A Voice Technology Series: Building Community

How tech is fueling your social needs — podcasting, trends, AI…

With the new lockdown measures, companies and brands are busy researching, building, and launching products designed to bring their user experience to the next level (even from home).

Technology designed to keep you scrolling, consuming media almost mindlessly is now expanding to new horizons. More scalable ones. Horizons that reach thousands and millions of people. People that no longer categorize technology as an avenue to connection or form of entertainment, but as a “way of life.”

Yes, social media connected you to your friends, and email to your work colleagues, and podcasts to inspiring speakers. This new age of social isolation, however, also means it now is the only means of connecting you to EVERYONE else.

Virtual assistant — to virtual gateway?

Voice technology has historically been seen as a virtual assistant of sorts. Even a home staple — used to speed up menial tasks such as playing your favorite music, searching for the weather forecast, etc.

Post-2020, however, more and more apps are building out voice-enabled features. Recognizing voice, for not only its multi-tasking friendly nature or role in reducing consumer search time but for the personal connection and engagement it can foster.

With the power of technology, your voice can be heard by millions of people, but they could never quite talk back to you in the same way. Yes, conversations have been made possible with conferencing software, social media “live” features, etc. but a way to asynchronously connect with people outside of our social circle of contacts hasn’t ever really been a thing.

Because there wasn’t really a need for it.

Voice Technology Connecting Diverse People and Ideas

Innovation in the podcast space has been led by companies such as Anchor whose mission is to “democratize audio” and “break down the many barriers in podcasting.” Acquired by media giant, Spotify, the company now has access to a community of more than 200 million global users.

Feature Highlight, Podcast Voice Messages — Anchor

Product: Podcast creation app Feature: Leave a voice message Benefit: Hear community voices

Michael Mignano, co-creator and CEO of Anchor cited this new feature as a way to make podcasting more interactive for both podcasters AND listeners. Here’s how it works…

Simply, click the (+) sign, choose your audio input and start recording (< 1 minute). According to Anchor, this feature could be used in “Q&A sessions…impromptu advice column[s]…[and to] collect messages from anyone around the world.”

Now, with the context of how the world is today, I think this feature and others like it will bring a new wave of social connection. One that will allow a combination of voices to be heard on platforms reaching millions of people. Whether this tool is used more for podcaster feedback or listener participation, it is still connecting two people who may have never heard each other’s voice before, and to me, that is a beautiful thing.

Especially today, when having conversations with strangers or community members or people you’ve never talked to before is a luxury. Voice also holds so much more emotion and allows a freer flow of dialog from people. It is allowing tech to seem that much more human.

A Twist

It was in the same Reddit thread where Mignano, was speaking to new updates and features, that I discovered the existence of Anchor 1.0. A listener experience, very different from today.

A conversation between Mignano and a Reddit user revealed Anchor 1.0 was a “conversation-based app” built on random topics and 1–2 minute responses from people all over the world. In an interview with Business Insider in 2016, investors in the app in its early stages called it the new “feed.”

“There’s a feed for photos (Instagram/Snapchat), there’s a feed for text (Twitter), and there’s a feed for videos (Periscope/Vine). So why not one for voice?

The conversation in-app was “multi-directional,” combining individual voices from around the world. And even though now the app has taken a decidedly more one-way approach with podcasting, Anchor still seems to remember its roots with features like “voice message” response. With this app, Anchor is keeping the conversation going. Finding new ways, to keep their communities in the loop, active, and speaking to each other.

It will definitely take some time — this transition to full-on virtual community conversations and powerhouses. And there is work to be done as well in filtering out bad actors on these platforms, providing new ways for creators and community builders to sift through their messages and use them in efficient ways. Artificial intelligence will likely play a role in achieving this too (it already likely has).

With the advent of this new technology, there will need to be systems in place to make the process of community building online smarter. I am happy to see though that the creators behind these new features are using technology to now go “deeper.” With voice messages and really any community-building features, tech is continuing to evolve and enhance human connection. And in 2020, we surely started seeing the true value in that.

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