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Project Stargate Update: SimpleGeo's Implementation

Earlier this week I wrote a post about "Project Stargate" - our attempt at an "always on" telepresence solution between our DC & SF offices.

Justin Thorpe of Clearspring suggested I contact Rob Bailey at SimpleGeo after reading my post, because SimpleGeo has also implemented a Stargate type solution.  So I did.

Rob was kind enough to show me SimpleGeo's implementation.  And it rocks!  They have an office in Boulder, CO & in San Francisco, CA.

Some suggestions from Rob & Team:

Earlier this week I wrote a post about "Project Stargate" - our attempt at an "always on" telepresence solution between our DC & SF offices. Justin Thorpe of Clearspring suggested I contact Rob Bailey at SimpleGeo after reading my post, because SimpleGeo has also implemented a Stargate type solution.  So I did. Rob was kind enough to show me SimpleGeo's implementation.  And it rocks!  They have an office in Boulder, CO & in San Francisco, CA. Some suggestions from Rob & Team: Don't use the standard webcam microphone (too much feedback).  Instead, they use the Polycom C100S USB speakerphone (it's meant for Skype, but it works for iChat too) Speaking of iChat, SimpleGeo uses a Mac Mini with iChat, which lets them connect up to 4 parties.  As per my post earlier this week, I opted for Windows machines since Skype HD 5.0 Beta is only available on Windows.  Turns out that the Logitech Vid software works better than Skype anyway, and that's also only available on Windows too.  However, iChat was running beautifully on the SimpleGeo setup, so it looks like you have good options whether you choose PC or Mac. Rob also recommended the unit be put on a cart with wheels.  "We wheel it around all the time," he said.  They even bring it over to another part of their office for all-hands meetings. They also keep it on all day, and so I asked them about the "creep factor" that I was very worried about in my last post.  But they said it's no big deal.  It helps to keep the unit in a corner away from people, but Rob said it's "just like having someone in the room."  So, having the rig on a cart with wheels that can be moved seems to be working well for SimpleGeo. Videos are coming showing the SimpleGeo implementation.  There's a big opportunity here for a startup to solve this problem. There's no really good software solution out there for an "always on" type setup.  If you're a soon-to-be-funded Y Combinator company, or definitely take a look at how you could solve this problem.  What's missing is: Ability for screen to be blurry unless someone "wakes up" the system, meaning you can still see people & movement, but not make out specifics - think of a translucent effect.  I'm thinking this would help with any potential "creep factor" arising from this being always on A software + hardware solution that would allow for it to be muted all the time (also something SimpleGeo said they often did) and a big red easy-to-push button (think the size of the Staples button) for muting & unmuting the audio + good audio, like from the Polycom.  This way people could quickly & easily ping the other side.  Maybe the software interacts with the hardware so when the audio is un-muted, the screen goes from blurry to clear. Ability to connect with multiple parties in realtime Have a resizeable box of your video feed, to remind people that it's on and they're on camera.  Currently no software implementation seems to have a resizeable thumbnail box of your feed. Anyone up to the challenge? Here's video of Rob discussing the Skype Video Phone (he doesn't like it): And here's video of the Stargate implementation that SimpleGeo uses:

Remote Always-On: Connecting Our Offices with Sqwiggle

In our previous startups, my co-founders and I have always had a desire to have a strong "always on" remote connection between offices. Back when we had DC & SF offices a few years ago, we tried setting up what we called "Project Stargate" using Skype. However, the connection would keep dropping, so after a few months we abandoned the effort.

The main lesson we learned from that experience was that reliability matters above all else. The best remote connection setup in the world will fail if it isn't rock solid.

With that in mind, when we sold Socialize to ShareThis, we were suddenly in a situation where our SF office was joined by offices in Palo Alto, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Texas, Boston, and others, so this remote connection issue became even more important to solve.

Luckily, there's a great startup called Sqwiggle that's working to solve this problem. They've taken an innovative approach: Instead of solving the vexing issue of having a reliable "always on" video connection, by default, users are shown in boxes together but as black & white thumbnails that update every 15 seconds or so, meaning the only thing that has to stay "always on" is an old-school web page. This always lets people be "together" while still having privacy, as there's no audio or video unless two or more parties enter into a conversation.

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