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.
So I'm hopeful that this will solve the #1 problem, reliability. But there's a #2 problem that this approach doesn't solve: Having always-on connections gets really valuable when you can replicate those "tap someone on the shoulder when you have an idea" moments that happen when people work in the same physical spaces. To me, that's the big thing that gets lost in remote work environments: spontaneous collaboration.
So here's what we may try: We're getting microphones that have a big glowing "mute" button on them. So we're going to try keeping the main offices in a perpetual conversation on Sqwiggle, but with the audio muted. Then, when someone wants to "ping" someone in a different office, they can just un-mute the mic and say something to that person. I'm hoping that the action of just hitting the big "unmute" button will get us closer to replicating that "in the same room" experience.
We've lifehacked Sqwiggle a bit to have a dedicated machine & camera for each office (the first three squares above) which we call "NYC Stargate", "SF Stargate" and "Palo Alto Stargate". This allows us to always have the main rooms of our offices "on" and connected. Then, in the bottom right square below, you can see Paul, who is also in the NYC office, has connected to Sqwiggle directly from his work computer. This approach allows employees to connect directly if they want to, but at a minimum we always have the offices connected to each other even if no employees have connected directly.
I'll keep commenting in this thread on what's working and what's not. We tried a bunch of systems before settling on Sqwiggle: Skype (too unreliable), FaceTime (can't do more than 2 parties), Hangouts (times out after a period of inactivity), Fring, Fuze, Tango, ooVoo, Zoom, Vidyo and others. The thing I love about Sqwiggle is that it's a small, fast-moving team that's working hard to solve the exact problem we're having. The only thing I wish Sqwiggle did was a) have an option to enter into a larger fullscreen type experience when you're in a call w/ 2 or more parties, and b) that it worked on mobile devices, like tablets.
More updates to come! Please post your experiences trying to solve the "always on" remote connection issue as well.
I've been wanting to check out Perch - it's got some pretty interesting functionality that checks whether you're looking at it to unlock: http://perch.co/
Aah Perch looks great for the always-on part. I'll give it a shot. My concern would be that it's not quite 'enterprise grade' enough for us -- we need a solution that can handle multiple offices & employees, not just one-on-one. However, the piece that Perch is really focusing on is #2 in my blog above -- the ability to recreate that "tap someone on the shoulder with an idea" magic that gets lost when people work from two disparate offices.
Such a cool setup you've got going on here! Sqwiggle is great for always-on video collaboration.You're bang on with the focus of Perch. We've been working to make Perch the 'polite' solution to always-on video. As you put it "spontaneous collaboration" is usually lost in remote work environments and to replicate the 'tap on the shoulder' feeling takes some intuitive design. We're still trying to work out a few kinks, but that was the driving reason behind turning the mic on/off with computer vision.Another piece to the 'tap on the shoulder' puzzle is the end users point of view. We found that body language played a big part in effective remote communication, and designed the facial recognition to work at a distance where you can talk with your hands and voice.Also, what happens to the Sqwiggle connection when you use your laptops camera? For a Skype, or Google hangout call. I'm interested in hearing how they dealt with that hurdle.Loving the updates, and hope to see more progress on this one!
Hey @Ian, I tried Perch today but found that it's only for one-on-one, i.e., no multi-party. Is that right?
The "audio mutes when you look away" functionality was great.
Also, @Matt Boyd, I'm dying for a Sqwiggle tablet app!!!
That's right. It's only for 1-1 right now. We'll be building out multi-party soon though. We're just want to perfect that "tap-on-the-shoulder" experience.
So, any updates in the following year? I want to do something that in theory is much simpler but in practice may be harder. We have two offices a block apart and want them to be more unified. So I want to have a nice large 4K monitor in the social spaces (kitchens) of the two spaces that's always on. Since the spaces are close, bandwidth is not the issue, you could even just stream 4K video without computers, but you would not get the very important audio handling and echo cancellation of video conferencing software. Any thoughts on which tools to look at?
Brad, it's amazing what a vexing problem this is. Here's where things stand:
And one last thing -- I've found that trying to use a computer (like a Mac Mini) and a TV is just useless for persistent always-on connections. As terrible as the iPad is at staying on & connected, it's way better than a computer, which seems to want to restart randomly, close applications, etc etc.
