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New video messaging app everybody’s using

When someone shouts “Marco,” you know to answer with “Polo.” But Marco Polo isn’t just a children’s game or the name of a 13th-century Venetian traveler famous for his explorations in China. It’s also a mobile video messaging app that is being downloaded at a rapid rate.

App maker Joya Communications describes Marco Polo as a “video walkie talkie.” Another way to view it is as an enhancement and alternative to your usual text messaging routine. It’s an easy way to send short videos back and forth with your friends and family.

The interface is friendly and the learning curve is short, so you can see why it’s catching on not just with Snapchat-obsessed millennials, but all sorts of smartphone users.

What it’s good for

Marco Polo is especially good for short-and-sweet video messages. You’re probably not going to use it for a 10-minute tutorial (though you can if you want) on how to make your favorite dinner, but it’s ideal for a quick snippet showing the finished product off to your best friend. You can look back at your video conversation history and just tap a thumbnail to re-watch videos that were already recorded and sent back and forth. In that sense, it’s much like having a visual version of text messaging.

Get going

After you download Marco Polo, it will walk you through a quick setup process where you verify your phone number, choose a profile photo, and search for friends. It offers to send invitations to your contacts, but be careful about accidentally spamming everyone on your contact list. Either skip this step or carefully select the contacts you want to send invites to. You can always send out individual invitations later on. Marco Polo will automatically pull up the contacts who already use the app, so chances are good you will find someone you know right away.

Chat with the Polo Bot

You could dive right in and send a video message to a friend, or you can hone your skills and practice with the Polo Bot, an automated Marco Polo contact. You can set your phone’s camera to selfie-mode or choose to use the forward-facing camera if you don’t want your face in the picture. Record a short video by hitting “Start.” It will send when you hit “Stop.” You can rewatch your recorded videos by touching the thumbnail at the bottom of the screen. Polo Bot will respond back with tips about using the app.

When you’ve got a feel for how Marco Polo works, then try out sending messages to your friends.

Invite politely

Marco Polo is gaining traction with smartphone users, but not everyone is aware of it. Look for the person-shaped symbol with a plus sign next to it at the top of the app. Open this and you will see a list of “Suggested Friends.” This is where you can send out individual invitations to join you on the app. You may also have the option to send invites through Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Gmail or other apps on your phone.

Delete your videos

Marco Polo stores the videos you and your friends create in the cloud, so you’re not eating up valuable storage space on your phone. If you don’t want a particular video to live on in infamy on Marco Polo, you can choose to delete it by holding down on the thumbnail for that video. This pops up a selection of options, including “Delete this Polo.” You can only delete your own videos, but not other people’s videos.

Goofy extras

Marco Polo knows how to goof off. Voice filters (touch the icon that looks like a hybrid of a mic and a magic wand) will alter your voice to make it sound like a robot or a strongman, or as if you’ve just inhaled helium.

There’s a text option for typing over your video and a doodle feature for drawing freehand. Access text by tapping the “T” icon and it will open up your keyboard. Type whatever you like. If you type a lot, the text will move off the top of the screen. To make the text disappear entirely, just tap the “T” icon again.

Engage the doodle feature by tapping on the pencil-shaped icon and then just draw on the screen with your finger while you’re recording. This can be useful if you want to point something out within the video frame, but you could also give yourself cat ears and just play around. As with the text feature, tapping the doodle icon will then clear the screen.

There’s a little bit of Instagram flair here since Marco Polo offers some visual filters. They’re fairly rudimentary, but you can choose between Natural, Pop Art, Movie Star, Toon, Sketch, Night Vision, and America (which makes everything red, white and blue). Change filters by swiping your finger across the screen. You can play with filters while recording a video. Just swipe away and choose your favorite special effect.

Marco Polo could end up giving Snapchat some serious competition. The app is available for both Android and iOS devices. Click the blue buttons below to find it in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

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