7 Cups of Tea
August 6, 2013 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Hat tip to Mr Teacup.
posted by latkes at 11:33 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's another one.
posted by goethean at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2013

I have lived long enough to be in a dystopian John Bruner novel. Uh, yay me?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm very surprised that there isn't a reporting mechanism for griefers, particularly given that you can request a specific listener, or troll people needing support as a listener.

I'm also more than a little surprised that there is a yellow highlighted section of the listener ToS that says "I need to revisit this."
posted by bfranklin at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd rather chat with a trained, active Lister.

"I mean, what the smeg?"
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:38 AM on August 6, 2013 [15 favorites]

7 Cups of Tea’s team is still working on monetization strategies. Listeners can currently elect to charge a fee and if they do, the site takes a commission. [Founder Glen] Moriarty says the site’s current focus, however, is recruiting listeners to ensure users get their calls answered as soon as possible.
Like all venture-backed enterprises, they aren't in it for the money of course.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:41 AM on August 6, 2013

So what happens when something goes seriously wrong on an ethical front? Are the Listeners professionally-regulated members who can lose their licence for, say, coercing their user into having phone sex with them?

It'll happen. That kind of thing always happens.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:47 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

a properly trained Lister wouldn't be particularly active, though.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

How do I get into this. Become a licensed listener or whatever. Talking has brought me nothing but trouble.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2013 [13 favorites]

Like all venture-backed enterprises, they aren't in it for the money of course.

Empirically, most Y-Combinator backed startups never make much money so it's actually not unreasonable to say they're not in it for the money even if they actually want to have more money.
posted by GuyZero at 11:55 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmmm.. some of these listers are bible college people. I's be worried that they are silently judging me.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:56 AM on August 6, 2013

I just had a very brief chat with one of their listeners, just asking for a word of encouragement whilst staring down a very stressful week at work. She was very kind and had some nice things to say, which brightened me up a bit.

Data point of one, I suppose, but this is kinda nice. For now, at least.
posted by jbickers at 12:01 PM on August 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Seems pretty cultish.
posted by four panels at 12:02 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, this is directly relevant to my interests... I'm signing up to be a Listener right now.
posted by RainyJay at 12:03 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is the very best idea in that dystopian John Brunner novel and I never understood why it hadn't already happened. I will surely try their service. I can well imagine lots of writers (of songs, fiction, poetry) becoming avid listeners.
posted by newdaddy at 12:05 PM on August 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Does any part of their TOS or other document promise that they won't record conversations, or that they will delete log files or other relevant information regularly?

I'd love to know the basic list of topics covered by their listener training, and how long it takes to complete.
posted by amtho at 12:07 PM on August 6, 2013

How is this different than the Samaritans?
posted by cjorgensen at 12:09 PM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having said that, it's weird that they provide little bios and photos of listeners. In Brunner's imagined service "Hearing Aid", both sides of the calls were anonymous.
posted by newdaddy at 12:11 PM on August 6, 2013

Seems pretty cultish.

Well as long as it's genuinely anonymous, the threat/leverage of Scientology's audits or the control structure of the confessional would seem to be out of the question. The thing is, as any carnival psychic can attest, people will tell you everything when they think they're telling you nothing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:12 PM on August 6, 2013

Empirically, most Y-Combinator backed startups never make much money so it's actually not unreasonable to say they're not in it for the money even if they actually want to have more money.

No it's the opposite. Y Combinator is extremely successful. They own or owned between 2-10% of such companies as Dropbox, AirBnB, OMGPOP, Reddit, in a portfolio approaching $10 billion. That with less than $10 million invested (ever!). Maybe they're not in it for the money but they sure are making a lot of it.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:12 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Addictions | Anxiety | Bipolar Disorder | Caregivers/Family Members | Depression | Faith & Spirituality | Military & Veteran Families | Parenting | Startups

posted by Kabanos at 12:14 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

It seems they conduct background checks on anyone who wants to sign up to be a Listener. Presumably, those cost money, and they didn't ask for a sign-up fee. I guess maybe that's where some of the start-up investment money is going? (Also seems like a good CYA move on the service's part.)
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 12:17 PM on August 6, 2013

We’d love to have you! Anyone can sign up to become an Active Listener. All Listeners must complete the online course, as well as pass a background check. Sign up here to begin the course!

