It’s official: after a year of waiting to be let into the meeting room, most of us are well and truly Zoomed out. Whether you’ve accidentally got stuck as a cat or a potato, are yet to perfect your graceful exit strategy, or are simply tired of looking at your colleagues, friends and family through the prism of a grainy, washed-out box, chances are you’re more than ready to slam shut your laptop for good.
However, even as the pandemic shows signs of receding and in-person meetings might soon be back on the cards, digital nomadism and working from home aren’t going anywhere – so it’s time to up your virtual conferencing game.
Here are five of our favourite apps and tools designed to get you connecting in more innovative, surprising and fun ways – cat filter or not.
Gather gamifies digital gatherings by interfaces that look pleasingly like retro computer games. Meeting rooms are mapped onto layouts that look like actual rooms – or, if you’re feeling informal, an outdoor campsite. Meanwhile avatars can move around and “bump into” each other in an attempt to recapture some of the spontaneity of the office environment. In a meeting or conference set-up, you can walk along the corridor and intercept a colleague on their way back from a poster session; students can gather in common rooms; and friends can go for a walk in the park.
The launch of Clubhouse created some of the biggest buzz of late 2020. This audio-only app is exclusive, with its invite-only joining policy operating a lot like a members’ club. This, plus the fact that conversations held on the app can’t be saved, means it’s a hit with celebrities who want to talk candidly. – of course, this only adds to its cachet. Users open the app and choose the conversation that they want to join, so you could eavesdrop on Oprah in conversation with Jay-Z, for example, or any number of other superstar configurations. Clubhouse’s success speaks to a need in our present age for a bit more freedom to let our guard down once in a while.
Think of Discord as Clubhouse for Gen Z. The homepage is structured by topic to streamline the group chat – if you want to talk shop in the art group channel, for example, take it elsewhere. Like Clubhouse, it’s also invite-only, but here you can choose between audio-only or video channels. It scales up easily, too: from your home room to a worldwide gathering of fans.
Billing itself as the ideal tool for both a cocktail party and online education, Spatial Chat is the product of the joint talents of former Google, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft employees. With such an impressive mix of progenitors, it shouldn’t be surprising that Spatial Chat is impressively ambitious and slick. Rather than creating a scalable product, Spatial has decided to keep things capped to a maximum of 50 participants. Digital Trends describes it as if “Slack and Zoom had a VR/AR baby”. You get an avatar based on a photograph of your face, complete with lip syncing, and enter a virtual workspace in order to better interact with colleagues. You can also choose between a VR or webpage version.
Nowhere takes everything to the next level. Virtual reality, gamification, personalisation – it’s the whole package. Upon opening the app you can custom design your “landing page”, which is exactly that – you move via what feels like drone footage to other landing stations. Avatars take the form of octagonal tiles containing people’s faces, which can fly about and interact with different groups stationed around the space or just explore the elaborately constructed environments.
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