Honestly the *only* thing in our office I've been able to get to stay on consistently is Sirius / XM Radio via a dedicated appliance. It's on 95% of the time; seems like the only time it shuts off is when there's a power outage (and I recently connected it to a UPS backup so even those don't kill it). The learning: A dedicated hardware appliance seems to be the only way to really make "always on" work.
I'd love to hear your feedback as you work through figuring it out as well!
Thanks. Actually, there is a tool for Hangouts I saw once that claims to disable the inactivity timeout. Hangouts tend to be routed through Google, which is not ideal for you or them, though I hope they route directly when NAT allows. None of this is 4K, though. 4K displays are now cheap, but software to handle it is another story. Between cities it's too much bandwidth, but within complexes with gigabit, it's another story. It doesn't have to be 4K of course, but it seems when the hardware is cheap and available it's a shame not to try. The Perch is of course ipad sized, not what I want to link two social spaces.
The sqwiggle approach might actually work. There, sending 4K still photos every few seconds is something software (and even remote links) can handle, even if the resulting link is only HD. (Actually, pure uncompressed or lightly compressed HD is surprisingly good compared to h.264 HD)
To be always on, I think a tool has to be designed for always on. Which means it expects the link and various components to go down every so often, and it reestablishes on its own. You need it to even handle the base computer crashing or losing power, rebooting into video portal mode.
So yes, based on your experience, I guess I should be happy to see what I can put up over HD for now and upgrade to 4K someday. But I do think it should be big screen, in fact tuned to make the other people exactly lifesize, as though you are looking through a window (as long as you don't break the illusion by moving your head.) though it may still make sense to increase the FoV at the cost of smaller people.
Brad, honestly it amazes me that in 2015 I can't even get persistent connections to work. It's one of those "for 50 years we've been able to send people into space, but we can't even see each other across town?" incredulous moments.
One thing I played around with (somewhere below on this thread) was using an iPod Touch as the "appliance" and having it output to a TV screen. Not sure what the iPod Touch camera's resolution is, but it might approach 4k (or maybe it doesn't). But I could imagine an approach like that potentially working to take advantage of your screen resolution (although I'm pretty sure the Perch guys disabled non-iPad functionality in order to really focus on making the iPad form factor work as well as possible, since that's how most people will use the app... which is a totally fair thing for them to do; i.e., get it working flawlessly on one device (which it isn't yet as per my comments above) before trying to support multiple devices.
I'm totally open to other approaches & ideas! Would love to see pics of whatever you end up rigging up!
Did you see the latest from The Big G? - http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2014/02/google-chromebox-meetings/
Sounds tailor made ... but it's PRICEY!
Selling for $999, the new system includes a high-definition camera as well as audio equipment, but you’ll have to purchase a flat-display screen separately. The accompanying cloud service is priced at $250 per year, per device.
Ahhh .... so this could serve as a "hub" because you can actually connect up to 15 people with ANY device running "Hangouts" as well. The iPad Hangouts app is KICK ASS. That would scale down potential costs by quite a bit if 2-3 of these rigs covered you company-wide.
Good find Jeremy. This could actually be perfect for us.
We've been using (and enjoying) Perch for kitchen-to-kitchen communication but we still need to crack the 'remote meeting' conundrum. Perch isn't really built for that; it's more of an 'always on' portal, and we can' t leave 2 iPads running in two conf rooms; as not all meetings are meant to be remote.
OK there are a lot of things I love about Sqwiggle, but as I posted in this comment below, I could not get the service to stay always-on, which meant that I had to constantly babysit the rig I had created. We haven't been able to deploy it as a company-wide always-on "stargate" type portal between offices. I'm going to revisit Sqwiggle once they come out with a mobile app, since I believe an iPad may prove more reliable than a computer.
While I'm waiting for that, I figured I'd test using Perch, which I @Ryan Stenson had turned me onto below. So I purchased two iPads to make this a real test. I've set them up at home, to start; if they can successfully maintain a connection for at least a couple of days (hopefully a week or longer) then I'll bring them into the office to test.
