Tag: video conferencing

Apr 30 2019

Next Generation Video Conferencing

I’ve been a remote worker for many years. As a result, I think I’ve used every flavor of video conferencing and screen sharing going back to Carbon Copy and PC Anywhere.

Today’s bell of the ball is Zoom, which has an outstanding video and audio conferencing experience. But, like most video conferencing services, there are significant limitations when you are working with content in a video conference. Existing video conferencing is adequate when one person shares content with a group. Sometimes you can pull it off when two people share content within a single video call. But once you increase the number of users trying to share content, or get into a real collaborative situation where multiple users are trying to comment on and interact with multiple pieces of shared content, everything breaks down very quickly.

We’ve been investors in a company called Oblong for many years. They invented the idea of multi-stream collaboration and have been implementing a high-end multi-stream sharing environment in high-end video conferencing rooms with their Mezzanine product. In addition, they provide a spatial operating system so you can control the interaction simply by pointing at the screen. And, with their g-speak platform, you can integrate this capability into any technology environment.

But to do this, you needed a Mezzanine room system. Until recently. Now, you can use Oblong’s cloud-based collaboration system, called Rumpus, to bring all the multi-stream sharing and concurrent interaction features of Mezzanine to any video conferencing system, including Zoom, BlueJeans, Webex, and Google Meet.

Show is better than tell for this, so I’ll walk you through several examples. Let’s use Zoom and launch things using a Zoom conference ID. Rumpus is the window on the left and Zoom is the window on the right. All of the users automatically end up in the Rumpus app based on their Zoom ID.

Next, each person in the conference can share screens at the same time (in the Rumpus window). You can see the different screen shares at the bottom. Any of the users can switch between any of the screen shares. In this case, there are three screen shares happening at the same time with the current focus on the one in the middle.

Now, we have a fourth video user who has joined and a slightly different view (partial screen side by side instead of a full-screen view. In the Rumpus window, you can see different colored annotations for the different users. All of the annotations are live and persistent on whichever screen is in focus.

With Rumpus, the conversation just flows. There’s an always-on opportunity to access content – any of the material anyone in the conference needs to talk about is always accessible. You don’t have to ask permission to share, nor do you have to override someone else’s presentation as everyone can share a different screen simultaneously. Each user has a personal cursor so annotations are done live, rather than someone verbally trying to explain what they are virtually pointing at. There are endless extensions to this collaboration interaction from the years of Oblong’s experience with multi-share in Mezzanine, each of which are quickly being rolled out in Rumpus.

The way we communicate and collaborate online is rapidly evolving. I think video conferencing has entered a new era where it is infrastructure that fades nicely into the background. However, the collaboration layer is completely nascent and is wide open for innovation. Oblong’s experience over the last decade at the high end makes it a natural for bringing the collaboration capability to the masses. And, this is another step in the path towards Oblong CEO John Underkoffler’s vision of a new UI for always-on collaboration.

Rumpus is in public beta right now on the Mac. Download it for free at rumpus.co and invite your team to try it out alongside their favorite video conferencing system. If you are interested, the Oblong team will work with you to help you get set up and using Rumpus, as they are iterating rapidly on the beta. Drop me an email and I’ll connect you.

Jul 7 2013

How’s That No Travel Thing Working For You?

I stopped travelling mid-May (I arrived home in Boulder from San Francisco on 5/17). I’ve decided not to travel at all for the rest of 2013, except for three personal trips (my parents 50th anniversary, Amy’s birthday, and my birthday.) After travelling 50% – 75% of the time for the last 20 years, I needed a break.

It has been awesomely mindblowingly great to not travel.

I’ve had three other periods of extended no-travel in the last 20 years. I stopped travelling for three months after 9/11. Two summers ago Amy and I spent 60 days together in Europe (half in France / half in Tuscany) just living (no travel). Last summer we spent 90 days at our house in Keystone. It’s clear I had a taste of this, but nothing like where I am right now.

Even though it has only been seven weeks, when I look forward to the rest of 2013 I feel huge amounts of open space and time in front of me. I know this has helped me come out of the depression, which I just wrote about in an article in Inc. Magazine, that I struggled with for the first part of this year.

But it’s more profound than that. In a few short months, I’ve changed my work pattern a lot. I feel so much more rested and alert. When I’m doing something, I’m in the moment. The companies I’m an investor in are all over the place, but I feel like they are actually getting more of my attention because I’m not being torn in a zillion different directions.

