Bringing Back Conversation, a Chat with Chatfe

chatfeWhat if you could connect with a total stranger over the phone who shared a common interest or could possibly help answer a question? Enter Chatfe (pronounced chat fay), a New York based startup who recently gained some press in the New York Times for its ability to help others communicate in a rather unique way. Chatfe will connect you and a stranger over the phone while keeping both users identities and phone numbers private. Sign in and find someone who wants to talk about the economy, about sports, about entrepreneurship, about almost any topic one can image.

This week Paul Orlando, CEO and Co-founder of Chatfe was kind enough to chat about Chatfe and how its users are communicating.

Where did the idea behind Chatfe

come from?

A couple of years ago I started to meet up up with Steve Wang (CTO) and Ed Chin (COO) to talk about business ideas. One day Steve told us about an experience he had of getting a wrong phone number but then instead of hanging up he talked for half an hour because he clicked with the other person. And then he said: Wouldn't it be cool to be able to link people like that at any time? I laughed it off for about a year before starting to think, hey that would be pretty cool.

Do you find it surprising that people enjoy talking to total strangers? Is Chatfé

actually bringing people closer together?

It was surprising to me at first but after I started to learn more it started to seem very natural. When we were developing the concept of Chatfe, we started off by researching how people communicate across different media. Actually, people talk to strangers all the time, it's just that there are different expectations and rules for how they communicate. And the medium in which they communicate heavily influences how they communicate and what they talk about. What we've tried to do is provide a platform that helps bring out the best in people. For example, we don't give people a lot of choice in who they connect to (apart from it being another person with similar interests) because we found that extra choice just leads to disappointment when the perfect match isn't there. Also, certain demographics are overvalued or undervalued. For example, most men prefer talking to a woman online, even if it's about something that has nothing to do with dating or gender. As far as I know, Chatf

e is the only "strangers connection" service where gender has no great impact on talk length. In other words, men talk to men about as long as women talk to women, or women talk to men. People are really communicating about their common interest. So, yes, I do think Chatf

é brings people closer together. The thing I hear all the time from people who use Chatf

e is: wow, the person I talked to was really cool and helpful. And talking to them made it easy for us to exchange on a human level.

Is Chatfe a great way to find advice, create potential business or romantic relationships, or is it just a fun way to spend some free time? How would you say most users are benefiting?

From talking to people about their experiences, most people say they benefit from the entertainment aspect, the human or emotional exchange that voice brings. We also kind of make talking game-like. After your talk, you get a popup that asks you if you enjoyed talking. So, people can build status over time. We're going to roll out badges or prizes soon.

Chatroullete and other similar offerings have encountered problems with misuse. How does Chatfe combat these types of problems?

We haven't had the problems that plague Chatroulette and I don't think we ever will. When we designed our UI we made sure of that. Here's a few reasons why. Our UI brings out positive behavior, so for example, average conversation length on Chatfe is over 8 minutes. Not many people in the online world do anything for that long. That long conversation length tells us people are enjoying Chatfe. (As a comparison, I've been hearing 5 seconds is average for Chatroulette.) Another reason. We chose to keep video out of the service. We find that focusing on voice encourages people to have meaningful talks. Chatfe users treat each other pretty well and take the time to have a conversation. (As a comparison, on Chatroulette people have immediate visceral reactions based on the video.) And like I said in one of the previous questions, we're the only "strangers connections" service I know of where gender doesn't matter to people when they communicate. (That's completely unlike Chatroulette.)

You've recently started a weekly event called TalkOut. What's it all about?

TalkOut is a weekly event that we started recently to gather people together about a theme. So we've had a couple of TalkOuts on Politics and are now going to do a couple on the Economy and Jobs. It's another way to show people new uses for Chatfe and explore topical categories.

Join the Chatfe TalkOut every Tuesday at 9pm (EST). This weeks topic: Jobs and FUNemployment. Thanks again to Paul Orlando and Chatfe for the interview.