Co.Design

Almost Genius: Talk-O-Meter App Scolds Conversation Hogs

Need to get a word in edgewise? There's an app for that.

People who monopolize conversations are either a) narcissistic jerks doing it on purpose or b) accidental jerks who just need a gentle reminder now and then to shut their yaps. Talk-O-Meter is your secret weapon for the latter category: it's an iPhone app that uses voice recognition and biofeedback to compute, on the fly, which person in a conversation is doing most of the talking. So instead of looking at your watch, or interrupting, you can just point to the Talk-O-Meter screen as if to say, "You might want to wrap this train of thought up."

I asked the app's designers what inspired their creation -- were they were surrounded by rude people? Actually, it was the opposite. "The thought behind Talk-O-Meter is that people are not rude, and their too-much-talking can be changed by giving them this friendly bio-feedback," Reinhard Wiesemann tells Co.Design. When you first fire up the app, it asks each speaker to talk normally so it can establish who is who. From there, you can tell it to monitor the conversation in 1, 3, or 5-minute intervals. At the end of each interval, it'll display a bar split into two colors, representing the ratio of who spent the most time flapping his gums.

The app is clever and cute, and the designers have an admirably charitable view of human nature, but it's hard to see how Talk-O-Meter wouldn't come off as supremely passive-aggressive in real life. After all, in order for it to function correctly, you have to pull it out and pre-calibrate it together before actually starting your "real" conversation -- it's as if the person with the app is pre-judging their partner as a blabbermouth just by setting it up. I suppose an alternative would be to pull out Talk-O-Meter and say "Actually, this is for your benefit because I tend to go on and on" -- but that's hardly an invitation to normal conversation either.

Maybe the best use case for Talk-O-Meter is a perversely geeky married couple who are intimate enough not to take offense at the mere use of the app, but are interested in data-mining their conversation patterns anyway. Sounds like a great setup for an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

[Read more at Talk-O-Meter; top image by iMorpheus]

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