That had better be a pretty damn good background check, because this seems like catnip for identity thieves, con artists, golddiggers and sexual predators of various stamps.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

No it's the opposite. Y Combinator is extremely successful.

Y Combinator is indeed very successful. The vast majority of Y Combinator-backed companies are not successful. It's the classic VC home-run model of investing. All of YC's profits come from a tiny minority of backed companies. They have funded over 550 companies and Graham has said that 37 have valuations over $40M. I do not know for sure but as I'm always happy to pull numbers out of my ass, I'd say that over half the companies backed by YC are worthless.
posted by GuyZero at 12:21 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Damn GuyZero, you should sign up to be a listener in the startup category.

Oh well, being worthless doesn't mean you're wortless.. Wait I guess it does.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:30 PM on August 6, 2013

All I'm saying is that if you're cynical about these guys being VC-backed then you should look harder because you are not cynical enough.

Also I think I would be a good listener but I'd need a 36-hour day to actually do it.
posted by GuyZero at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2013

Oh yeah. YC takes how many people? They must assume a failure rate of like 90%

They actually probably have legit stats on the site but just guessing is more fun.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:40 PM on August 6, 2013

I am, honestly, shocked that online counseling hasn't become a ubiquitous thing yet. It seems like an obvious fit. Of course, as with all things, making it financially feasible is probably a huge hurdle.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:47 PM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I guess my point is: this only ends one a few ways, none of them pretty for end users.

My best guess would be they do well for a few years, take on a follow-on round or two then get bought by an insurance company to be incorporated with their employee assistance program. Don't get too attached it's Goodreads all over again. And with that I'll stop derailing.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:48 PM on August 6, 2013

If you go for hashtagging and rebloggging your therapy you can see The Angry Therapist whose practice is tumblr-based.
posted by vespabelle at 2:35 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, seriously, this is the sort of thing that makes me appreciate the Internet's existence. I hope this stays going; I know I will be using it a ton if so.
posted by threeants at 3:06 PM on August 6, 2013

Like, I clicked on this site that is assumedly getting completely slammed by webtraffic, and twenty seconds later I'm being attentively listened to, with no ads in sight, by a smiley and kind aspiring therapist who I was randomly assigned to? Did the veil between the worlds momentarily lift and we're catching a fleeting, accidental glimpse of the Bizarro Internet?
posted by threeants at 3:15 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

ok I might have got overexcited, I like being listened to a little too much
posted by threeants at 3:41 PM on August 6, 2013

I see it has a "Suggested Tip" slider bar thing. My listener was about as helpful as Endos, nice enough but I felt sorry enough for HIM that I talked myself into solving my own problem while he said things like "That's nice".
posted by The otter lady at 3:53 PM on August 6, 2013

"I talked myself into solving my own problem while he said things like 'That's nice.'"

In all honest seriousness, that's how active listening works.

Source: I was doing active listening before it was cool.
posted by Skwirl at 4:19 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I see the ratio of "available" to "unavailable" listeners is really low. Perhaps that's just because listeners have lives that need attention, but I can't help but imagine the sort of people who would use this service are just the sort of person that nobody wants to listen to.
posted by gregor-e at 4:27 PM on August 6, 2013

but I can't help but imagine the sort of people who would use this service are just the sort of person that nobody wants to listen to.

