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Talkshow is a messaging app that wants you to text in public

Engadget Engadget 28/04/2016 Nicole Lee

© Provided by Engadget

There's a new messaging app in town and it's called Talkshow. But unlike most other messaging apps, the conversations you have on it aren't private. Co-founded by former Twitter exec Michael Sippey, Talkshow's big idea is that your banter is public for all the world to see. Calling Talkshow a "messaging" app is therefore a bit of a misnomer. It's really more like a public-facing chatroom, or a liveblog but for everyday people (which, yes, sounds a lot like Twitter). As Sippey said in an introductory blog post, it's essentially you and your friends texting in public.

But let's back up a little here and explain how it all works. When you first launch the app, it'll ask you to create an account using your phone number. It then sends you a confirmation code to authorize you. Then you're asked to add your friends, which can be found through your Facebook or Twitter login, address book or through a manual search. You can also send people an invite if they haven't signed up for Talkshow yet.

From there, you can dive into any number of Featured Shows (hand-picked conversations from the Talkshow staff), choose one that's currently live (that would be on the What's On tab) or just create one yourself. To do that, you select the little "new show" icon in the corner, invite your co-hosts, give your show a title and you're ready to start chatting. You can enter in text, images or GIFs. As with Slack, you can also edit and delete a message in case you regret something you said. Co-hosts and viewers can also "heart" individual messages if they especially like them.

You don't have to invite a co-host to have a show either. You can just do a monologue if that's more your jam. You're also encouraged to share your show on Twitter or elsewhere to get folks to start watching, but it's not necessary. All Talkshow message threads have a permalink on the web, so even those without the app can view it. You can find out how many people have viewed the show in the Info tab.

You can see hints of Twitter in Talkshow. Peeking in on a Talkshow conversation is a lot like following along a Twitter thread, except it isn't interspersed with other random comments. That's because the only people allowed in a Talkshow chat are the host (you) and your co-hosts (the people you've invited to the conversation). The public can still read along of course, but they can only offer a variety of different canned responses (These include "lol," "This is good," "Wait, what?" and a slew of different emojis). If they do want to join in, they can choose "Can I co-host?" as one of the reactions and you can then opt to include them or not. You can always boot them from the chat if you've had enough of their input. "It's the 'Thanks for calling!' feature," said Sippey.

That said, the real inspiration behind Talkshow wasn't Twitter at all. According to Sippey, he was motivated to do Talkshow partly because of a funny messaging exchange between Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Swift had posted a snippet of it to her Instagram, and that tiny bit of chatter got a lot of love from her fans. "Their conversation is relatable," he said. "Why? Because everybody texts! And everybody texts about everything: sports, TV, politics, Beyonce's Lemonade, Damn Daniel, or what they're eating for dinner. I wanted to create Talkshow to give people a platform to share these conversations in front of an audience."

If this is still all a little confusing, I did a Talkshow with Sippey himself in a little impromptu interview (Yes I realize having a Talkshow about Talkshow with the co-creator of Talkshow is incredibly meta).:

I asked him who he sees using this app. After all, who would want to have their conversations broadcast publicly? "We are already seeing sports fans, music fans, TV fans [on the service]," he said. "People that are into talking about what they're passionate about." He also said that Talkshow could be a great outlet for comedy or TV show casts to talk each other or connect with fans. Basically, it's like podcasting, but in text form.

Some of the more interesting shows so far include ones about the US presidential elections, the NBA playoffs, or just really weird humorous ones that are about nothing in particular. Sippey pointed out a show that was just a mock conference called "Is This Thing On?" He also mentioned a solo show entitled "The Cute Puppies Only Show" that's just, well, photos of cute puppies (I am behind this idea wholeheartedly).

Viewing these shows feels like eavesdropping on a really great conversation at a bar. It does feel a little voyeuristic at first, but you soon get swept up by them. One of my favorites so far is about exercise efforts, and it's hosted by Sippey and his friends. I'm on a bit of a fitness kick myself so it was interesting to hear about how others were trying to get fit. If you've ever gotten sucked into reading an interesting thread on an online forum then you know what this is like.

Still, that could also be a criticism of Talkshow. You can already have these conversations in Slack, in messaging apps, in online forums and on Twitter. What makes Talkshow so different? "There's room for a lot of different ways for people to communicate with each other and express themselves," said Sippey, explaining that he sees Talkshow as co-existing with all of these other services, not replacing them.

Personally, I think Talkshow sells itself for a few reasons. Unlike Twitter, you can browse through different topics and pick one that interests you. Also, the fact that the public can't randomly chime in on conversations means that the possibility of harassment is close to nil. You're free to go on a big, uninterrupted "tweetstorm," if you will. I do wish you could have some kind of VIP list of people who are always allowed to comment, but you can at least give people permission on a case-by-case basis.

Talkshow is only available on iOS at the moment, with no word on if or when it might reach Android. I also asked if there would eventually be a desktop version, because I found it a little difficult to write paragraph-long responses on my dinky iPhone keyboard. "We love mobile and tablets, and so we'll have to see," said Sippey. "But a full desktop client, we'll see how things go!" As for future features, all he would say is that they have great things planned.

I'm generally very skeptical of new social apps, because they tend to feed into an echo chamber of tight knit early adopter communities. I'm also afraid that someone outside the Silicon Valley bubble would find Talkshow full of just cliquey people talking to themselves. That said, I'm giving Talkshow the benefit of the doubt. Because, so far anyway, I'm finding most of the shows oddly compelling. Maybe it's because group conversations are by default more interesting than just one person on a rant, but instead of feeling like an outsider, I just feel like part of an audience, enjoying the show. And that's really just fine with me.

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