The downside of Perch is that it's only a one-to-one connection, so it's not ideal for connecting SF to Palo Alto to NYC to Chicago etc. But if it works, and stays on w/o needing babysitting, then at least I'd like to have one connection working. (Probably Palo Alto & NYC, since those are our largest offices). And who knows, maybe we designate different conference rooms for different connections. So our "share" conf room is the "stargate" portal between Palo Alto & San Francisco, and if someone in PA wants to talk to someone in SF, they go to that conf room. Don't exactly know yet -- the first step is just to see if they can maintain an always-on connection.
I've already identified a few things that might keep Perch from working for us. One is that Perch has a "when you're looking at it, the app un-mutes. When you're not looking at it, it mutes automatically" function. That's super cool in theory. But I can already imagine the following happening: We have an iPad in a conf room in Palo Alto running Perch, and an iPad in a conf room in NYC running Perch. There are two separate meetings going on, an the people in PA do not want or need to connect with NYC, which is having its own separate meeting. But someone happens to look at the iPad, which then automatically un-mutes the audio, and chaos ensues until it mutes again (takes maybe 3 to 5 seconds to go back on mute). That would definitely not work for us.
The thing is, I love the idea that it automatically mutes and un-mutes... it goes a long way towards the always on, "tap on the shoulder" function that I'm looking for. I'm not sure what the answer is. I love how Sqwiggle has a black & white image that update every 15 seconds or so when not in a conversation. With Perch, you're either in or you're out. So maybe some type of grey area would be better for Perch. Or maybe we just need to have it place so that people don't accidentally look at it. But I'm just not sure how we'd do that. Maybe we don't put the iPads in conf frooms, but instead we put them in general company areas w/o having the volume too high, so it becomes OK (and even good) that the audio is unmuting whenever someone walks by and looks at it.
Here are a few pics of my test setup at home. More details to come.
The Perch iPads stayed connected for about 20 hours, then the connection died on them too. I'll post screenshots shortly. I've now set up a Portal on Perch (which, BTW is crazy confusing -- example, to create a portal you have to hit 'Join portal') that's running between the two iPads. I'm hoping that they will reconnect automatically if the connection drops between them.
Also, I still have Sqwiggle running between Palo Also & San Francisco to see if I can keep iterating on it. But I just walked into the office and saw this error message... @Matt Boyd, what about having it automatically try to reconnect when the connection fails?
OK here's an update: I first tried directly connecting two iPads with Perch, but the connection timed out after about 20 hours:
So that wasn't going to work. But then I tried creating a "Portal," which Perch also offers. A portal is supposed to reconnect automatically when the connection drops, which is great. And it seems to work -- once I set a portal up, I was able to keep the iPads successfully connected for 3+ days. Woohoo -- it might just be that my #1 requirement -- that the connection successfully stay "always on" might be achievable with Perch!!! And as you can see from this thread, that's a big accomplishment. It's really hard to achieve this.
So today I'm going to ship one of the iPads off to the NYC office, and we'll test the connection between there & here. I'm thinking that I'll set both iPads up in the kitchens of each office. That way it'll be OK if they randomly connect when people look at them (vs it being weird in conference rooms). This probably means that Perch won't be great for getting actual collaborative work done, but it might work for making people in the offices feel more connected to each other.
My only concern is that the internet access at the NYC office can be kinda sketchy; it drops out every once in a while. And i don't yet know how Perch handles poor internet connections.
I'm also going to test Perch with an iPod touch + HDMI out to a TV (instead of an iPad). That would be a much cheaper (and better?) solution. So stay tuned for that experiment.
Oh and one other 411 point: The portal on Perch is surprisingly confusing to set up. To create a Portal you have to hit "join portal". There's no "create" option. And I got a bunch of errors along the way, like:
But once you get it up & running, the connection is solid. I let the Perch folks know about these issues directly, so hopefully they can fix the bugs & simplify the workflow.
Perch App Update!
I shipped one of the iPads off to NYC office and I'm experimenting with an iPod Touch instead of an iPad in Palo Alto. Look like it'd work well. I'm just using an iPod Touch ($229) with a Lightning Digital AV Adapter ($49) and Microlab B51 Portable Amplified USB-Powered Clip-On Speaker ($15) with an Asus 22" monitor ($137). The total cost with this setup is about $30 cheaper than the Amazon Warehouse Refurbished iPad I'm also testing ($450), so it's kind of a toss-up: Having everything compact in an iPad, or having a slightly larger display on a monitor (although not that much bigger since it doesn't take up the full monitor display screen real estate). Honestly, I'll probably just stick with the iPad vs. the trouble of managing multiple components.
