Interesting approaches to remote socialization or collaboration?

A request for everyone out there. Are you using FaceTime or Zoom or Google Hangouts or the like to do more than have a call with family or a meeting with colleagues? We’re pondering an article on interesting social and collaborative uses that real people have come up with while practicing social distancing.

Or, even if you haven’t actually done something like this, is there something you think would be fun to try?

I’ve been leaning towards Zoom. I’ve used it in two meetings with my cycling club this last week (using a member’s corporate version) and liked its ease of use and ability to accommodate everything from a phone hookup to computer AV in the same call. I was on the my computer using the camera, but those you used an audio computer link had blocks with their names that would highlight when talking. Those who had phoned in had blocks with their phone numbers underneath. I found that it handled quick speaker changes quite well.

Of course, the free version limits you to hosting sessions with a max of 40 minutes. I’m considering splurging for the $150 annual ‘Pro’ subscription to remove the limit

I am aware that Zoom got into hot water over sneaking around Apple’s privacy safeguards , but they seem to have reformed and made it easy to control user audio and video.

As usual, there’s a pretty comprehensive review on The Wirecutter at https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-video-conferencing-service/
.

1 Like

My employer has been using teleconferencing for a long time. We are pretty much a Microsoft shop these days. We are using Microsoft Teams for collaboration, and it works well for us. It includes conferencing (chat, audio, video and screen sharing), along with per-project discussion threads and file sections (via SharePoint).

Were you all on bike trainers at the time? :slight_smile:

Only a host has to have a Pro subscription to do 24-hour-long sessions, so if you’re generally working with the same group, one person can go Pro and you can chip in! Also, you can pay monthly, too ($15/month) if you don’t want a long-term commitment.

1 Like

Big thing I don’t know enough about is multi-person gaming. There are a bunch of games and systems that let you do this. Some include built-in audio or audio and video among participants, but with others, you tie in Zoom or another videoconferencing system.

Jackbox is one game I’ve played. It’s generally played in person, but works over the Internet, too. Most of their games involve puzzles or creativity among participants. You can host the game on a computer or an Apple TV, it generates a code you give to other participants, and then everyone has to be able to see the screen. So you can stream the screen in some fashion (including via YouTube, Twitch, etc.) or through videoconferencing screen sharing, and then you use an app to enter replies or vote on answers or what have you.

I, along with many other teachers, will be using Zoom to hold previously on-ground classes online. Indeed, there’s a bit of concern that Zoom won’t be able to handle the sudden spike in load as school around the world have suspended on-campus meetings.

I spent this past weekend refamiliarizing myself with Zoom. One great thing I discovered is that while hosting from my computer, I can share the screen of my iPad, allowing me to write with an Apple Pencil to work out examples for my students. Zoom does have a built-in whiteboard feature, but if I were trying to use it on my computer, it would involve trying to write using a mouse or the touchpad. The results would have been comical at best.

1 Like

In a related issue we are having a FaceTime meeint tonight to talk about the near and long term future of our local Apple User Group.

Very much open to virtual meeting tech. Especially ones that are low cost and easy to set up.

Thanks for that tip. I was giving feedback today on student resumes, it would have been great to use a pencil on the iPad.

@ace during my last feature film in early preproduction my coproducer who was based in Germany and I would leave a Skype video call up and running. Like she was in the same office. It was weird at first but soon got used to only paying attention when needed. Built up the relationships hugely and facilitated a shorthand when we finally sat together.

3 Likes

@tommy I know people who’ve done the same. They said it makes a big difference in collaboration.

The company I work for has two main office locations, one in the Bay Area, the other in Western Canada. While our HQ is in California, every team that is involved in defining and building our SaaS solution — product, design, engineering, and QA — is distributed between the two locations. And, for good measure, we also work with engineering contractors in additional locations, as well.

As a consequence, even before the current pandemic, the vast majority of our meetings has involved bridging the long geographical distance between our offices via Zoom video conferencing.

Zoom has a few UI quirks that I find very odd, but, overall, it’s proven to be a very stable and relatively user-friendly solution. Especially with our setup of “Zoom Rooms,” which is based on a combination of iPad app and a Mac mini running the actual video conferencing software.

Add the necessary rooms for the “physical meeting component” :slight_smile: to a Google Calendar item, click a button to add Zoom conferencing capabilities, and all meetings for each of the rooms will appear in said stationary iPad: click “Start Meeting” to magically join the meeting you created, and you’re up and running.

We obviously never expected this to happen, but thanks to our experience, taking our entire company Zoom-remote hardly changed any of the meeting scheduling procedures that we’ve been following already.

Now it just means that, instead of connecting a few rooms in our offices via Zoom, we’re simply connecting individuals of those teams who are all WFH.

Thankfully, with very few exceptions, Zoom is holding up remarkably well to the increase in demand caused by the pandemic and ensuing shelter-in-place orders.

In fact, I heard from co-workers that Zoom might be facing 5x its usual traffic, and seeing how stable the platform still is, is quite remarkable.

The one area that we haven’t really explored yet, is the annotation feature which lets you draw right on the screen. Not a new idea by any means — I first saw this idea in a demo of Bryce by none other than Kai Krause from back in April of 1996(!) — but still surprisingly underused.

P.S.: I have a copy of that Bryce demo video and was never able to find it anywhere online. If you have seen it, please let me know. Because if it truly isn’t out there, I should publish it. It’s just too awesome to not let others enjoy it, as well.

1 Like

We use the same system and it is indeed great. No more trying to find the right adapter to get somebody’s 2008 PC notebook hooked up to the projector, hitting ctrl-alt-F5, yada yada.

