Do Androids Dream of Robotic Birds? Say Hello To Chirp

Another day, another new social network – although this one is actually a little bit different to your average here’s-what-I-did-today-in-some-format-aren’t-you-impressed social offering. Chirp, developed by Animal Studios, is a social network/data transmission app that allows you to share photos, videos, etc with friends. So far, so everything else on the market. Except you don’t just press a button to share with Chirp – you transmit data via ‘digital birdsong’.

Birdsong in this case isn’t nature’s please-shut-up wake-up call, but a series of 20 digital beeps that pump out of your phone in two seconds. According to the BBC, the sound is similar to that of a robotic bird as if that’s something we’re all familiar with. Still, it’s nice to see another entry into the burgeoning avian-themed social media sector. Other reports suggest the sounds emitted by Chirp sound more like a certain lovable droid from Star Wars.

In a move akin to not letting certain film critics into advance screenings, it’s currently only available on iPhone, which ultimately means I haven’t had the chance to play with it yet.  I can tell you how it works though. The process works by uploading your data to Chirp’s servers, which is then sent back to you in the form of an audio version of your data’s new address. From this point, you can play your chirp so that other Chirp-enabled devices can hear it, decipher it and display whatever you’re sharing in their Chirp feed. The advantage of this is that you can share information without directly connecting as with Bluetooth, as well as not requiring a wireless connection to share data – offline users can save Chirps for later. At the moment, the data you can share is limited to 140 character messages, photos and URLs.

It’s an interesting concept and one that could easily take off amongst groups of friends, although it has been quite rightly pointed out that having loads of robotic birdsongs going off constantly will be incredibly annoying. As a sharing platform though Chirp sounds interesting, although it does scream ‘novelty’ rather than mainstay and perhaps won’t appeal to people who want to keep their sharing discreet.  It remains to be seen whether it has enough to usurp other sharing platforms too; yes, you can share without connecting but you and whoever you’re sending to has to have the app open and ready to receive your chirp. There’s also the question of uploading all your data onto Chirp’s servers; that means uploading content twice if you want to use it on Facebook, etc.

Like any social platform, there are already grand schemes being drawn up on how Chirp could be used for marketing. This article by the New Scientist describes Chirp as being like the ‘audio equivalent of QR codes’, which sounds like a fantastic idea in one sense but opens up a world of irritating possibilities – will users press a button to hear the chirp out of their own choosing or will we be faced with involuntary soundscape of robotic birds for the few who actually want to hear it?

An idea I do like includes the power to share extra information with people via Chirps; so you produce a video and then insert a Chirp which will link users to relevant articles and products which seems pretty novel. What is perhaps more worrying is the idea that Chirps can be played over tannoy and public address systems, the idea being that people hold up their phones to receive data from companies. While this may work at concerts or sporting events where people actually want to receive information, the possibility of hearing a Chirp over the tannoy at a train station or on the high street, for example, is one that could get old very fast.

Basically, Chirp’s USP could also be its biggest downfall. The novelty of sending data by sound will be irresistible to some, whereas to others it’ll be another layer of noise in what is already an unnecessarily noisy society. The possibility of being digitally marketed to by sound doesn’t appeal either. An average Saturday on the High Street will see you being marketed via every available sense; do we really need to add digital birdsong to it? Does it offer enough to tempt people away from the multitude of other sharing platforms either?

Of course, the personal aspect of Chirp hasn’t even got off the ground itself yet so any ideas for marketing with the app are mostly speculation. It’ll be interesting to see how, if Chirp does manage to get off the ground, brands make use of the app in their marketing strategies. Chirp is free to download now on iPhone, with plans for an Android version in the pipeline.

  • Written by on 24th July 2012 at 11:45
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