As someone with mental health issues, currently unemployed with no health insurance, this sort of looks like a Really Good Thing to me. As I imagine it does to others. Probably not a replacement for actual therapy, but it's at least something. I'm sure you didn't intend anything unhelpful in that context, but a big problem for me when I did have insurance and a therapist was actually talking about my shit, because all my issues were "boring, and pedestrian, and stupid, and Jesus what am I doing here when there are people with REAL problems," etc, etc.

I'm really not trying to be a douche, but that sort of rubbed me the wrong way.
posted by dogheart at 4:45 PM on August 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

...this seems like catnip for identity thieves, con artists, golddiggers and sexual predators of various stamps.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:19 PM

Not to mention people who listen! Those fuckers.
posted by orme at 5:15 PM on August 6, 2013

Tell me more about that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:18 PM on August 6, 2013

This is a good idea. Honestly, I felt better just reading the profiles and knowing that there were folks out there willing to listen. I don't know that I'll use the service but I really like that it exists. God knows, sometimes this is all to takes to carry on.
posted by Miko at 8:37 PM on August 6, 2013

7 Cups of Tea’s team is still working on monetization strategies.

It still blows my mind that this is seen as like, an acceptable thing for a business to do in the modern VC startup culture. I've worked for several small businesses, and interacted with or briefly worked with more as a contractor or something. Every single one of them who had an idea of "I want to make a business that does XYZ" didn't even have a website before they had figured out what the angle was to extract at least enough cash to keep it going long enough to get popular so it could turn a profit, if not a nearly day one plan of "i'll be making this much even if i'm only doing this minimum amount of business, and that will sustain it because my costs are low right now" kinda stuff.

I know i've harped on this on here before, but i just don't get it. And i have no horse in this race, i just think it's genuinely bizarre that all that seems to matter is having an idea that sounds good in a 10 minute presentation and some powerpoint slides.

It's very snake oil salesman-ish to me. Like the entire thing is about presentation and pitch, and appearances. There's a real element of con to just being cool instead of having any real plan to make money.

There's also the entire other angle of what value does a site like this have other than it's database of user info. That's how i've felt about say, instagram and tumblr as businesses worth much of anything anymore. It's the whole "you're not the customer you're the product" tired line, but it actually is starting to seem like the norm.
posted by emptythought at 2:03 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Somewhat eponysterical comment, emptythought.
Consider perhaps that the idea of a listening service like this has an intrinsic value, in that it serves to fill a need that already exists. The monetization of the service is a good thing if it allows the service to continue to operate, but it is not the point of the idea. The idea is to contribute to a "better world" by servicing a human need (to be listened to) especially, i imagine, for those who don't have the resources or situation to be able to visit a therapist or unload on a sympathetic friend. And I think there's a lot of people in that boat, and for some of them, this will help...
TL;DR : It's not all about the money sometimes...
posted by Clathrate Bomber at 4:39 AM on August 7, 2013

Combine "it needs to make money to continue to exist" and "the only monetary value it has is its database of user info" and you get something that can only exist as free service by selling personal information about vulnerable people who don't have much money. Does the good it does offset the potential harm that will be done to those people by those who want their personal info - presumably to extract some of the little money they do have by exploiting their vulnerabilities? I think it is unlikely.

This kind of thing (which is kind of the same as "suicide helpline" or "runaway hotline" only for less specific problems) shouldn't be a free service unless it is tax supported or operated on a volunteer, donations-only, non-profit basis. The circumstances in this case don't make "targeted advertising" an ethical money source. Of course, if they charge users, it could be ethical as a less expensive form of therapy, with the cost savings coming from using less-trained staff. Rather like going to a "minute clinic" or calling "ask a nurse" for small medical problems instead of seeing a real doctor. I don't have a problem with that either, as long as there's a means to refer people to the real professionals in cases that are beyond the scope of the staff's training.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:58 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I like this idea, I hope it turns out to be everything promised, because yes, the internet could use more of this.