Awesome setup here! Looks like you've got a handle on the hardware. At the perch offices we've been using the iPod touch in combination with a Logitech Boombox ($119), Asus monitor, and clingo mount ($30). It's a great option for getting the audio on both sides if you've got the portal setup in a louder room or if you're talking with multiple people.
A couple notes with your issues so far:
a) We're at the tail end of a release that should fix most of the bugs you've been seeing other than the broken link on the invitation flow. Thanks for sending over the issues and putting Perch through the gears!
b) The concept of "setting up a portal" and "join your company" may seem a bit confusing without an explanation.
Joining a company under a specific domain ie.([email protected]) automatically populates your main view with anyone who has registered with Perch using that domain. No need to invite any co-workers or send invitations to other portals, it's all taken care of within Perch. The only time you need to send an invite is when you want to connect with someone outside of the work domain(s) you've added to your account. ie (any freemail: @gmail.com, @yahoo.com etc.)
Joining a company also lets you share a portal with anyone in that domain.
When you're setting up a portal as an always-on connection, you can go about it in a couple different ways:
1) Login to Perch using your own Perch account ex.([email protected]) then tap the + button to set up a portal on that device. On the next screen tap the "Everyone at stargate.com" button to share with everyone at your company, then name the portal based off of the location ex. (NYC Portal or PA Portal)
You can log in to as many devices as you want with a single email, so there is no need to worry about lock out.
2) Create a separate Perch account for each of those locations ie.([email protected] and [email protected]ate.com). Login to Perch using those email addresses, then tap the + button to go through the portal set up process as explained above.
In both of these cases, as long as you've authenticated those emails as company emails, anyone at @stargate.com will be able to see and connect to those portals at anytime.
Hope this clears things up a bit for you. Our whole team has been reading this post and we're working hard to nail the stability down - we're close :)
All the feedback and photos are much appreciated, keep it coming!
Couple things ...
iPad will certainly beat all of these in convenience, but while you're trying to prove out your MVP here, you could spend a lot less.
Awesome ideas, and a good excuse of a reason to try hacking on a Raspberry Pi. Maybe @Ian at Perch could tell us if they have an Android app, and if so, if it's at parity with the iOS app?
Re: Portrait vs. Landscape -- I generally agree 100% but since this is mostly people talking to people one-on-one, Portrait has been working better for us so far (I tried both). Check out my jalopi stand above.
Sadly, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it may not be possible to successfully maintain a persistent connection between offices in a hackable, low-cost way.
I haven't been able to move the rig from my desk (into a conf room) because it hasn't maintained the connection for more than a day or two at a time, and I keep having to babysit it, and it's a similar story for the NYC, SF and LA guys.
So, I' going to take a step back with our team and start considering other approaches, or get ideas on our current approach.
Here was our original goal:
================= Better Connection Between Offices =================
1) Persistent 'always on' connection between PA, SF, NYC & LA.
2) Ability for other remote workers to join in as well (Chicago, Boston, TX)
3) Ability to have connection on a big screen or individual monitors
4) Ability to use this connection for private meetings one-on-one or in small groups
5) Ability to use this connection for company-wide meetings
I'm considering accepting that goals # 1 - 3 are unachievable (for now, at least) and only focus on solving #s 4 & 5.
We'll have to determine if that would still be valuable. If we did that, we could try using the Perch app in two conf rooms, like the big Palo Alto conf room and a NYC conf room. Then it would potentially serve as more of a "portal" between those two rooms.
I don't know if the combination of the Perch app + an iPad would be more stable. I'd love to hear from the Perch guys as to how persistent & stable that connection tends to be. Part of the problem is that it's expensive just to test, as we'd have to buy dedicated tablets.
Does anyone have any other thoughts or suggestions?
We tried using Sqwiggle for the first time for one of our weekly meetings between NYC & PA. The "mobile rig" worked well -- I'll post more pics of it soon, but I was able to roll it into our meeting room.
However, two things didn't work well:
1) The microphone being attached permanently to the rig wasn't optimal, as NYC couldn't hear us well. I'm going to have to figure out a way to make the mic detachable with a longer USB cord (maybe even a retractable one). We ended up having to use our old dial in system for audio.
