It's not often that a jaded veteran like me falls in love with an app. But it happened this week with a new app called Chirp. It's based on one of those rare technologies like HTTP or XML that at first seems trifling, but ends up changing everything.
To oversimplify, Chirp uses sound to transmit words, pictures and URLs from one phone to another.
It's called Chirp, because its data transmission sounds like a robotic bird.
First, I'll tell you how Chirp works. Then I'll tell you why I think this bird has wings and could change how we all share data.
How Chirp works
Chirp was created by a company called Animal Systems, which was a spinoff company by eggheads in the Computer Science Department at the University College London.
The current version is for iOS only, but an Android version is coming soon.
Here's how it works.
To use Chirp, you open the app, and ask the recipient of your choice -- it could be one person or 10,000 people -- to open the app as well.
You can take a picture with your phone, or choose a picture from your phone's camera roll. Alternatively, you can enter a note, or a web site URL.
Chirp gives you a yellow button. Just press it, and a two-second chirp sends your content to everyone else within earshot. Your words or your picture pop up on their screens a second or two after the chirp sounds.
But the data doesn't itself travel via sound. What happens is that the chirp sound contains two proprietary protocols -- an audio protocol and a network protocol.
Basically, the app first uploads your content to the cloud, then generates a code for the content, and converts that code into sound. It sends the sound, which is received by the other person's app, and then decodes it. It's basically an Internet link, which downloads the words or text from the cloud to their device.
It works offline, so you can send the chirp without a connection, and receive it without a connection, too. Later, when you connect, you'll get the picture or text.
Surprisingly, it even functions in noisy environments because the app is optimized to listen for exactly the kinds of tones generated by the app.
Chirp is just one application of Animal Systems' technology. The technology could be used in an enormous number of other ways. And Animal Systems says it's hatching an API so developers can incorporate the technology into other products.
Why Chirp is revolutionary
Someone on Sand Hill Road should throw a hundred million dollars at Animal Systems immediately.
For starters, every major company in Silicon Valley is going to want to buy it, from Apple to Google to Twitter to Facebook to Microsoft, and incorporate it into their offerings. Chirp should hold out and make it a universal standard.
But more importantly, Chirp solves all kinds of problems or, rather, radically improves the process of sharing content in very specific ways.
For example, remember Color? That app enabled strangers at a party to share photos without logging in. By simply using the app, pictures taken by other Color users simply popped up on your screen, along with every picture they'd ever taken ever using Color. Excitement about Color was largely drowned out by criticism of privacy violations and fears about creepy snooping.
Since then, lots of companies have been trying to figure out how to enable location-specific, ad hoc social networks where strangers in the same location can easily exchange words and pictures.
Chirp is a fantastic alternative to Color, because it's so instantaneous and easy to use, and because the sharing won't penetrate through walls and out into the street, like Color did.
With alternatives, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, texting, web site uploading and others, there is some requirement for pairing devices, entering in passwords, logging in, addressing messages and other barriers.