truecaller is a social network in an app

Let me share a small story …

It was my birthday yesterday (yes, yes, yet another year down the hill…). Anyways so dinner was had with all my folks. Midway my cousin started prank calling my wife. Of course me and my brother being privy to the whole mischief decided to play along with the charade. Well… and the charade kept playing. In the meantime, my cousin installed a new app on my wife’s phone – viz truecaller. Curious about the app we started asking more questions, he told us that it was an app which would give the name of the person calling you even if the number was not present on your phone’s address book. He had my interest then and there.

Playing around with truecaller by searching through the application some things became very clear

  1. The phone number look-up was happening on the true caller server and not as a peer to peer search as earlier assumed by my cousin
  2. The application clearly was uploading the complete list of contacts from our phone to the true caller server which was not completely apparent from the application permissions
  3. Clearly, a lot of people either do not understand that this is the case or just do not care about privacy as long as the name lookup works perfectly

Once we started playing around with truecaller some beautiful insights started emerging…

  • It is simply a global yellow pages for phone numbers and people
  • Built completely using “crowd sourcing”
  • Has the complete “social-graph” and your connections
  • Phone numbers and even the data against the person – images and birthdays are being shared

But not once does truecaller state that its value is the above. truecaller’s simple selling point is “know who your caller is or find someone you know”. Now culturally, this is something that happens quite often in India that we first determine the caller and only then take the call. And truecaller fits this mindset like a glove.

In spite of the many buzz-words it covers, truecaller never for once succumbs to the buzz and sells itself as “X of Y”. Quite simply the app identifies itself by the user’s needs and not by the capabilities. Truly cutting the crap and bringing down the value to the bare minimum I think is truecaller’s best selling point at this point in time. My bow to the team for truly truly getting down to simplifying the message to the users.

Just thinking deeper on the different value that truecaller can reap from itself just on a few adjacency moves had me truly appreciate the full scale of the app’s accomplishment.

1. Fully connected and open Social Network

India had its telecom revolution in the 2000 but what we are seeing now is the beginning of a truly mobile revolution spearheaded by marginal costs of software, apps, operating systems and the Chinese manufactured hardware. In India where the penetration of the global social networks (FB, G+) is not at a level where they can cover the complete social spectrum, truecaller is truly riding on the Android-driven mobile revolution and is now almost a default must-have app on Android phones (WhatsApp being the other must-have app). If the privacy concerns are set aside for a moment, quite clearly truecaller now clearly has my phone number, list of all people whom I met or am connected to via my address book and the list of all calls landing on my phone (the hook which does the look up for the true called id of the number when I get a call).

What clearly is being missed is that truecaller has a hook into all your contacts and mobile activity without the user having to do any work explicitly – This sets it truly apart from all other social networks where the activity must happen via user intervention to get recorded on the site. It truly has all the things going for being a truly global social network – it is completely crowd-sourced, has the exhaustive social graph and is deeply embedded into your connections and activity. No wonder Facebook is pushing for the Facebook phone – to be right at the place where the connections are happening.

So to sum to it all up, the things that are going for truecaller for leveraging the Social Network

  1. Clearly leveraging the network effect – more the people that install truecaller, the better the performance and the accuracy!
  2. Does not require the user to do anything to become sticky – it already is hooked into YOU – you volunteered to give all the info away
  3. Forget privacy concerns what so ever
  4. Ads while searching for people using their phone number – monetization ready!

Whether truecaller morphs into a social network is a different question, but quite clearly it has all the elements going for it to leverage the network effects of a social network.

2. Phone address book online backup

Going by the fact that after installing and probably at regular intervals the data is uploaded to the truecaller servers – your phonebook is always available on truecaller. truecaller can even charge for restoring your addressbook and you are done! There are other parts of the security of this data but then being the online backup of your phone book is no mean adjacency value! Having gone through my share of pain to restore all my contacts for my phones, I can trully attest this would be a neat service to build. If there is a truecaller API, someone should just build it on top of it. Quite clearly, the network provider will become irrelevant here 🙂

Concerns that one should not forget though

Privacy is irrelevant

This is huge! What is not probably apparent that all your contacts and all incoming end points are on truecaller servers. Is this something apparent to all the users who installed trueapp? I for one am not sure if I would be comfortable installing trueapp on my phone. But the bigger concern is my phone number is floating on the truecaller servers as people connected to me already consented to give truecaller all access to their address books. The weakest link can reveal all data and connections.

Eaves dropping

With the new revelations like PRISM – all that PRISM has to do is get a hold on truecaller servers and all data will be clearly accessible

Spamming

I understand that there has been no spamming till date. But can we trust truecaller with never selling out the contact points

Safety of data

There might have been attacks on truecaller. Every government or an oppressive regime would be looking in eagerly to hack into truecaller to get details of people, their location even probably and of course any one fighting against the regimes.

2 Thoughts to “truecaller is a social network in an app

  1. Very interesting piece and discussion. Would love to speak with you, and learn more about your thoughts.

    /Kim, Marketing Manager @ Truecaller.

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