This is a guest post from Devon Glenn, mediabistro’s startup guru.
Instant messaging is a pretty good way to communicate when you can’t meet in person, but can an online platform actually improve conversations? That’s the mission of Talkwheel, a San Francisco-based startup founded in 2009 by Jeff Harris. Like Yammer, HipChat and Salesforce Chatter, Talkwheel is an instant messaging service for companies and other groups, but the layout is designed to make these discussions easier to see. In a recent phone interview, Talkwheel representative Patrick Randolph gave mbStartups a tour of the interface and discussed the future possibilities for the service.
How it Works
Most instant message threads are linear, like a stack of papers or list that you have to scroll through to read. On Talkwheel, the conversation is more of a roundtable discussion, where each person’s avatar is visually represented on a wheel that looks the dialer on an old-fashioned telephone.
Each comment made within a thread appears as a tiny circle next to the name of the person who made the comment, and is linked by arrow to the person to whom the comment was made. The comments are also stacked and color-coded on the right side of the screen for reference.
According to Randolph, the visual spread encourages companies to use the service not just for internal conversations, but also for meeting remotely with clients or for creating focus groups, where face-to-face interaction would normally be appropriate. It’s an interesting way to make a virtual conference room look more like a real one.
News Sites and Social Networks
Talkwheel could also make its way to the comments sections of news sites and blogs, or within social networks, where group conversations are harder to follow and where the “loudest” members of the group dominate the space with lengthy comments. We’re not sure how a wheel would look at the bottom of this post, but it might be a good way to message multiple people on a site like Facebook.
Randolph noted that Talkwheel would work especially well for classrooms. Looking at the screenshot, the smaller circles indicate who has contributed the most to the conversation. On this talkwheel, “Renee’s” thread on the pros and cons of living in Texas got more comments from “Patrick” and “Jeff” than some of the others in the group. In a classroom setting, students who earn points for participation can instantly see when they need to speak up and professors can scroll through the conversation later to remember which students’ contributions were the most valuable.
Currently, “Blackboard owns the space,” Randolph said of the online education market, but it will be interesting to see what partnerships emerge.
On March 29th, Talkwheel partnered with ZeroDesktop™, Inc. on a social desktop that integrates Web functions like instant messaging with desktop functions like storing documents and photos.
Down the pipeline, Randolph told us the company be working on text analytics, but for now, the team is focusing on making the interface more intuitive. To try it out, click here.