Marco Polo Video Walkie Talkie Archives

Marco Polo Video Walkie Talkie Archives

Marco Polo Video Walkie Talkie Archives

Marco Polo Video Walkie Talkie Archives

Cut off because of coronavirus? Connect with Marco Polo walkie-talkie video app

This week, more people downloaded the Marco Polo app from the Apple iOS app store than such long-established household names as Google Chrome, WhatsApp, Skype or Twitter, according to market tracker Apptopia.  

This is a big deal for a small app run by a mom and pop who fled Poland and Ukraine to find a better life in the United States. They created the app as a way to better communicate with the folks back home.

The video messaging app was first released in 2014, so it's been around for some time and has always had its fans. But the effect of being homebound during the coronavirus shutdown has had folks looking for novel ways to stay in touch with other people, and word has spread fast about Marco Polo.  

"Chat apps are great if you have lots of free time," says Vlada Bortnik, who co-founded Marco Polo with husband Michal and serves as the CEO. "But if you’re like most of us – moms who are homeschooling, running a business and cooking dinner – it's hard to find the time."

Marco Polo's twist on video communication is as simple as the old swimming pool game with the same name. It's a walkie-talkie video message app. You shoot a "Marco" video message and send it to your friend who then responds with a "Polo" response video. 

Thus, you've made contact, but you don't have to both be ready to connect live at the same time.  

Instead, you respond when you have free time.

If you do want to talk live, you do it differently from a live video app like Skype or Zoom. You Marco Polo back and forth, but in real time, like video texting.

Marco Polo has plenty of competition. Zoom, the app favored by companies for meetings, has been discovered by the public, which is using it for online learning, to stream worship services and even by folks looking to re-create dinner parties and the like online. The app is No. 1 on both the iOS and Google Play Android charts, where other popular video apps include House Party, favored by teens for ground hangout sessions, and Google Duo, which is the company's answer to Apple's FaceTime video chat.

All offer real-time video chat, unlike Marco Polo's back and forth. 

The Polo app itself has over 10 million downloads. And in the past few weeks of the coronavirus crisis, it has experienced a 1,147% increase in new signups and a 145% increase in activity, according to Bortnik. 

"It's all been organic and just word of mouth," she says. Especially during these dark days, we all want to reach out to family and friends, and "see what they look like. You ask how they are, and are they truly fine, or coughing up a storm?"

As she said recently, on Twitter: "Now more than ever, seeing faces is so much more connecting than seeing emojis."

Of course, the Bortniks make it easy to have fun at the same time. Polo video messages get the extra additions of funny voices that can be added in – like those of a "robot," "macho" tone or a super-high "helium" balloon voice. You can also draw on the image, add text and Instagram like color filters. 

Bortnik arrived in America by way of Kansas and began her tech career at Microsoft, where she met Michal and worked on products like Office, Hotmail and MSN. She and Michal ended up in the San Francisco area, where they started a consulting firm, which led to Joya Communications, the parent company of Marco Polo. 

Now they're based in Palo Alto, California, and have a worldwide team of 37 remote workers (in 15 states and 3 countries) on the app. She says they have not had a hard time keeping up with the increased traffic. 

The big question investors want to know: How does Marco Polo expect to make money one day? The app is currently ad-free and will always stay that way, she says. They do offer a $10 premium monthly subscription for fans of the app who want to help "support" it, and in return, they get access to a full library of their past Polo videos, which at some point disappear from the free model. 

Her hope is that, eventually, people will pay "for something they find valuable," as she explores the economic model and final pricing that works with her vision. 

Even with all the funny voices and colorful graphics, Marco Polo's audience isn't just kids, she says, but the average is adults, ages 25 to 54, who are just looking for a way to connect on their time.

"All of us want that," she says. 

Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Twitter (@jeffersongraham)

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, Marco Polo Video Walkie Talkie Archives

Marco Polo app promotes more than ‘surface-level connection’

A new video messaging app from Joya Communications is becoming more popular on BYU campus thanks to its focus on family and simplicity, according to Joya cofounder Vlada Bortnik.

Marco Polo is a “video walkie-talkie” where users can send short video messages to close friends and family on their phone contact list. The app is most successful in Utah, according to Bortnik, and every Utah user who downloads the app has an average of 20 contacts before signing up.

Bortnik and her team members recently visited BYU campus to see how college students used the communication tool.

Bortnik said she and her husband began developing the app three years ago with the intent to help people feel closer together.

“It was important we work on something meaningful because we were just starting our family while trying to figure out how to stay in touch with extended family at the same time,” Bortnik said. “Our research showed that a key to happiness was having more than a surface-level connection, and that became our purpose.”

