Helplin uses Twilio to connect people to help one another


Helplin by Anil Varanasi is a new app that helps people looking for help from someone with more experience, or those who want to provide their expertise for others. Helplin connects the two parties via a telephone call while preserving the anonymity of both parties’ telephone numbers.

Hi Anil, tell us a bit about yourself and your background

I am Anil Varanasi, I work at a firm that builds web and mobile applications. I am a programmer and these days Ruby is my language of choice.

What’s the back story of Helplin? What problem were you trying to solve?

The story of Helplin actually starts with Twilio. I started working with the Twilio API for another application we were building at work and was just super impressed with the level of power given to the developer. I decided I wanted to build my own application over a weekend and with Twilio’s API design, it seemed possible.

After searching online, I was frustrated there wasn’t a way for people to help others directly, one on one. I wanted a way for people to have complete attention when helping someone, so a phone call seemed apt. Thanks to Twilio, that was really easy to start and make sure that phone numbers of both the parties stay anonymous. So with helplin, I wanted to focus completely on that.

After you sign in you can choose to get help or give help. When you choose to get help, you get a screen with a list of everyone that is around to help and what they want to help with. Click Connect and the Twilio magic rolls in and connects both the users. When you choose to give help, as you receive a phone call, you are notified the call is from helplin to prepare you and then connect to the person calling. The whole process is just a click for the user as I wanted to make sure the application is completely about connecting both parties.

How are things going with Helplin now?

Things are going well for Helplin, largely in part to being voted up to the front page of Hacker News. I am glad that several hundred phone calls were made with topics ranging from linux to life itself. I’m excited to see what other topics might spring up.

What technologies did you use?

When it comes to what it took to make Helplin, first a thanks to Steve Graham for the awesome twilio-rb Ruby Gem, it definitely made my development process faster. I also used websockets with Faye as I wanted to keep the user experience smooth. As two users are connected on a call, every user on the site is notified that the person helping is “On Call” and as the call ends the status changes to “Connect”, in real time.  Websockets are a great way to keep the user notified about what’s going in your application.

Overall, the project wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a great Twilio API and clean documentation. The documentation and fast developer on boarding process are amongst the best I have seen.

What’s next for you and Helplin?

The first requested feature was the ability to connect to people in browser, so to implement this, I am looking forward to working with the Twilio Client SDK. The other feature is the ability for people that are helping to charge per call. The ability to charge anywhere from $0 to $30 per call is in the pipeline. I hope to continue making helplin better and I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last Twilio app I build.

For updates on helpin or feedback, find me on twitter @anilvar.