A New Era of In-Person Conversations

October, 2023

Whether it’s a home, local coffee shop, or public library, Cortico’s roots are in meeting people where they are. From the beginning, Cortico’s platform has tapped into the intimacy of small-group conversations to understand and elevate personal stories. Despite the necessary pivot towards hosting conversations remotely in 2020, we’ve remained dedicated to supporting conversations face-to-face.

At the literal and figurative center of Cortico’s in-person conversations is the Hearth—our one-of-a-kind conversation recording hardware. We are excited to share its latest improvements and welcome a new era of in-person conversations at Cortico.

Read on to get to know the Hearth and its new capabilities—including Fora Live Recording—and reach out to our team about using the Hearth 2.0 in your community.

The history of the Hearth

The Hearth shares a rich history intertwined with Cortico. Initially, we experimented with the concept of a Listening Box, a plywood kiosk strategically placed in public spaces. Equipped with an LCD screen, it beckoned passersby to share their stories and lend an ear to others’ narratives. It didn’t take long for us to recognize that the addition of a human facilitator significantly boosted engagement.

Ultimately, this human-centric approach lead to a shift from human-to-kiosk storytelling to the more intimate and compelling human-to-human storytelling. This transformation gave birth to the Local Voices Network style conversation—what we now know as Fora.

Why a Hearth?

Meaningful conversations can happen anywhere. Cortico strives to engage with participants in the places where they naturally feel at ease.

We sought a solution that would signal natural connection, free from distracting notifications or associations with other uses. To achieve this, we designed our own recording device. This creation, known as the digital Hearth, was made to seamlessly integrate into existing conversational settings without disrupting their flow and ambiance. It requires only a relatively quiet environment and a gathering of people eager to share their stories. 

The Hearth’s design resembles a welcoming living room, with cherry wood and tactile fabric. Its circular shape, devoid of a front or back, ensures all participants feel equally included. The blend of aesthetics and technological design makes the Hearth our ideal tool to capture conversations in a wide array of settings.

Aesthetic Design

Starting with the simplicity of a circle, the Hearth’s design emphasizes its welcoming nature from any angle. Its cylindrical shape, provides a stable orientation, similar to a comet or aerodynamic wing, all while maintaining rotational symmetry. Wood and fabric are deeply ingrained in human history. They offer tactile comfort and warmth, contrasting with the coldness of plastic and metal.

In a world filled with technological distractions, the Hearth is carefully designed to enhance user interactions during facilitated conversations. It conveys its state through a subtle lit ring. This offers the right information at the right time while blending seamlessly into our spaces.

Technical Design

Versatility and usability are core to the Hearth’s technical design. Beneath its sleek exterior, the Hearth features streamlined yet powerful technology. This includes a robust battery system providing over 10 hours of continuous conversation recording (similar to a phone or laptop). The focal point of its internal design is an 8-microphone array arranged in a 6-inch diameter circle beneath the fabric speaker grill, ensuring 360° high quality audio capture.

Beyond recording sound, the Hearth can also play audio through a high-performance full-range speaker positioned at the center, just below the fabric. This speaker enables the introduction and playback of highlights from one conversation into another, fostering meaningful connections across communities.

Improvements & Fora Live

Thanks to our partners, we’ve completed hundreds of conversations around the Hearth v1, providing invaluable feedback on how we can enhance our tools to yield a more useful & impactful experience.

Between the Hearth v1 and v2, we’ve improved usability by simplifying the design, reducing button complexity, and relocating the lit interface to the top of the device, aligning interactions more closely with human intuition. Furthermore, we’ve reduced the Hearth’s size by about half, greatly enhancing its portability.

The feature of the Hearth 2.0 we are most eager to share is its integration with a new capability to the Fora platform: Fora Live Recording (Fora Live).  

Fora Live lets anyone with a web-enabled device record in-person conversations anywhere with an internet connection, and was designed to smoothly connect with the Hearth 2.0. Facilitators can now record and automatically upload in-person conversations from the Hearth directly to the Fora platform—no more manual audio file collection required. More on Fora Live

A call to action: Test out Fora Live and the Hearth

As we venture into a new era of in-person conversations with Hearth 2.0 and the exciting addition of Fora Live, we remain steadfast in our commitment to bringing people together through the power of small-group dialogue. The Hearth’s evolution reflects our dedication to creating spaces where voices can be heard, stories can be shared, and connections can flourish. Contact our team to embark on this journey with us and experience the transformative potential of Cortico’s innovative tools firsthand.

Interested in using a Hearth?

Contact Alex Kelly Berman, VP of Programs & Partnerships at alex@cortico.ai

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Cortico is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization led by a multidisciplinary team of experts in community engagement, technology and non-profit management. We strive to meld two elements not typically found in one space: technological innovation and community-centered advocacy. We'd love to keep you up to date on what we're doing!