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Project Stargate: "Always On" Skype video connection between remote offices

UPDATES:  Stargate is Live! | Also, see SimpleGeo's Implementation

We recently expanded PointAbout from its office in Washington DC, opening a new office for AppMakr in San Francisco (as an aside - interesting personal-interest story about the move here).

One problem with geographic separation is that the people in the other office are very abstract.  You might see work coming from them in the form of code, releases, email, etc., but it's very hard for the actual people between offices to make a connection.  And that inter-personal connection is very important to us as a company, so I set out to figure out a way to solve it.

My co-founder Sean aptly named this project "Project Stargate," after the science fiction Stargate movie in which shortcut paths to the Universe are opened up through a round, glowing portal (really wanna geek out?  More details on Stargate here), so the name has stuck.

I'll be adding to this blog as we figure things out, and I'd really like to have your thoughts in the comments section below, especially if you've done any work to solve this problem (any Y Combinator startups out there working on this vexing issue?).   Just to be clear, we all have AIM, or Gtalk, or Skype call & video chat abilities - that's not the problem.  The problem is that to initiate a call or IM chat requires effort.  And while it may be a very small, minimal amount of effort, nonetheless it's effort, which means that the magical moments where someone turns to another person and says "hey, I have an idea" or "can you look at this for me" are lost.  And that's really, really significant.  Since effort is required to establish a connection, the serendipitous connections are lost.  That's what I'm trying to bring back through "Project Stargate".

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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