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The problem overview: the teams that work remotely lack informal meetups to talk about interesting stuff not related to work.

We need a software tool to fix it.

How does it usually work with teams working in the office? As soon as there is an occasion (for example, Christmas, or a birthday, or some business achievement) we buy canapes, sushi and fruits, put them on different tables, gather everyone in the office on Friday night, everyone roams between tables for fruit or canapes — and join different groups to chat. And everybody likes this, as it's always nice to talk to good and smart people in an informal setting.

We need to replicate the same experience for a distributed team.

Why Skype or Zoom is not suitable? We have gathered together 25 people in Zoom — and at any moment only minority is talking and everyone else gets bored. It's bad — it's not team building, but on the contrary: next time everyone would be looking for any excuse not to show up for a boring event.

How could you make people move in and out of small clusters and have a good chat like in real life? This could be done, for example, by creating different "rooms" in Zoom (this idea is described in detail here: https://medium.com/swlh/how-to-run-a-zoom-cocktail-party-and-have-better-classes-conferences-and-meetings-too-dc2c5b58f8be). But there is another problem: in offline meetups people move in and out of clusters having natural and clear social permission — to go get another meal. But this doesn't work in case of jumping from "room" to "room", so either you have to force people to change rooms, or many people may find themselves in boring discussions without a polite way to leave and without an easy way to find a cluster with an interesting topic.

How could this problem be solved in an online meetup? For example: we have a large space (e.g. any huge "room" in https://hubs.mozilla.com/, like Parthenon) with support for positional voice chat (the farther the avatar is, the quieter is the voice), along the perimeter of the "room" we organize some interesting artifacts (low-polygonal, to reduce lags), such as a photo exhibition (e.g. any inspiring collection from https://www.flickr.com/photos/flickr/ or your own old "fun fact" photos). So everyone would wander back and forth not for food, but to see the exhibition. Those who get bored can easily say, "I'll take a walk, check what else is at the exhibition, see you" — walk around and join another cluster, like at an offline meetup.

Mozilla Hubs are almost suitable for this idea, but not perfect.

What's great about Mozilla Hubs:

  1. participants don't need to prepare, no need to install software (for Windows, macOS, Linux), Mozilla Hubs works in any browser without plug-ins, on PCs and smartphones;

  2. participants don't need to sign up, you just need to follow a link like https://hub.link/abcdefg at the appointed time — and you're at the party.

But we've gathered 25 people in Mozilla Hubs and there are core problems.

  1. All those who don't play first-person 3D games (mainly girls) have a hard time navigating around — instead of communicating they get stressed because they don't understand where someone is, how to come to them, how to look not in the floor or in the wall, and so on. They would be much more comfortable in a simpler interface: isometric or dimetric, as in The Sims.
  2. Because of the first-person view there is a great emphasis on primitive avatars, but not on communication and not on webcam video of participants. Webcam video can be easily shared in Mozilla Hubs, but rookies project them somewhere in the sky or on the floor, other people push these videos around, and it was easier for people to talk without any webcam videos at all.
  3. Mozilla Hubs lags on slower devices, or make the coolers hum like an airplane.

Is there any software that solves or can be adapted to solve the problem of virtual meetups in clusters, having the aforementioned advantages, but without said disadvantages (a platform, a game engine, a game mod, anything)?

  • We use Slack with "not related to work" channels. – batistuta09 Apr 29 at 7:13
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https://gather.town/ is pretty perfect match here.

It supports virtual meetups in clusters, with video, audio and chat implemented.

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https://www.calla.chat/ is based on these ideas.

It doesn't have webcam support, though likely it's a matter of time as it is open-source: https://github.com/capnmidnight/Calla

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  • Calla now has support for video. – moron4hire Jul 9 at 17:48
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https://www.sococo.com/ is built on similar ideas, though it is designed for work and classes, not for meetups: there is no continuous space where people walk around with others' voices fading when you walk away, there are rooms, and people can jump from room to room to check what's the topic of discussion in another room. In our case when we tried Sococo for meetups, it was not ideal: engineers were sitting in one room, sales guys were sitting in another room, though still having good chats. Probably using some ice breakers or some detective party game you can make people jump from room to room more easily.

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