Volio Tests Virtual Video Conversations with Esquire Staff

Companies such as Google and Apple have created voice-activated technologies that allow consumers to speak with their devices. Now, startup Volio is taking a similar approach with its “Talk To Esquire” app for the iPad and iPhone, in which videos have been pre-produced that allow users to “have a conversation” with the writers from Esquire. Volio’s founder envisions a new era of video interaction across multiple industries.

While the technology is still in its early stages, the idea is perhaps the next step in virtual video conversation similar to what is experienced with iChat or Skype. A consumer chooses videos based on topics of interest. The columnist will then ask a question, and will give an automated response depending on the consumer’s initial answer. And Volio sees this as just the beginning, hoping to create different genres of videos that are created to “stimulate conversation.”

“We’re not trying to fool anybody,” says Ronald Croen, Volio’s founder and CEO. “But if this is done well, we’ll create the experience of talking to a real human being.”

Croen is the co-founder of Nuance Communications that was later acquired by ScanSoft and renamed Nuance. The company worked with Apple on its voice recognition technology Siri.

“While early demos may be a bit unconvincing, Volio’s aims are big,” reports Businessweek. “Croen envisions one day selling the technology to corporations, advertising firms, and universities. Today his company produces the videos itself for use with its own app, but eventually it wants to license the tools to let its customers incorporate the feature into other apps and make their own videos.”

“Croen imagines allowing media personalities, celebrities, professors, and advertisers to set up their own avatars,” notes the article. “Professors can hold remote office hours, brands seeking to speak with their customers actually can, and online movie previews might include stars conversing in character with viewers.”

According to The Huffington Post, clips are put together to create the impression of a fluid conversation. If Volio or Esquire were to see that there are new frequently asked questions, new responses can be recorded and added to the selection. Croen claims that the face-to-face interaction is what draws people to the app.

“The interactivity advances the benefit, or there’s an emotional purpose or connection,” Croen said. “If you have some benefit in the personalization and in the customization of the conversation… or if you care about the person because you already know who they are, then this is better.” So far the app has been doing well, with the columnists happily being a part of the current test run.

“It provided an opportunity to bridge the gap between our experts and the readers who come looking to us for advice,” says senior editor of Esquire, Richard Dorment.

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