Will dirty talk boost VoIP start-ups?

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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