by MG Siegler on September 15, 2009

A lot of people use Twitter to have conversations with others, but that’s not really what it was built for. Initially, Twitter was just supposed to be a place to update what you are doing; the @reply only came around because people started using it to direct a conversation at another user. Now conversations are one of the most interesting things about Twitter, and a new startup launching in private beta today at TechCrunch50, Lissn, wants to build a new platform from the ground up with conversations in mind.

If you’ve seen the video demos or had a chance to use Google Wave at all, Lissn may seem familiar — it has the same type of real-time conversation aspect. The difference, of course, is that this is the main function of Lissn, while Wave is trying to be a lot of different things wrapped into one. Lissn is all about having conversations with people, and allows others to watch, and join in as they’d like.

And because anyone can join in on these conversation threads, Lissn can tell what the most popular topics being talked about are. And it highlights those for other users to see, and lets them get involved in the conversations too. You also have friends on the service, and you can see what conversations your friends are engaged in, and can decide whether or not you want to join them too.

Lissn also automatically translates conversations in your native language, using Google Translate.

There is also a location-based element to the service. Using your IP address (or manually putting in a city) you can see the conversations happening around that area.

Another service that has similar conversation capabilities is FriendFeed. Of course, the future outlook for that service is murky since Facebook recently acquired them. And FriendFeed also had many more features such as aggregation of social data, Lissn is just about conversations, keeping it simple.

As for a business model, Lissn will show ads based on keywords within conversations, just like Google does in Gmail.

Expert Panel Q&A (paraphrased)

The experts: Robert Scoble, Sean Parker, Dick Costolo, Reid Hoffman, Mike Schroepfer, Chamillionaire

Q: Dick, you’re working for Twitter now, what do you think?

DC: I like it but on the business side, Google Ads isn’t going to work. Random conversations are hard to monetize. But I like the idea of sponsored conversations. This is kind of like Twitter meets Get Satisfaction.

RS: Conversations are interesting, but I’m not sure I see enough that pulls me in here. Why would I leave Twitter to come here.

MA: Twitter is all about short conversations, this takes that idea and extends it to longer conversations.

RS: So why is this different from FriendFeed and soon Facebook?

DC: I’ll answer this, and I want shares in the company (kidding). The answer there is the local conversation. People looking for a good pizza place in Noe Valley, etc. This is an interesting vehicle, for I want to ask questions in a local context.

MS: I think there is a big separation between big conversations and the local conversations. You need to think about how to separate those out. The local conversation has to be colored by your social network, I think. It’s about your friends.

RS: That was a huge problem with FriendFeed too. With too many people participating, there’s just too much.

C: Right, how many people can have a conversation? Like a trending conversation on Twitter, you can go back so far, to so many message.

MA: Yeah, it’s mostly about live conversations. But it’s also interesting to just listen, especially what celebrities have to say.

Myke Armstrong showed off the demo of listen today at the conference.

By Techwacky

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