The only thing I don’t like is that in order to get that button into my Google calendar that lets me turn any meeting into a Zoom meeting, I have to use Firefox. It’ a real shame there’s no Zoom plugin for Safari.

2 Likes

Virtually (ha, see what I did there) everything at Notre Dame is on Zoom now. On campus classes have been suspended through the end of the semester, and everything is online now. Even the research labs are going into hibernation mode at the end of this coming week.

We’ve been Zooming administrative meetings for quite a while now, and have a lot of Zoom equipped rooms that are just punch a couple of buttons and go. I think the biggest meeting we have had so far was today’s OIT all hands meeting, which peaked at 235 attendees. Only about 50 of those had video going, but still, that was a milestone.

I feel bad for our seniors. They are going to miss out on a lot of that culmination camaraderie that happens at the end of the year.

Faculty are coming up with all kinds of stuff to adapt to this situation. This is one time I wish that we had a College of Education, because a bunch of EdTech majors would have been useful in trying to flip all of these classes this quickly.

1 Like

Yes, and perhaps offered a way towards some common approaches. All teaching off-campus here, and it’s Zoom for a good few but Teams for others, Google Hangouts for some. Other staff are being asynchronous, recording using Screenflow and Panopto, and emailing students PDFs and links to videos.

I’d say the students heads are spinning a bit, especially our matures or non-standard students.

For video conferencing, there’s some good advice about lighting, positioning cameras and microphones from Adweek. It’s not inside their walled garden:

1 Like

People on the Trainerroad forum are discussing using RGT for a meet up as it is now free - Announcement

Zwift would also be an option, but not everyone had a subscription. Luckily in the UK I can still go out and cycle, but not sure how long that will last.

Stay safe and well.

1 Like

I’ve been teleconferencing daily for years on a remote dev team. We primarily use Google Hangouts Meet (which is a completely different system than the older, but still supported, Google Hangouts). Basic G Suite is about the same price per user (in this case conference originator) as Zoom or GoToMeeting, in the $15/month range.
Personally, I use the grandfathered-in free G Suite, and I’ve just started using it for online CERT (community emergency response team, not the other CERT) meetings and facilitated remote access to an in-person meeting recently.

One thing about Hangouts/Meet is that “external users” (which is everybody but me in my personal/CERT case) have to be let in with a click upon arrival. A minor hassle but should be a good way to avoid ZoomBombing.

It seems like most people opt for telephone dial-in over video client when given the choice, even though this means we don’t know who’s who or even who’s there and of course they can’t see.
When encouraged to use a client, so far I’ve had one Mac user join successfully and two PC users unable to get sound working. I’ll have more experience with civilians after a larger meeting this week.

I’m actually encouraging the use of tablets and smartphones instead of desktops, to avoid configuration problems. Now that we’ve gotten people to lock down their systems hardware, OS, and apps for security, getting them unlocked to use audio and video can be difficult.

At work, we use Slack video chat too, but the lack of single-window sharing makes it unsuitable for most scrum (planning and tracking) meetings.

By the way, the extensive scrum/agile planning/tracking system we use, Rally, is now free for teams of up to 50. https://www.broadcom.com/info/enterprise/starter-edition-software. (North America/Europe only)

2 Likes

Hello everyone. And thanks for the interesting question, Adam.

I live in Tokyo and had planned to be in New York last week to visit my daughter at university. During my stay we planned to conduct a guest speaker study session and film viewing at the Japanese-language study group of a complex molecules simulation software company in Manhattan where a dear friend works.

However… the trip was cancelled, and my daughter left New York when her dorms closed.

Still… we are going ahead with the session this Friday anyway. It just seemed too sad not to.

For the session we will use Zoom and Vimeo. The company has a corporate Zoom account and Zoom will be the main tool for introductions and discussion. I am not familiar with Zoom but it worked in rehearsal nicely. To maintain quality, Vimeo will be used when I show the animated film of my studio – two versions (Japanese, English) The films are password-protected and private on Vimeo, and I’ll share the password during the session and then change it (back to the usual complex long password – thank you, 1Password!) afterwards. Attendees will be asked to mute their mics during viewing, and we will set a time to reconvene (giving folks a chance for a quick break, too). The J dialogue and E subtitle lists, enhanced with pronunciation keys for the J, were sent in advance in PDF (the film has been released worldwide so the dialogue is not confidential).

Three time zones – I will be in Tokyo, my daughter on Mountain Time and the study group in New York.

We are confident that this combination of tech and flexibility will let us have a wonderful and memorable event. With the support of the HR team, the two group leaders and I rehearsed it over the weekend and it was all quite smooth.

Of course, the gifts I had secretly planned to deliver (Japanese board and card games that teach chemistry and some movie swag) will have to arrive later, sadly.

I hope this is the kind of thing you were asking about, Adam, and is interesting to the group. I’m delighted that we are not cancelling the event, which was originally suggested… but I wasn’t going to have any of that!

Take care, everyone.

Jeff

P.S. My daughters (one at NYU, one at The American School in Japan) are both using Zoom and other tools for “Distance Learning”.

3 Likes

A dozen or two of broad family get together most Christmases, and one evening often do Charades, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charades. During Covid-19, weekend evening we adapted Zoom. Rather than pull titles paper slips from a hat, people texted to their team leader proposed titles, other team person volunteered to be next, lead texted upcoming actor the title. Eventually learned can’t point to the screen image of a person and have the same impact as pointing to the real person. Otherwise, works. —Daniel Kegan, Chicago

2 Likes