2) The images being so small on the screen wasn't great. @Sqwiggle team, I'd definitely love for whoever is talking to be shown larger on the screen (like Hangouts does). Here's a pic from today; you can see how the screen size made it rough:
Agree completely on the size issue with the different streams. Fine when it is an individual person (lower right-hand Brady cube above) but not great when displaying a roomful of people.
I think you may be giving up a bit of flexibility with the mobile rig (in a sense) with the mic limitation. We have the same one in NYC but the USB tether is pretty long and we were able to move it much closer to the people in the room and it worked fine.
Sadly the entire Mac Mini seems to have frozen over night. I'm getting a pinwheel. So we still haven't been able to keep a persistent connection going between NY, SF and Palo Alto offices for at least a week.
Might be time to try a Windows box, lol!
Man, the Mac Mini was frozen overnight again. @Matt Boyd, have you dealt with that at all? Or could I send log files to anyone to see if Sqwiggle is what's causing it to freeze? One test I can try running is turning Sqwiggle off overnight and seeing if the Mini freezes. Usually Macs are super stable, and since Sqwiggle is literally the only thing running, it makes me think that Sqwiggle is causing the freeze. Have you encountered this at all?
Hey Daniel, we've definitely seen some performance issues with Sqwiggle causing machines to heat up and use lots of resources. This is generally an issue with node-webkit and our JS infrastructure. Definitely something we're working to optimize. It could also be compounded by leaving the app running for such long periods of time, so we'll have to optimize for that angle too. Really appreciate the insight here! You're a rockstar.
Here's an update: I've jalopi'd together a "caddy" for the Sqwiggle computer. I'm going to connect it to a UPS supply, so it can be unplugged, rolled around the office, and plugged back in w/o losing connection (really guys, an iPad would be so much easier -- please please please!). Another pro-tip is that I set the Sqwiggle app to open when the computer restarts (just go to System Preferences >> Users >> Startup Items) and that works well -- Sqwiggle starts right up and logs right in when the computer restarts.
I'll post more pics when I have the rolling caddy finalized. It's ugly, but functional.
Update: I just tried doing a meeting with @Paulie but there was a terrible echo that made it unusable -- we ended up having to switch to a conf line.
Any tips on how to mitigate an echo when using Sqwiggle?
Ah, yah. Echo can definitely be a problem, especially on a live setup like this with no headphones. Currently, echo suppression lives within WebRTC so there's not much we can do from a low level perspective. For the classic laptop setup, headphones will work to reduce this but since this setup is definitely out of the ordinary, you can keep your volume lower which will work decently.
How bad is the echo? Does it make the app unusable?
Here's what I procured so far for the caddy rig:
Total cost per caddy rig: $1,022
Note: Could swap out the computer + monitor for a $507 retina display iPad once Sqwiggle comes out for mobile: Apple iPad with Retina Display MD510LL/A (16GB, Wi-Fi, Black) NEWEST VERSION ... some of the components would have to change; it would also allow for savings on not needing the UPS.
Every UPS I've ever used emits a pretty annoying "alarm" when it's disconnected from it's power source. Why not just a used laptop that wouldn't be affected by short unplugs? You could certainly find a powerful enough Windows (GHAST!!!) machine for cheaper than a Mac Mini -- or iPad for that matter.
Windows, what's that?! LOL.
Yeah not a bad idea. *But* our #1 requirement is that the connection persist. And Windows computers are terrible for that.
Plus we're working with what we have laying around the office, at least to start.
My working thesis is that an iPad would be even more stable than a Mac Mini, since all the apps are "sandboxed" by iOS. So if/when Sqwiggle gets an iPad app done, we could just swap out the entire Mac Mni setup and instead use an iPad. There would be some downsides (we couldn't use the big USB mic, I don't think) but overall I think it'd be a step up, especially for the reliability + mobility factor.
There's zero basis (in this day and age) for that generalized statement about persistance. My Win7 desktop rig at home has been on/connected since the day I plugged it in when we moved in June. I only restart it if I'm about to launch a new video editing project and need every last bit of RAM at my disposal.Your mic should have a 1/4" or XLR out that bypasses the USB, no? That would connect to an iPad (potentially with some step-down adapter).
