Chatfé – Interview with CEO, Paul Orlando (Part 2)

Chatfé – Interview with CEO, Paul Orlando (Part 2)

Chatfé is a new kind of social platform that lets you have anonymous phone conversations with like-minded people, and I recently got the opportunity to talk with Paul Orlando, CEO of Chatfé, to learn more about this social networking tool.  To see part 1 of this interview and a comparison of Chatfé and Chatroulette, check out this post.

I came across an interesting point on Chatfé’s blog when Paul Orlando, CEO of Chatfé, described Chatfé as an antidote to the conversations sparked by smokers bumming a cigarette.  In my recent conversation with Paul, he said he thought that while NYC’s cigarette tax is a good thing overall, it extinguished a conversational spark that existed for the last 50+ years.  When people ask strangers for a cigarette or a light, it’s often an excuse to talk to someone.  Paul notes that, “smokers were members of a culture that had a built in mechanism to talk to another person without any pressure.  Now that that’s gone, I hope that Chatfé can bring forth another conversational spark.”

Chatfé recently won the Best Business Viability award at Microsoft’s BizSpark, for which one of the evaluation criteria was how it addresses a business problem.  Chatfé succeeded in this category, Paul notes, because the technology and platform enable individuals and businesses to engage with people in a different way where text is not enough.  People can have an opt-in, free-flowing conversation and go deeper into learning.

This past February, Paul presented at Dorkbot on his experience on what happens when connections are totally random and when they’re completely filterable.  Paul calls Chatfé the “reverse of a social network,” in that they’re working on getting people to speak to one another instead of relying on text and images.  They want to move beyond the popularity of things like Twitter followers, Facebook friends, profile images, etc. and bring conversations back to voice, surrounding topics people really care about.  Paul calls it a “pleasant wrong number experience.”

So who is Chatfé for exactly?  Well, on their website, they say it’s for everyone, including entrepreneurs, students, artists, club-crawlers, sports-lovers, and language learners… basically anyone looking to talk about different topics or spark a debate.  Paul mentioned, however, that they’re “exploring working with a non-profit customer who would benefit from using Chatfé technology to enable their members to connect.  A support group that connects qualified members confidentially and anonymously by phone would be a great way to do that.”

No matter how Chatfé evolves in the coming months or years, it is certainly a breakthrough concept that will be interesting to follow and see how it can be put to use either personally or within various industries.

Chatfé – a Chatroulette Comparison and Interview with CEO, Paul Orlando (Part 1)

Chatfé – a Chatroulette Comparison and Interview with CEO, Paul Orlando (Part 1)

Ever heard of Chatfé?  Well, neither had I until I stumbled across them on Twitter and actually got the opportunity to speak with their CEO, Paul Orlando, to learn more about this latest social networking tool.

Chatfé, pronounced chat-fay – a combination of the words chat and café – is a new kind of social platform that lets you have anonymous phone conversations with like-minded people.  I recently wrote about Chatroulette, which may sound similar in that both services pair you with strangers to talk anonymously, however Chatfé doesn’t randomly pair you with just anyone, they match you up with other people based on topics you say you’d like to talk about.  Users are able to express interest in a conversation by adding topics to their conversation queue, either by posting a new topic or clicking on existing ones.

In my recent conversation with Paul Orlando, CEO of Chatfé, he says, “At Chatfé we are interested in helping make meaningful conversations that are also in the moment, so we needed to provide some context — that’s why you see topics — that’s the starting point for users to self-select into something.  Nothing based on pictures, profiles, gender, just what are you interested in talking about.”

Chatfé and Chatroulette have two other major differences.  Firstly, Chatfé is purely audio and conducts all interactions via phone, unlike Chatroulette, which incorporates video.  While you must user your own phone to conduct these calls, Chatfé calls both users and connects them to begin the conversation so that no personal information is exchanged and no one’s personal phone number is seen via caller ID.

Secondly, on Chatfé you have to register, whereas with Chatroulette, you just type in the URL and go.  The registration is part of Chatfé’s efforts to make their networking platform safe.  They continually state that everything is done in a secure way that protects your privacy.  Paul notes that, “If you try both, you’ll see that Chatfé and Chatroulette aren’t that similar. And there’s a time and place for both.”

Paul said that the idea to start Chatfé came from their CTO, Steve Wang, who 10+ years ago received a call from a wrong number, but instead of hanging up, he ended up having a great conversation for 30 minutes.  He thought: what if we could give people that experience whenever they wanted and let them ask questions, give advice, talk about whatever they wanted, in a safe and fun way?  And thus, Chatfé was born.

In my post on Chatroulette, I noted that some people have expressed a dislike for the service due to inappropriate behavior, and when I asked Paul if he anticipates any similar situations with Chatfé, he commented that, “the user behavior you get on Chatroulette is predictable and due to the fact that their site design encourages it.  It’s not that all the perverts in the world decided to go there; it’s more that the site helps bring out that behavior.  It’s easy to ‘next’ people and video means that decisions can be made purely on an immediate visceral reaction.  So, while it is possible to have a good talk on Chatroulette, lots of people are likely to hit ‘next’ before the talk even has a chance.

“I’ve seen statistics saying that the average length of a user interaction on Chatroulette is around 5 seconds, at least for men. But on Chatfé, the average length of talks is about 5 minutes. To me, that says that people are enjoying their talks and they are making the effort to communicate, listen, answer questions, and, in short, do all the things that they would normally do.

“Because of the way we built Chatfé, we haven’t had a problem with abusive behavior.  We don’t listen in, but we talk to our users about their experiences.  If there is ever abusive behavior and we get complaints, we can simply block the offending phone number.  So far, behavior is overwhelmingly positive.”

This is a very new and interesting concept, one which you’d presumably have to assume at least some level of risk when connecting with strangers to try and generate meaningful conversation out of thin air.  And, though Chatfé is still very new and was only just recently opened up to the public as a beta version, it’s quite common for social networks such as this to evolve over time as companies realize how it’s most being used, what it’s most being used for, what audiences make the most of it, etc.  Already, Paul sees potential for this to happen with Chatfé, saying, “It’s great to start with a direction in mind and the best companies actively listen to their users, learn and adapt. Just look at how Twitter evolved past its origin.”  Indeed!  So while it has begun as a conversation platform, who knows where it will be in a matter of years, or even months?

Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Paul Orlando, CEO of Chatfé!