The focus on family and genuine interaction is what Bortnik said has appealed to users in Utah.

“The people in Utah really care about family and community more than I’ve seen anywhere else, and Marco Polo makes it easier to do that,” Bortnik said.  “It’s not about showing off what you’re eating, the places you’ve been or how you look. It’s about being authentic and connecting.”

Meagan Allers, the head of Marco Polo Customer Support and People Operations, said the app allows users to watch video messages live or save them for later viewing. Group conversations or one-on-one chats are also available.

“The app really encourages you to listen,” Allers said. “When someone’s going through a difficult time, you can leave a nice ‘polo’ that can be listened to more than once, where people can then take the time to understand and respond.”

The app’s features have so far been helpful for BYU college students in life-changing ways, according to Bortnik and members of the Marco Polo team.

Alex Bybee, a pre-management major at BYU, said he keeps in touch with 20 family members using Marco Polo, including a cousin whose baby has undergone four open heart surgeries.

“We can’t go in the hospital, so it’s nice to be able to see how things are going and know if everything is OK,” Bybee said. “A text can be misconstrued, and you have to be on a phone call at the same time, so this is the perfect medium to stay in touch.”

Editing and publishing major Caleb Hintze said the app has allowed him to learn about family history work.

“My sister shows me her computer screen, how to standardize names and how to get names ready for the temple,” Hintze said. “She sends me the Marco Polo, then I send one back showing her what I’m trying to do.”

Biostatistics major Gabriel Smith uses Marco Polo to maintain contact with mission companions.

“We use it often to make plans to meet up and share fun stories we remember from our mission,” Smith said. “Who I have on Marco Polo are people I trust, who bring me comfort when I am struggling in school. It’s awesome to receive that help from people who can’t be here with me.”

Hollis Hunt, a pre-marketing major, has used Marco Polo to connect with members of Humanitarian Experience for Youth, a nonprofit group he worked with this past summer.

“It can be used for study groups, clubs or to bond teams together,” Hunt said.

Marco Polo currently has a 4.7 rating in the app store and is considered safe for children ages 4 and up, which Bortnik said demonstrates the app’s aim to be family friendly and ensure the safety of private contact information.

Bortnik explained her desire to see Marco Polo play a significant role in improving the quality of relationships in the future and would like to see the app end the challenge of maintaining communication with close family and friends.

“In a few years, I hope people are not saying ‘I wish we could stay in touch,’ Bortnik said. “They just are.”

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Marco Polo Video Walkie Talkie Archives

What is the Marco Polo app for Android and iOS?

If we say “Marco,” you may feel the urge to call back “Polo,” and in this case, you’d be half right. While Marco Polo is a call-and-response game enjoyed by people around the world, it is also a video messaging app that can help you get a little more face time with your loved ones.

Released in 2014 by Joya Communications, Marco Polo has been dubbed a “video walkie-talkie.” The app allows you to send short video messages to your friends and family and respond to them, and it works in a similar way to Snapchat. So, instead of participating in long meetings like you do with Zoom or communicating on a social media platform that collects your data, you can enjoy the simple pleasure of sending quick selfie clips back and forth. You can only send videos through this application, though — not photos.

There are actually a lot of similarities between Marco Polo and Snapchat. Both sport visual and voice filters and give you the option to draw or add text to any of your videos. Where Marco Polo differs from other popular messaging apps, however, is that the messages — known as Polos — won’t disappear after they’re viewed. After all, there’s nothing worse than trying to make concrete plans via Snapchat and forgetting the contents of your last message. With Marco Polo, that’s not a problem.

You can, of course, choose to delete your less-than-flattering videos, but you can only remove the ones that you’ve created. Unless you or the other person removes videos, you can easily look back and rewatch any of the recent videos and chats you’ve sent or received. Older chats are archived, and if you want access to all of your previous videos and chats, you’ll have to subscribe to Marco Polo Premium for $10 a month.

Another unique feature of this app is that it is not tied to any larger social network like Facebook or Google, making the whole experience much less noisy. You can also only add people you already have in your phone’s contact list, making it easier to stay safe online. No one has public access to your account or the ability to seek out strangers and send them videos.

There are also a variety of notifications you can get while using the app (which can be turned off in your device’s settings if they become too annoying), such as when someone is viewing your Polo, while they are recording one that is viewable, and even when their internet connection is spotty and causing a transmission delay. All videos are stored online, so they don’t take up space on your device. Just be aware that this means the app will eat up a pretty large amount of data if you are using it a lot, so make sure to use it sparingly or only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

That’s basically it! While Marco Polo isn’t revolutionary considering the other messaging apps out there, it’s a good alternative to most video and instant messaging apps and addresses a lot of common problems with its competitors. You can download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play.

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