A startup is looking to make Web conferences more accessible to more people through a greater range of devices.
TalkShoe, a small company in Pittsburgh, has created a Web service that allows users to create and join real-time voice conferences that can be extended to thousands of participants using cell phones, regular telephones or VOIP (voice over IP) devices.
Unlike existing Internet conferencing and chat services, TalkShoes Talkcasts incorporate both live and recorded telephone-quality voices, are accessible via a full range of phone connection types, integrate voice and chat, and can be made public or private, according to company officials.
The service also is unique in its ability to support thousands of participants who can join, listen to or stream a live Talkcast. In addition, any number of users can download recorded podcasts, said Mark Juliano, senior vice president at TalkShoe.
One early user, a radio talk show host whos experimenting with Talkcasts, said the service offers much greater flexibility and better reach than traditional radio.
"You have so much more power, because you have so many more choices. Now you have people that can take your show on demand from anywhere," said Ron Morris, who hosts the Pittsburgh-based talk show "The American Entrepreneur."
The service draws on a mixture of VOIP, conference bridging, telephony and Web 2.0 technologies to enable hosts to create Talkcasts.
A Web-based user dashboard allows hosts to control the conferences using functions such as muting, censoring or request-to-talk. The dashboard also indicates who is talking by flashing that participants name, Juliano said.
Hosts can choose the topic of their Talkcasts and schedule them on the TalkShoe Web site. In addition, they can invite any participants they wish to engage. The TalkShoe Web site allows hosts to have their Talkcasts listed in a directory for browsing and searching.
At the same time, custom dedicated Web sites can be developed with TalkShoe for private Talkcasts, which are recorded and available on the private site.
Public Talkcasts are also recorded and made available on the TalkShoe Web site for downloading or podcasting.
TalkShoe is targeting small and midsize businesses as well as consumers for its general service, and the company plans to attract larger businesses with its customization capabilities.
"SMBs dont have any conferencing infrastructure. What they like is that they can record it, there is nothing to buy—they just dial in," Juliano said.
For consumers who want to create their own conferences, TalkShoe is recruiting "specific hosts who already have a base, such as a radio talk show host who has 3,000 listeners in their database," Juliano said.
Talkcasts can be used for company meetings, discussion groups, user forums, training and external marketing.
Available now, the service is built on a high-quality, hardware-based conferencing bridge linked to the Internet via an ISP and to the phone network. On the back end are several servers that perform Internet functions and support the user dashboard.
"This is not easy because it takes people who really know telephony and Internet technology. Combining both is complicated, but we have that expertise," Juliano said.
Although the general conferencing service is free, TalkShoe will collect telephone access fees, take a percentage of whatever customers charge for the content they are creating on conferences and offer ASP (application service provider) services for custom Web pages.
The company also plans to generate advertising revenue from the Talkcasts.
"There are multiple ways to make money with this," Juliano said.
Morris, who is a professor of entrepreneurism at Duquesne University in addition to being a radio host, said he believes the potential for generating advertising revenue is significant.
"Were finding hosts in esoteric niches," he said. "Thats where this gets its rocket fuel. You get people listening who are as passionate as you are. The advertising should just flow from that. Time will tell. I think there will be real gems on esoteric topics. This is a giant trading post of esoteric information. I think thats the genius of this thing—it is simple and egalitarian," Morris said.
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