I'm introverted as hell, but there have been times in the throes of depression and anxiety and what forth, where everything hurt so much that a friendly checkout clerk, or a banal voicemail from my mom would lead me to holding back tears, because I was so starved of anyone who was just fucking kind. Friends help if you've got good ones, but even the best ones aren't always there at 3 AM when things get really bad, and all you need to quiet your nightmares is just saying them aloud to someone else.

I hope bad people don't ruin it.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:31 AM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

So do listeners need to supply their own phone and phone numbers?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:16 PM on August 7, 2013

Clathrate, my main issue here is that if this was really trying to service the greater good they would have attempted to go at this as a non-profit or something. They likely could have even drummed up quite a bit of support, maybe even on places like metafilter that way. I have no issues with this type of thing existing out of the kindness of some folks hearts, and i completely agree it's something that should. I absolutely agree that it has intrinsic value, but i also think that's the heart string tug they're selling it on.

I just think it's being sold with a bit of a forked tongue here as a startup that will eventually generate money. OnceUponATime ran right in to my point there.

I just struggle to see a way for this to generate money that isn't either unrealistic or exploitative. The best possible outcome is some kind of micropayments or a "pay what you can" thing starting at a minimum to keep the place going. But if they ever pull that, it'll have to get pretty big before they can to have enough momentum to just slide in to obscurity. You pretty much have to start out with free on the internet nowadays unless you're selling a physical product, or you're going to go down in flames.

Really though, i see the VCs grabbing on to this because it's a way to generate a lot of unique user data from unique angles that web ad/marketing companies don't usually get access too from the usual suspects. Notice how they say nothing about what happens to the logs or info, or what kind of analysis is going on therein?

I might just be incredibly paranoid or a conspiracy theorist here, but i think a lot of times the whole "We have a great idea and we'll figure out how to monetize it later" is really just a cover for "We know exactly where the money will come from, but shut the hell up about it, it's not something people like" and just wink and not at the other people on the underbelly of the tech community who know exactly what their game is. Google made that kind of thing seem cool, even if they were far from the first to do it. And it's a lot like speeding on the highway. If several cars are going 90 in the lane in front of you, what do you have to lose by going behind them? the first guys are usually the ones to go down in flames.

So yea, that wasn't an empty thought. It really is all about the money with this type of thing. Since it's a business, not a charity or a nonprofit. The fact that it's being sold as a business is what concerns me.
posted by emptythought at 1:08 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I gave it a whirl. I had a bit of free time while I was waiting for my laundry to finish (OKAY, I COULD HAVE BEEN DOING SOME OTHER CHORE, BUT LET US GET REAL), so I chose a guy who looked friendly and had an upbeat profile that showed he'd had personal experience with mental illness, wasn't looking to become a pro in the field, and was actively invested in destigmatizing mental illness.

It felt a little weird to discuss actual problems with a complete stranger, so I didn't, really. We talked about anxiety and depression in general, and different things that do and don't help. I mentioned that when I see the phrase "active listening," I think of those relationship articles that basically advise you to repeat back to your partner what s/he has just said to you. If my partner did that to me, I'd be forced to tell her to stop being a dumbass and go do some origami or something. He replied that there are different approaches to it. I asked if they're discouraged from actually giving advice, other than to seek medical help if it seems warranted. He replied that he gives advice all the time but is clear that he's not a professional. The whole thing was interspersed with a good amount of running jokes that began with some chat about the clownish side effects of some medications. When I signed off, he gave me the (address? URL? thing?) for his anti-stigma Instagram, which isn't tied to any of his personal info. It's pretty uplifting.

All in all, I liked it. My reticence to discuss anything of real substance about my life meant that nothing earth-shattering happened, but I feel generally more positive about the human race right now. This person was smart, funny, compassionate, and generous. I'm a bit baffled by the model of this business, but if the other "listeners" are anything like this guy, I'm really in favor.

I did leave a tip.
posted by houseofdanie at 2:41 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

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