I recently received an invitation to play around with an alpha release of Talkster, a service that will compete with other VOIM (that would be “voice over instant messaging”) services once it is officially launched. During my initial login to the Talkster site, Firefox had a meltdown (it couldn't possibly have been the 48 tabs that I had open), which actually wound up locking me out of the service. In order to ensure that I had a better experience the next time that I tried to sign up for the service, I was put directly in touch by phone with James Wanless, President and COO of Talkster.
The Talkster service is very straightforward from a user perspective — you simply tell the service your phone number for a “mobile alias” (the service currently allows you to set up 4) and add some contacts that you want to chat with. Essentially the service provides a gateway between the telephone network and various IM clients with voice capabilities — I may get this wrong, but I think that service currently supports Google Talk, MSN, and Gizmo Project. There is no software required on your computer or your phone; everything is handled via the Talkster main website and mobile website.
In the simple test that I did with Mr. Wanless, I simply added a contact with a Hotmail address (Google Talk user) to my list, navigated to the mobile Talkster site, and clicked to call the person I wanted to connect with — the URL in the mobile site generated a number for me to dial, I dialed the number, and was connected after a few rings to the MSN user. The Talkster service is also configurable to do a call out to your phone after you click to connect, which is nice for people like me that have the Sprint/Nextel free incoming plan. Unfortunately when I tried the call back function, my web browser was still receiving data, so the call was shunted direct to my voicemail — Wanless said that they are working on refining the timeout time for the call back to minimize this problem on CDMA networks where data traffic shunts calls to voicemail.
Talkster does allow you to make calls to normal telephone numbers instead of using VOIM; provided that you have stored phone number details with your contacts, any number outside of your local area can be dialed through the Talkster service in the same way as VOIM call (numbers in your same local calling area are dialed directly through your phone).
For Google Talk and Gizmo Project contacts, Talkster allows you to see the status of the user on the mobile phone — at the time of my writing this post, I do not believe that Talkster can show status for MSN users.
As it transitions out of alpha, Talkster will have aggressively low rates for international calls and will be attractive when traveling as you would be able to define a pre-paid SIM as one of your aliases to enable inexpensive calls when out of the country. Further, Talkster will also be introducing functionality that will allow you to use a desk phone to perform the same functions via the Talkster main site — presumably you would enter the direct dial number for the desk phone, click the contact that you want to call, and then Talkster would call your desk phone to complete the connection.
I will continue to play with the Talkster service and provide updates as the service is updated and/or new features are added. Hopefully as Talkster transitions out of alpha they will do some work on the interface design and perhaps even look at making the user experience fell more web 2.0 with some Ajax goodness.Tags: Talkster, VOIM, VOIP, IM, Ross Hollman, Strategize