It not only looks and feels like a messaging app, but it even replicates the texting experience with features such as an indicator telling users when someone is typing. (Quartz’s mobile app pulls a similar trick.)

“The hypothesis that we’re testing is that, if we design the app to look and feel and act like a messaging app, it will make the product feel familiar and easy to use, both for those participating and those who are just reading,” Sippey told me. “We’re coming at this with the assumption that if you build a platform for people to have texting conversations in public, you’ll get some interesting, different kinds of conversations out of it.”

Sippey, an early blogger who spent two years as Twitter’s VP of product and six years at Movable Type-maker Six Apart, said Talkshow wasn’t created with any one use case in mind, but that the app’s developers have been “blown away” by what users have done with it so far. He said was particularly impressed with how people with special life circumstances (being blind) or interesting jobs (EMT) were using Talkshow to answer questions about their lives. With its latest update, the app finally let Talkshow hosts run Q&A sessions by fielding questions from other users and choosing which ones they wanted to answer. Other users have turned to the app to create Talkshow channels dedicated to topics such as American Ninja Warrior, the NBA, and, yes, Pokemon Go.

One use case that the app has lent itself well to is the live interview. Last week, MakerBase CEO and longtime blogger Anil Dash launched Pop Life, a weekly interview series built on Talkshow. Dash’s first guest was HumanUtility director Tiffani Ashley Bell, who both spoke with Dash and answered questions from the other Talkshow users who were following along. (Dash had previously used Talkshow to host a Q&A with the webmasters of Prince’s website.)

Another successful effort on Talkshow came from Apple-focused blog Six Colors, which used the app to liveblog Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference back in June. More, recently it’s followed that up with live coverage and analysis of Apple’s earnings.

For The Washington Post, which has experimented with Talkshow, the app is one way that its social media team has tried to engage readers around certain stories. In May, the Post used the app to run a 90-minute conversation with Talkshow users about generational identity. It didn’t attract an enormous number of participants — just 775 people tuned in — but it did show The Washington Post’s social team how Talkshow could be used to create cohesive conversations around topics that benefit from user input.

“We thought that it made for a really dynamic roundtable discussion. Something that we’ve always wanted was a platform that created that kind of intimate, but public-facing feel,” said Post social media editor Julia Carpenter, who said that the Post was exploring other ways it can use Talkshow down the line.

For Carpenter, Talkshow fills a need that sites like Reddit, Twitter, and even Slack have so far failed to. Reddit AMAs can be tough to follow after-the-fact, and Twitter hashtag chats have both fallen out of favor and tend to attract trolls. Slack is still, fundamentally, a tool for private groups.

Sippey, too, is convinced that despite the existence of similar apps and platforms playing somewhat similar roles, there’s still a clear opportunity for Talkshow. “The interest so far speaks to the need that there really aren’t great places to have ongoing conversations about topics online. There are plenty of places where you can comment on things, but fewer that enable what we’re trying to do here.”

POSTED     Aug. 4, 2016, 8:30 a.m.
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