Each human voice is beautiful and unique.

Our voices connect us to one another. Our personalities incarnate timber and tone. Vocalization brings nuances text lacks. This subtlety and character have been largely missing from social media. Until now.

Until I installed Anchor, I had no idea the difference a human voice could make.

Anchor is a new iOS app that puts sound front and centre. It functions more like Twitter than Facebook, focussing on back and forth bursts of interaction with a feed of ‘friends’. Unlike Twitter, you don’t type into Anchor. You speak into the mic you are always carrying–your phone.

It’s late last week when I sign up. I hit play and hear the voices of strangers. Brittish accents. African American voices. Latino voices. Southern drawls. New Yorkers. Europeans. Aging voices. Youthful voices. Tired, hushed voices and voices crackling with energy. Music and ambient noise rise behind some voices. I start to picture these people. Their context. Their world.

These sounds paint a picture, but not an actual image. Aside from a profile photo, I’m not seeing these speakers, like on Periscope or Meerkat. I’m grateful because honestly, I’m not interested in videos of strangers.

Audio may be the perfect form for social media.

Audio avoids the misreadings and assumptions of simple text but is less revealing than video. On Anchor, I can finally unleash my dry wit and sarcasm without resorting to excessive emojis. It’s refreshing. Seeing the speaker would offer even more non-verbal cues, but there are already apps for that, and they haven’t stuck for me. Periscope’s live streaming has always seemed to cross a privacy line I’m not comfortable with. I signed up for an account, and I’ve seen awesome uses, like Austin Kleon’s collaborative art sessions, but I’ve felt awkward posting much of anything. I’ve felt almost as uncomfortable watching, especially if the feed was from a stranger. Anchor finds a sweet spot between intimacy and privacy by focussing not on the human image, but the human voice.

It turns out Anchor is incredibly useful.

First of all, audio can be consumed passively.

I don’t have to read or watch, which means I can listen to a whole conversation of posts and replies while washing dishes or painting the roof (I’m in the middle of a reno these days). I listen to a lot of podcasts because my ears can focus on one thing with my eyes on another.

Audio is simply the best way to communicate some content.

The users for Anchor have revealed themselves as I’ve started to listen and share. Music finds a home here, with many cover songs already up and singer-songwriters sharing original material. I’ve found Anchor a perfect place to share an original song each day and solicit feedback. The process couldn’t be simpler. Audio posts are limited to 2 minutes; which has led me to share previews of my songs (say, the first verse and chorus), rather than the whole tune. I could see this becoming a useful tool to get people interested in my music without giving it all away.

Field recording is an excellent way to explore the sounds of someone else’s world. We take soundscapes for granted, and I’m all for an app that awakens me to secret surrounding beauty.

Real conversations are happening on Anchor.

I’ve encouraged a writer to press on and edit her book. I’ve been encouraged in my music making. I’ve shared a story of a first date after listening to the stories of others. I’ve asked and answered questions; given and received advice. I can see Anchor becoming a useful crowd-sourcing tool or a way to collect responses for use in a podcast or radio show.

I can quickly ask what software someone would recommend for building a website, for instance, and hear genuine, personalized feedback from actual users, rather than trudging through pages of written reviews by people like ‘CatRobot773’.

One user shares karaoke jams that always put a smile on my face. Another gifts listeners with a poetically crafted word of the day. Another posts comedy bits to make me laugh in a free moment while another user shares musical meditations on multiple instruments each morning.

The community, in general, is encouraging, warm and welcoming. A small miracle, considering we’re all strangers.

Image from  Unsplash.com

Image from Unsplash.com

Anchor’s users are mostly real people, using their actual names. There are some brands here, but they are brands that are adding value like podcasts and radio shows. NPRs Here and Now provides teaser content for their main show, like clips from upcoming interviews. I see that Serial, one of the world’s most popular podcasts, has recently joined. Anchor has not become a self-promotional echo chamber. At least not yet.

Get Started Talking to Strangers (and Friends) on Anchor

Anchor is free. Right now it is a mobile-first experience. You can share posts (called Waves) online, and listen to them on a computer, but all interaction happens in the app, and so far it’s iOS only (sorry Android users). Don’t forget that means iPads and iPod Touches can chime in too.

First, download the app. You can find it at anchor.fm or in the App Store.

Second, open the app. You’ll need to sign up and can user your Twitter account to do so. Or you can sign up using email.

Third, follow the friendly onboarding instructions. You’ll record a three-second greeting which is the audio version of a Twitter bio. Your photo will transfer over from Twitter, or you can upload a new one from your phone.

Next you record your #firstwave.

You can make this anything you like, and it can last up to 2 minutes. Most people use this as a chance to introduce themselves. A personal introduction is much better than “hi … just trying out Anchor for the first time. This, uh, looks pretty cool, so, uh, I’ll talk to you later, or Wave or whatever. Bye!” That might, in fact, be what I did, but I do not recommend it.

Once you are set up, you can post as many Waves as you like. Each can be two minutes long, and can have a caption, with hashtags, attached. You can share those Waves on your existing social network, and once you’ve made some friends, tag your fellow Anchorites.

A screenshot of my Anchor profile.

A screenshot of my Anchor profile.

I engaged by taking Anchor’s suggestions for people to follow and by visiting the Search screen. Here you’ll find recommended topics, usually defined by a hashtag. I listened to a few Waves, and once I found a conversation I could contribute to, I hit reply. People from that conversation connected to me and started responding to my Waves. Waves gather and grow the further they travel.

Perhaps you’ll join me, and we can make some noise together.

When you sign up, search for Dave Von Bieker and let me know you read this. I’ll do my best to respond. You’ll find out if my real voice matches the one in your head while you read this.


How Talking to Strangers Could Save Social Media

They tell us not to talk to strangers, but I think that’s the whole problem with social media. We find people we already know and like and reinforce opinions we already have. We are seeing this polarization play out in the three rings of the US election.

The strongest communities–my family and my church come to mind–are made up of people I wouldn’t hang out with anywhere else. People I would not choose if I had complete control. Personalities that grow on me. Some who never do. Anchor could become a community like this. A diverse kaleidoscope of people and perspectives. A social network with space for pleasant surprises.

A Neighbourhood of Strangers

In these early days Anchor feels like a small neighbourhood packed with exciting toys and promising gadgets. None of the houses have a kitchen, so if you want to eat you need to choose a seat at the community table. None of the toys and gadgets work without other people, so if you want to play, you need to make new friends. If I want the best of what this neighbourhood has to offer, I’m going to have to connect with strangers. Or I could choose to get bored and leave.

I’ve decided to talk with strangers. We’re learning how to live here together. We are motivated to make this Anchor great place to live for a good long while. We are helping each other out.

I’ve visited other upstart social networks, but Anchor feels different. There’s a real sense of optimism here. You can hear it in our voices.

(unless otherwise noted, images are provided by Anchor)

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