Talkster has been getting some buzz from fellow CTIA-goers. The new international dialing service is offering free global calls in exchange to listening to a few ads. The VoIP-based, phone-centered service feels like the perfect Skype (download) and Pincity mashup. It's free like Skype, and also relies on a VoIP backbone, but like Pincity, Talkster makes use of local numbers to initiate mobile and landline calls.
It sure sounds irresistible, and I've read a few glowing reviews, but in actuality it's a bit tricky. Talkster members enter their number and the number they're calling, and Talkster assigns a new, local number for callers on each end of the line. Say what?
If I want to call my sister in England, I enter both our phone numbers and receive a third number in my 415 area code. That's my permanent number for the phone number I just entered. My sister will get a number for me too. If I want to catch her at home, work, and on her cell phone for free, I'll need to enter each phone number and get three separate Talkster lines.
It wouldn't be so confusing if that were all, but of course it's not. Initiating a call isn't merely the result of dialing one of my Talkster-issued local numbers. There's an order to the calling system. Let's say I initiate the call to my darling sib using a Talkster phone number. I dial the appointed number in my area code and she picks up. But we can't talk yet. She first has to hang up while I stay on the line. My sister then quickly locates her local number, and while Talkster servers do some speedy math to connect our loose ends together, we both listen to an ad. Or that's the plan as soon as Talkster's ad deals are in place.
Is Talkster still the best of both worlds? I like the freedom of motion from talking on a physical phone instead of through headphones, and the fact that unlike Skype, Talkster's VoIP service remains free when calling a landline. However, there's the pain of having to enter in and store dozens of numbers instead of memorizing one account and PIN as with a prepaid phone card that cuts costs by securing local numbers.
I don't mind paying for a call in exchange for an ad taking up thirty seconds of my time, but the you-sit-there-while-I-hang-up-and-call-you-back system is hardly the hallmark of Web 2.0 simplicity. Let's also not leave out the bland Facebook app that exists only to invite Facebook contacts to use the service.
Ultimately the utility of Talkster for you comes down to the money-versus-time equation. Plenty of people would do a lot for free long distance, especially in this age of global interconnectedness where family and friends live continents apart. However, it won't be ideal for everyone, especially if network trouble rocks the marriage between the parties' separate numbers.
Like most Web 2.0 and social networking services, Talkster's success will all come down to rapid adoption and critical mass.