Welcome to 2017, where talking to strangers is a folly with sometimes dire consequences. 2017, where making friends online comes with its own set of dangers and talking to strangers is often forbidden.
Yet, here come’s an app, Opentalk, they call it, where they have lain down a platform for strangers to connect with strangers, for strangers to share valuable information, and for strangers to make friends.
|Making Friends of Strangers! – Opentalk|
In a first of firsts, I downloaded the app in question today. Considering that there is just no value in the app for me (or so I thought), this was certainly a surprise even for me. I mean, I hate making small talk, I hate talking on the phone even more and I hate interacting with strangers the most. What in the world would this app, a neatly packaged amalgamation of all of the three, offer to a consumer like me, I thought! And yet, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
So, What’s Opentalk About?
Opentalk is basically a (currently) free app that can be downloaded from your app store or android store. It is aimed at an audience that either loves to make new friends or people who would love to collaborate with other people on ideas or projects.
Opentalk lets you connect with complete strangers near you. When I say connect, I do not mean a faceless, voiceless type-chats. I mean an actual, real, physical phone call. A call you can use to do just about anything – make new friends, collaborate on projects, network, find potential romantic prospects, get feedback or reviews or just kill the boredom and find someone to talk to on subjects that interest you.
So basically, the app has no limits. Whether you choose to use it to practice your English or to talk relationships (or make them), is ultimately up to the user. The app just provides the platform. And a great one at that!
Imagine the possibilities! I mean, I am currently working on a new website and all I had to do was just give out the details and get the good, the bad and the ugly feedback on just about everything (even the color scheme for that matter) pertaining to it from a random stranger (with no vested interest whatsoever) who just happened to be my website’s target audience demographic.
Sounds good so far, right?
So, How Does It Work?
Well, it starts with you downloading the app, of course. Then you log in to it with your Facebook ID. And yes, that’s the catch, you MUST have a Facebook ID. We will discuss more about this in the later section of the blog where we go over the hits and misses of the app itself.
Once you’re logged in, the app asks you to read and approve a tedious user agreement and approve it before you proceed. Most of us have the habit of just clicking ahead without reading the agreement first. However, since I was reviewing the app itself, I actually sat through the entire reading. Indeed there are a few things that you should know before you proceed but we will come to them later in this blog.
On the next step, you’re asked to choose your areas of interest, or as the app asks, ‘what would you like to talk about?’ The options are: new places, hobbies and interests, improve English, relationships, career and work and of course, general conversation. Once you select your options, you’re good to go.
Just click on talk now button to get the ball rolling. The app asks you to enable your location settings so that it can connect you with someone near your current locations. But always being wary of revealing my location, I chose not to allow it. The app still managed to connect me with someone close by anyway, somehow.
The app does everything for you. It finds the people that have similar interests and places the call directly. I wasn’t expecting something quite so instantaneous. In fact, I was expecting a list to show up, giving me the choice of choosing who I wanted to talk to. But there, I just pressed the talk now button and suddenly I could hear a ring that was going straight through to someone. I panicked and cut the call of course. Make that twice, I cut it twice.
Then I took a deep breath and made my first call. Spoke to two guys, on the same call. Both seemed equally hesitant at this and were just as new to it as I was of course. It was a nice casual call. Just talking about each other and what we did and where we were. I consciously steered clear of personal topics and did mention twice that I was just trying out the app to write a review on it.
The call did get into Tinder territory for a bit, especially when I learnt that these shy guys were looking to make some Tinder-type friends. It was casually mentioned that I was happily married and was just looking to chat with interesting people. That said, the topics turned safer and the call was so much fun indeed.
There is definitely something empowering about having a conversation with a stranger and the conversation has more depth than just ‘so what’s up’, ‘what’s new’ and such!
So, What Are The Pros Of The App, The Hits If You Will?
- You get to have real conversations with interesting people across the world, a great opportunity to share cultures, experiences and expertise of course. The app provides a great platform to network for businesses, bloggers, etc. It lets you find people with shared interests and discover new perspectives on the same old issues and problems. It lets you ask questions, get help, seek opinions, seek advice, etc. from the comfort of your home, which is especially great if you’re lonely but don’t wish to do the rounds of the local social circuits.
- The app gives you the power to build long term, lasting relationships as friends or chat companions, or find potential dates or partners too. On the other hand, you can choose to keep the conversation and the relationship as short as you wish. This is the best ever thing because you just never know who you’re going to find at the other end of the call.
- The app let’s you choose how much info you want to divulge, whether you want to show your photo, location, etc. which is great if you’re not looking for safety along with the experience.
