Why does social media have to be just text?

Facebook is a wonderful tool for staying in touch with people you've long since forgotten about. Twitter's great for micro-messages, and LinkedIn for virtual schmoozing. Each of these platforms has continued to evolve. Let's take a look at what the next step in social media is likely to be.

Traditional "social" interactions in real life always involved actually talking to people. There's just something inherently powerful about hearing somebody's voice over reading a message—that's why television in its early days became so popular in such a short amount of time. Today, we are inundated with text-based social interactions—besides our daily fix of Facebook and Twitter, we're besieged with text messages on our phones and emails, as well. If you're trying to get somebody's attention, it's not easy.

The immense popularity of Siri, the interactive voice-recognition program for iPhones, is just the beginning. Expect social media to move to more of a voice-based platform as well. It's surprising that Facebook hasn't taken the lead on this already. There are a handful of little-known Facebook apps that do let you incorporate audio and video, but it's not incorporated into the front lines.

Michael Boukadakis, a voice processing and IVR expert, says "it's just natural to add audio and video into a social networking platform." Having been in the industry for 25 years, Boukadakis has been involved in the continuing evolution of voice and IVR since the early stages of the industry. "I was enamored with it many years ago," he says, "because it's the most natural way to communicate. We've come out with great tools like email and text messaging that was not around 30 years ago, and these methods are effective to a degree, but how many times has somebody received your email, and said, 'I didn't mean that, you took it the wrong way.'"

Boukadakis' startup, freshly funded with $3 million in angel money, aims to take social messaging to the next level with an audio-based platform that adds a little more personality to the equation. His company, Audingo, is still evolving. Its initial application is to allow personalities, businesses, and media outlets to push out personalized messages to a large audience. In its simplest form, the user spends an hour or so in voice recording mode to prepare, and then when a voice message is created later on, the system pairs the message with a personalized greeting—for example, "Hey Dan, this is Joe, your friendly news anchor, giving you the top headlines for the day . . . ". And it comes out pretty seamless. At present, Audingo is targeted at commercial use, but the concept is a powerful one across the board to disseminate information on a personalized basis. The idea would certainly apply to a person-to-person social platform as well—and I have no doubt that one day soon, we'll be not just reading Facebook and Twitter, but listening to it as well.

I asked Boukadakis whether he thinks others will follow his lead, and whether we will one day soon not just be reading Facebook and Twitter, but listening to it as well. "It has to be," he responded. "If you look at Apple with Siri for example. Speech recognition goes back 20 years, and they've been perfecting it. We are not a one-dimensional communication. It's no longer the written word, there needs to be audio, there needs to be video. There needs to be another form of interaction, and I'll call that a human interface interaction." Boukadakis imagines a Star Trek like future, not quite so far off in the distance, where searching for something and buying it could be as easy as having a conversation with an automated, voice-based search engine. The speech recognition piece of the puzzle is already there, and the commerce end of it could be easily achieved with a voice authentication print or a thumb scan incorporated into the mobile device. And why not? Searching for information has become exponentially easier over the past 20 years, and the next logical step is to add an intelligent voice interface. Audingo is the tip of the iceberg. Our keyboards may just become obsolete before we know it.

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