Another day, another video meeting. Or video happy hour. Or video birthday party. Another grid with 30 faces all trying to have a conversation.
While it’s wonderful to have access to these large group video chat platforms during this pandemic dumpster fire, they’re all a bit … exhausting. Part of it is just the inherent craziness of talking to a screen, but a big part of it is that video collections just don’t flow the way their real-world counterparts do. Typically, when you get people together for a real party, you don’t push 30 people into one big group. The collective focus quietly shifts to the face that managed to get a word out. They break off into smaller groups. Everyone has their own little conversation and switches to the chat that catches their ears on the way to the meal / bar / bathroom / whatever.
Rallye, a company competing this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield, is building a video chat platform with this in mind.
Rally sets up group video calls around “tables” – think breakout rooms, except you can barely hear the chatter from group to group. Not so much that it’s distracting, but enough that it might grab your attention when another table talks about the latest installment of a show you love. You can jump to another table with one click and then return to your last conversation just as quickly.
The tables are located in “rooms”, each of which supports up to 35 users at the same time. Larger events can have multiple rooms, which enables live music events, for example, in which each room plays a different genre.
The whole approach is meant to give the platform an almost physical feel without requiring much more complexity than the world’s zooms and meets everyone is already used to. There is neither a 3D aspect nor virtual animated avatars that can be learned to control.
Do you have to prevent others from eavesdropping? For example, maybe you’re on a virtual pub quiz night and don’t want other teams to overhear your answers. A privacy switch allows you to temporarily lock your table conversation and quickly shut down the walls again in due course. You can also adjust the volume of the other tables if the background buzz becomes too distracting.
Not only are hosts able to configure things and boot troublemakers from the event, but they also get some bonus features that guests don’t have. They can “take the stage” (alone or with a guest of their choice) to make announcements to everyone at full volume, or they can choose to shuffle the tables at random to keep people from seeing the whole thing Time to hang out with the same co-hosts.
The rally’s co-founder, Ali Jiwani, told me that their initial focus was a bit specific: they built a platform for hosting live comedy events, so much of which depends on the energy of the audience. As users started using the platform for other purposes, they retuned it for broader use cases. People are still welcome (and do!) To host live comedy on the platform – it’s just not the main focus anymore.
Rally is designed to work within the browser with no downloads, with the hook that “browser” here currently means Chrome. It could work in other browsers, but Rally strongly recommends sticking to Chrome for now.