- The app gives you bonus points and ‘gems’ as you grow in your talk ratings, which is a great way to boost the talk-time spent on calls for some users. Yet personally, I find this to be the oddest feature that gives a genuinely useful app the air of a game. I guess, some people would love the added competitiveness of this feature, but I ain’t one of them. Also, it seems as you work yourself up the Opentalk levels ladder, you can use your points / gems to gift people some other things and thus get more talk time for your call.
- The app gives the singularly unique opportunity to befriend strangers and share things (recipes, jokes, book suggestions, just about anything). It gives you an opportunity to practice your social skills without having to test them face to face. Practice a new language with a competent speaker, get quick tips on how to make your business GST compliant or just share political views, the applications are limitless.
So, What Are The Cons Of The App, The Misses If You Will?
There are some cons that are specific to the app and some pertaining to any ambitious app of this nature.
- The user agreement states that one needs to be over 13 to use this service. Yet, the app requires that you use a Facebook account to log in, a Facebook account that one needs to be over 18 to have. A bit of a contradiction here.
- Also in the user agreement is a fact that everyone needs to know. This is not a cons of the app per se, but a cons of such type of applications in general, applications that expose you to the dangers of the 21st century. The company explicitly states that they currently have no way to vett out their users nor do they conduct any background criminal checks. Any user should thus have to use his own discretion and rely on his instinct and judgement when using an app such as this.
- Logging in with my Facebook ID bugs me, and bugs me quite a lot. When using it to log in, not only do I give useful data access to the app (which seems to be the standard norm these days) but worse, my original profile pic gets loaded on the app, along with the name I use on my FB. This makes it easier for someone I just intended to talk to and then forget to find me on FB, stalk me online and such likes. At least, there’s nothing preventing it. I did of course manually change my pic but that is for someone who understands the pitfalls and threats of leaving it otherwise.
- The app does not let you choose the person you want to call. Which is a pity, because I noticed that I got the same person dialed three times and I had to cut the call before it got answered to avoid talking to the same person again. On the other side of the same coin, if I really wished to get hold of the same person I got before (and of course we didn’t exchange numbers on the very first call, for obvious reasons), I couldn’t find any way to reconnect with him. I mean, since the whole point of the app is collaboration, and of course you wouldn’t be out divulging all your contact information in the first few calls, how is one expected to reach a point of mutual trust with no way of reconnecting with the same person over again. In other words, I simply hate that the app takes that power to connect or not connect with someone away from me. Many would say they like exactly that, since the app is supposed to do the work of connecting total strangers!
- As with most such apps, they need a prudent user. Giving a 13 year old access to the app is hardly wise. The app is not meant for naive users who would be out divulging private information to complete strangers. Nor is it meant for users who have other ideas with regards to the uses of the app. The app leaves a lot of leeway for criminally minded people, people with ulterior motives as well as potential stalkers and the likes to do their bits and get away with it. These are the pitfalls of all such apps, not just this one, and let’s just say, it is caveat empter, let the buyer, errr… user beware here!
- The app though advertised to be otherwise, is not meant for people low on confidence or people who do not know how to steer conversations. To tell you the truth, it is easy to get carried away, especially for people who hate to offend in any way. It is totally up to the user to steer conversations away from private territory and keep them on neutral ground, unless the user decides that it be otherwise.
- Last but not the least, I had great expectations of cultural exchanges from the app. I envisioned myself talking to a Mexican businessman or a manuka honey producer from New Zealand. but alas, the app kept connecting me to people in my own vicinity. In fact, as mentioned earlier, it is an absolute pity that it connected me to the same Indian three times! For someone looking to learn about new cultures or get new experiences, this is a serious setback.
Overall, I would rate the app, 3.5 stars. Three stars for the novel idea and functional usefulness in theory. And 0.5 stars for the implementation. For such a brilliant idea in today’s times of collaboration, requires better effort at integration and implementation.
For starters, I’d love alternate ways of logging in (other than FB, which though easier comes with a whole set of its own issues). Then I’d love a little more autonomy in choosing the callers, and of course choosing the region of the caller. And last, but definitely not the least, I’d like a little background on each caller so that I can really reach that manuka honey producer for first hand knowledge input for my research paper, or that CA that will guide me through all this GST confusion.
Want to know more about the app – just follow the link – http://getopentalk.com/
An update: The Opentalk team got back to me regarding the following:
– The Facebook log in is unavoidable since they use FB data to match people who could potentially have meaningful conversations.
– The feature allowing users to reconnect with people they have already spoken to before, shall be available by the end of this week.
– The feature that allows you to specify topic or location, to interact with a relevant user shall also be made available in a couple of weeks.
– Last but not the least, the app will provide the users with conversation cues for assisting users when it comes to steering conversations.
Knowing all this, I guess the app rating moves on from 3.5 to 4.5. 1 additional star for listening to the users, addressing some concerns and incorporating their suggestions into the app itself.