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Summary:

It all began with an anonymous tip, about a new service called Shadow Number that allows you to make private calls from your mobile phone, while still retaining your privacy. Their sales pitch: ShadowNumber keeps your play life private. Their flyer led to their Web site, […]

It all began with an anonymous tip, about a new service called Shadow Number that allows you to make private calls from your mobile phone, while still retaining your privacy. Their sales pitch: ShadowNumber keeps your play life private.

Their flyer led to their Web site, and a click later it revealed that the Menlo Ventures-backed TalkPlus, a VoIP start-up was powering this new service. Their tag line: Calling for a Playdate!

… Instantly alter your caller ID, Shadow Number keeps your play life private.…

att668671.jpgWhile the company made a couple of announcements at CES, there was no mention of Shadow Number. The company domain name is registered to a Toronto-based Canadian company called Contact Privacy, though it shared the name servers with TalkPlus. So we decided to check in with Jeff Black, CEO of the company.

“Shadow number is our brand for the alternative market,” Black explained it to us. “We are uncomfortable with putting our TalkPlus name, and are using the Shadow Number.” Black describes the “alternative market” as the adult market and that is on the fringe of that adult market.

Despite their self-claimed value propositions, most if not all VoIP start-ups face an uphill battle in terms of mass scale adoption. The desire for anonymity, especially when indulging in naughty activities, might be actually be their savior.

There are many reasons why people might want to keep romantic liaisons anonymous, from the simple (you’re just flirting) to the more complex (use your imagination). There is also a measure of safety in anonyminity, and the desire to keep potential stalkers at a hidden-number distance might well be an attractive service.

TalkPlus is just the latest amongst the VoIP start-ups to use the anonymity sales pitch. Jangl has signed a deal with Match.com, while Vivox has signed a deal with the WorldFriends’ Networks.

Some of us (including yours truly) may find Shadownumber’s pitch a tad distasteful, but it is an ingenious way for a fledgling start-up to popularize its offering. “There are certain markets that we think will have higher adoption,” Black said. It is a time-tested model for new technologies – go adult and go big.

Many new technologies — like VHS and DVDs, and more recently Video over the Internet — owe no small part of their early success to adult entertainment, which spurred people to jump through technological hoops they might not have otherwise. As long as no laws are broken, why shouldn’t VoIP benefit from satisfying the same desires?

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  1. Ian Andrew Bell Monday, January 15, 2007

    More interesting and relevant than the VHS/DVD/PR0N analogy is the adult chat line industry, which is hugely profitable.

    The two big boys in that business are both Canadian: Toronto’s LavaLife, which is now owned by a hedge fund, and vancouver’s Teligence, which is privately-held.

    Dirty talk and “hooking up” over the phone are major components of both of their businesses, and in the case of LavaLife which also has a web-based service, are major profit drivers.

    Teligence markets “Tango Personals” and “LiveLinks”, while LavaLife markets “The Night Exchange” and “LavaLife by Phone”. Make a call to any of these and the thin veneer of dating and relationships quickly peels back to reveal that they’re all about hooking up and talking dirty.

    This makes those companies natural players, and partners, in this space. Both have major infrastructural investments, though, so the Jangls and TalkPluses should be wary that their strategies are quite replicable and these guys will likely copy and/or integrate their services.

    -Ian.

  2. If this communication is truly private there will be problems. With this technology all kinds of illegal activities (I won’t list them here) can be hidden from view. I like the idea of a truly private conversation but so do the bad guys and you know what the government thinks.

  3. I don’t think it means “private” from the government. TalkPlus is CALEA compliant so it can be made un-private very quickly once the government decides it wants to listen in.

  4. “Many new technologies — like VHS and DVDs, and more recently Video over the Internet — owe no small part of their early success to adult entertainment…”

    That statement is right on the money, Om.

  5. Who cares. Privacy is privacy – whether it is a conversation or an email – I support anything that tries to be anonymity back to the web. I still say that the greatest threat to the web is the openness that companies like Google push and the Gen X crowd is pionneering.

    A lot of people dont want to be tracked, listened to or publish their lives on the web. I for one say great. The conveinience of a site saying “Welcome Back Brian” is not without cost – and believe me, companies are not all “do no evil” as goog claims to be..

  6. Kanti Purohit Monday, January 15, 2007

    What is the difference between keeping your identity private with a Shadow Number and blocking the Caller ID from your cell phone?

    Thanks.

  7. What is the difference between keeping your
    identity private with a Shadow Number and
    blocking the caller ID from your cell phone?

    The difference when using Shadow Number is that now you’ve involved a third party whom you have no knowledge about and no reason to trust. You’ve just signaled to some unknown intermediary that you have something to hide.

    No thanks! Keep your Shadow Number, and I’ll call in public any time I want to get jiggy-jiggy, there’s more anonymity in a crowd than standing out like a sore thumb using this Shadow Number hack.

  8. Toti Stefansson Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    What is the difference between keeping your identity private with a Shadow Number and blocking the Caller ID from your cell phone?

    If you block your caller ID the recipient doesn’t get any caller information, which in many… uh… shadowy scenarios means that they don’t answer. With the Shadow Number they do can use that to call you back.

  9. well, once you’re on your shadowdate, if you don’t like what you see, you could then employ the use of a mobile alibi (www.mobilealibi.com)

  10. Ian Andrew Bell Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Funnily enough, Om, it looks like SONY intends to repeat the same mistakes they failed to recognize in their VHS/Beta battle in the burgeoning BlueRay/HDDVD fray. And the key battlefield is, as you earlier assessed, Pr()N.

    According to the Inquirer SONY is shunning the Adult biz from the Blu-Ray format. That’ll be a big Oops.

    http://www.theinquirer.net/default.aspx?article=37021

    -Ian.

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