August 04, 2008 |
I have just received an announcement from a startup Arzoola that introduced Social Call!, the application that its creators brand as "the world's first Craigslist application". I am not sure if it is actually the first in the world but since it sounded too intriguing and we definitely get much more announcements for Facebook apps, I've decided to give Social Call! a go and see what it has to offer.
The service they offer is very simple and is intended to help Craigslist posters keep some of their personal information private – specifically, their cell phone numbers. The application connects the poster and those interested in the product or service advertised without the need to display the phone number right within the listing.
It is an obvious problem that when you post a listing on Craigslist your chances to close the deal can increase if you choose to provide additional contact information, including your phone number. But that definitely exposes your phone number to the number of internet users you may be scared to know. And Arzoola has come up with a solution for the problem: the poster uses their application, provides it with his or her cell phone number and the application will generate a code to be pasted into the posting description field on Craigslist. This code will generate a link that will be displayed to those viewing the listing inviting them to call the poster. If the call is actually made, it is not sent to the advertiser directly – instead it is taken to Arzoola where the caller enters his own phone number and then the service automatically connects those two wanting to talk. I have tested the application myself and it does seem to work as expected.
As of now Arzoola seems to be waiting for admission of their application on the Facebook platform as well. On facebook such an application only makes sense for entertainment because here it simply permits you to call any other user of the application (you will be able to search for people by neighborhood and by their interests) and have a pleasant chat for free. Sure, you can also call your Facebook friends using the application but I don't think it's reasonable since the majority of us actually make our phone numbers available to our friends anyway directly – if only to save on phone bills.
Unfortunately, no matter how appealing the idea may be, I think the execution is kind of cumbersome and has a number of potential threats. For one, why does the service require the phone number of the caller? I guess it would have been better off making this requirement optional, simply connecting the two people on one line and keeping the caller on his computer using Skype for voice, for example, if he does not want to use phone. After all, if the advertiser is unwilling to share his number, why would callers trust a service that they probably see for the first time in their lives without any guarantees of keeping it private as well?
Another problem is that the service is offered absolutely for free while I think it could very well be a paid-for service for the Craigslist advertisers. Sure, the fee should be very low but for heavy Craigslist users the fee could apply – probably the first 10 uses of the app could be free and subsequent ones paid-for. But with the current free approach the service will surely raise the concerns of how they are going to make money with many people suspecting that they will monetize the data base of phone numbers. Moreover, I guess there is kind of a hint that this approach could be possible on the company's "Contact us" page:
I am sure that even a slight chance of having your phone number sold to some local advertisers will scare the majority of potential users away so the "free" approach may not help the service grow, no matter how appealing "free" seems to be these days.
But the most important problem for the application is user adoption. Sure, on Facebook it could rely on viral growth and could eventually succeed in it. And while I see that if such a service was offered by Craigslist itself, it could be used rather heavily, an independent application working on its own will obviously have a very hard time even trying to reach any significant number of users. So it seems to me that the only way for the app to survive and grow is to either partner with Craigslist or be acquired by the classifieds giant. Chances are that lack of monetization model shows that this last exit is the only one that they consider at all.