Last week, I got a kind of tweet I hadn’t seen before. It was an audio-tweet from TinyVox, an app for iOS and Android that lets users send voice messages to anyone on the Web or just keep them as memos. That doesn’t sound like a new idea, but that’s the point. As you can see from the interface, TinyVox is all about recovering an old, beloved medium we’ve lost: the heartfelt mixtape.
My audio-tweet was from Srini Kumar, developer of TinyVox. He wanted to know what I thought of the app’s “voicemail on Twitter” approach and its retro cassette tape aesthetic. I said I’d be happy to check it out on the condition that we conduct our interview asynchronously, back and forth over TinyVox. So we did, and I learned more about communication than any social app has taught me in a while.
The metaphors are all over the place with this app. Srini called it, at various times, “voicemail on Twitter,” a “mix tape,” an “audio brainstorm” that can be a “throwaway” just for getting ideas out, and “podcasting for everyone.” It was hard to decide how to use it. I figured concision was a good rule of thumb, so I just shot off a brief question about the medium itself.
Srini came back with a huge response, full of passion and color and drama… and it was really, really long. But it was clear that he intends the app to be all of those things and more. Whatever we can do with our voice, Srini wants TinyVox to help us do more.
I loved what he had to say about the honesty and unsettling newness of communicating this way, aloud, spontaneously, without constraints. But exchanges of 10-minute messages didn’t seem sustainable to me. This began to seem like a problem with the way the app works. Tweets are constrained to 140 characters, and that’s why the medium works. These “audio-tweets” break that wide open.
So I asked Srini whether he agreed:
Honestly, I sort of expected him to take a hint and rein it in for the next answer, but he didn’t. He came back with another six minutes of rhapsody, pushing me on the cultural norms that made me want short, tight answers. It’s hard to concentrate and really listen to someone, even when they’re sitting right in front of you. Would we be better to each other if we worked on that?
So I did. I practiced the art of paying attention, and I listened to every word. I found myself sympathizing with his whole message much more deeply than I do on Twitter. A Twitter person is just a picture, a handle and a burst of text. But committing to listening to a six-minute tape of someone’s voice makes you follow his train of thought wherever it goes. I learned much more about where his head was at than I do about people in a comment thread.
For my last question, I let myself open up the same way. I asked him about the nostalgia and sentimentality of TinyVox itself and where the app is going:
Srini’s answer was vast again, but it was really exciting to hear from a developer with so much love for the interaction he’s designing. Rather than summarizing where TinyVox is going, I’ll leave you with Srini’s audio answer. TinyVox is available for iOS and Android, and I’d be interested to hear how you find ways to use it. Share them in the comments here.
Note: the timestamps are off for the recordings in this exchange because I didn’t realize that TinyVox is better about privacy than I initially thought. It doesn’t post clips to the Web unless you explicitly tell it to, so I had to ask Srini to re-upload them after we were done.