On the 5th of June, I attended the ClojureD Summer Special conference. I have attended the conference once before, in Berlin, which it was a blast. For obvious reasons that was not possible this time. So they went online. And for handling the conference, they decided to use a tool called Gather.Town
Briefly, I want to mention that the conference was great, with some inspiring talks, and a good mix of speakers. And I will be looking forward to attend again in the future.
I heard about this tool last year thanks to my colleague (well, now ex-colleague) Luciano Palma. While at the time I wasn’t that interested in the tool, this year I was a bit more open about it.
And it was a pleasure to use it.
If you have gone to the website, you will see that they are using a kind of a 2D world, with top down perspective and an art style inspired in Japanese RPGs. This make it both uncomplicated to navigate and effortless to understand your environment.
I have heard about Mozilla Hub from a couple of colleagues, and none seem to be keen on it. I have only used the
Create Room link on my own. And I can see why people are not so eager on it at the moment. Gather.Town loads quicker and the movement is smoother.
But the real killer feature of Gather.Town is the way that both video and voice increase and decrease based on your distance from other avatars. The first time you experience it is surprising, but then you realize that is quite close to a natural feeling of talking in person. You see a group of people, and as you approach their videos and their audios will start fading in. And as you move away, they will fade out. It is fantastic.
I can only recommend the tool for any kind of meetup and conference online. Now I am curious about its usage on the office.
As humans, we are still in a phase that we need to learn how to deal with video calls. Some people have been years already dealing with it. But for others that is not the case. We were forced to reckon with the tech and how to use it constantly due to the pandemic.
I have discovered a few things during this time that improves my experience. First, on video calls you want to see at least half the body of a person. This allows for body expressions that a camera straight into the face removes. Unequivocally, I don’t want to deal with strange angles (for example, the one created by my Dell Laptop due to the camera position), so a camera on top of the monitor seems to me the best option possible. You need to be careful with the microphone.
There is noise that is not annoying, to me, like keyboards, or people writing. But hearing someone breathe, or do some other bodily noises do become annoying. I am starting to like the style of conversation in which there is a bit more silence thrown around, instead of the fast talk that happens constantly (although this is dependent of context, when just shooting the breeze with my friends, the fast talk and interruptions are still a superior experience).
One improvement (related to behaviour) for video calls is that, when everyone is making the call, instead of a bunch of people in a room and the single person connecting by video/phone, the engagement of the person remote is way superior. Definitely, that kind of very one-sided setup needs to disappear.
Working as a consultant, I am/was basically working remote from the rest of my company most of the time, as I would be in the client offices. At Codurance we were using Slack as a replacement for the watercooler conversations. Even when the number of people in the company was small, we started to up the amount of conversation flying through it. Then you would have the occasional face to face conversation (for example, the bi-weekly meetup, the bi-monthly OpenSpace, when on the bench …) that would help consolidate the inter-personal relations.
Is it possible to have experiences that rival face to face in terms of transmitting information and providing a jumping board for ideas? I think that one to one we are nearly there (and for younger people, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is no difference). For multiple people I think we need improvements in tech and on behaviours to get an equivalent benefit. And for the off-beat conversation, a different approach (skew video in favour of text, for example) will unlock the communication that we need.