Yeah I just get hives when I see a Windows machine, but your point is well taken. I do miss my blue screens of death; it'd be nice to have them in my life again. Okay, okay, I'm re-centering. Breathe.
There's a pro-version of the mic that has an XLR connection. That's an interesting approach, good call. I'll look into that. But first I'm waiting on Sqwiggle to get an iPad app out the door (hint, hint).
At least you can admit, you're just a Mac fanboi/WinTel hater. =POh and that mic should have a "standard" threaded mic stand spot on the bottom. You can find articulating/adjustable mic arms that would clamp on to your rig there. Would bring the mic up to face level or otherwise make it adjustable. But that would also cut down on your use of zip ties which I know you'd prefer to keep at a MAXIMUM! LOL
Damn you are ON it! Great idea; maybe something like this:
(Gotta find one that clamps correctly).
It would be a shame to lose all those lovely zip ties, though.
I'll do more research on this one.
This (with its associated clamp) is more "infinitely adjustable" - http://www.amazon.com/Manfrotto-237HD-Heavy-Duty-Super-Clamp/dp/B00009R6AY/ref=pd_sim_p_1And there's adapters that turn "camera" size threads to "mic" sized threads so you can use pretty much ANYTHING meant for cameras ... like a GorillaPod for instance.
So this is cool: We used Sqwiggle today for an all-hands meeting. Here are a few pics. We did a split-screen with the PPT on the right side and the NYC, SF & Palo Alto offices on the left.
One thing we found out today is that Sqwiggle only allows 4 concurrent connections in a conversation?! @Matt Boyd is that something you'll be able to increase soon? We can't get LA, Boston or Chicago on if the limit is 4.
I'm also still having problems getting Sqwiggle to connect for a week straight (even when not in "conversation" mode). I'm not sure that it's Sqwiggle's fault -- for example one time the wifi crapped out. But finding ways to make Sqwiggle smart about trying to re-connect would be really great. Even if it means starting with a simple text-message alert when a connection goes down.
Yah, we're definitely thinking in this direction. Once we get the main app stable, we'll be working on that next.
Wow, it's so fantastic to see your use case and watch this story unfold! Loving every minute of it, as you can see from our internal chats:
One thing that I would mention is that we're totally aware of the current limitations with 4 concurrent people in a discussion. Something we're working hard to increase. Since the system is all P2P at the moment, it's difficult but we're on it! Also, keeping Sqwiggle on for a week is definitely something that's important to us, just for consistency sake. You're one of the first teams to use it like this, but as Sqwiggle evolves, this warrants some attention. We'll definitely work on this to make it better for you guys.
That said, I'm loving this. Keep it up!!
That's awesome! Yeah we have a culture of being on the bleeding edge of technology (especially when it comes to social). After all, our company ShareThis is all about "sharing" !
Speaking of which, I just rolled out instructions to the company on how to use Sqwiggle today, and here are some of the screenshots I made up for our employees, in case they're helpful for anyone else:
@Paul Lentz, @Sean Shadmand and I have been working on a project to better connect our remote offices (as per our company Manifesto!) After testing lots and lots of different systems, we've picked Sqwiggle as the best one of the lot. So we'd like to invite those of you who are "bleeding edge" to give it a try.
We plan on setting up a "station" for each office that will be signed into Sqwiggle all the time. Then, you can optionally choose to also join into the "room" as well. Here's how to sign up:
1) Go to www.Sqwiggle.com and hit "Join Your Team:
2) Then sign up -- make sure to use your @ShareThis.com email address!!!
3) Click on the email verification to activate your account
4) Then, launch Sqwiggle, either by downloading the mac app, or just opening it in your browser
5) Now, you're in a "workroom" with everyone else who has Sqwiggle running: (But you're not yet in a conversation with anyone)
6) To enter into a conversation, just double-click one of the B&W images:
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".
For reasons you'll soon understand, I'm barely coherent enough to think, let alone write. I had a few ideas for posts to write, but since I don't currently have the wherewithal to do them justice, a summary of the past 24 hours of my life will hopefully give you a bit of entertainment.
It's the day before the cruise, which means that I have a bunch of stuff that needs to get done before I leave the states for a month. As I slide out of REM sleep I miraculously remember that today is the last day I can ship my failing RV batteries back for warranty service. Each one weighs 70 pounds.