I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to jam in the “work” around all the friction time – in airports, in taxis and cars being driven to things, before I head out to yet another dinner on the road, or late in my hotel before I go to sleep. My environment is familiar and comfortable and things just flow.

I’m mastering video conferencing – I’ve now got every configuration a human could need. I figured out three big things that solve for 99% of the strangeness of it.

  1. Make your video conference full screen – don’t have ANYTHING else going on your computer other than what is in the meeting.
  2. Use a BIG monitor – seeing heads that are normal size makes a huge difference.
  3. Make sure your audio and video are on channels with enough bandwidth. Shift to a conference call for audio while keeping video up if you are having performance issues.

I’ve also started using my Mezzanine video conferencing system extensively – it’s just incredible. More on that in a separate post.

I love Boulder and I’m finding myself running a lot again. It’s hard to run as much as I’d like when I’m on the road – early morning meetings, fatigue, and being in random places gets in the way. But here, I just put on my shoes and head out the door for one of my favorite trails. With or without Brooks the wonder dog.

On that note, I think I’ll go for a run right now.

Jun 3 2013

My Plan to Master Video Conferencing

I’ve decided not to travel for the rest of 2013. There are a lot of inputs into this decision, including the fact that I’ve been travelling 50% – 75% of the time for the last 20 years and I’m just tired of it. I also have realized that my endless travel introduces a lot of friction into my world that I believe is both unnecessary, is shortening my life, and starting to have a material impact on my creativity.

It’s amazing to me that in 2013 – with all the choices we have – real video conferencing is still chaotic, messy, and underused across many organizations. Getting it set up within a single organization generally works ok, but across organizations continues to be painful.

There are lots of different cases to consider. The simple one, like a one to one video conference, works fine with Skype, Hangouts, or Facetime.. It’s trivial to initiate and I find video to be much more effective and powerful than a phone call. Eye contact matters.

As it gets more complicated, such as a multi-person video conference that is analogous to a typical audio conference call, there are more options. For example, you have two to ten locations connecting. Most are a single person but one is the center of gravity. There might be a presentation. I’ve found Hangouts to be the best and easiest to deal with for this, although there are lots of other options, such as GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, WebEx, and Fuze.

But then you descend into the typical morass of a weak link somewhere. Someone connects with a low speed connection. Or is calling in without headphones from a crowded coffee shop. Or a group is in a big room with a laptop at the end of the room with an 11″ screen that no one really sees and eventually gets aimed at one particular person, rather than the whole room. Or the audio in the main room is weak, and it’s hard to hear the conversation unless the person is right in front of the speakerphone or computer mic.

I’ve recently done many presentations to large groups – 100 – 500 people – using video conferencing. This works well as long as there is good audio and video on the receiving end. Ironically, these are often easier to do and work better than the smaller video conferences, since someone is actually paying attention to it.

My current goal is to train “my world” to use video conferencing effectively. A small investment in the right hardware and configuration makes all the difference. While I have real preferences on software, I can live with different choices given our hardware setups.

For example, I used Fuze for the first time last week for my Yesware board meeting – it was flawless (easy setup, sharp video, great screen share. solid everything.) I’m on an UP Global board meeting right now using GoToMeeting – it’s working fine, although I’m staring at one person (instead of the room) since the video is on a laptop on the end of the table. But last week, my GoToMeeting experience with Moz was a disaster (in direct contrast to the actual meeting content, which was great), until we separated the audio stream to a separate dialin number.

At the high end, we use Oblong’s Mezzanine. It integrates directly with a Cisco system so you get the Mezzanine experience virtualizing the Cisco high end video conferencing. Plus we then have a very high def H323 system in our office.

Look for more on this from me over the rest of the summer as I work hard to master this stuff.

I’m interested in what you are using – toss it in the comments.

Feb 28 2012

My Gradual Shift From Skype to Google Hangouts

I’ve tried to aggressively shift to video conferencing instead of audio conferencing for anything longer than a 15 minute call. I’m also giving a lot of talks around the world, especially on Startup Communities, so rather than travel and burn a day (or more), I’m doing 30 minute videoconferencing things remotely. And, as anyone who has ever asked me to speak to a class of students knows, I have a huge weakness for always saying yes to this so I’ve been doing this via videoconferencing as well.

After exploring a bunch of different options last year, I decided to use Skype everywhere since it was “good enough”, simpler, and portable. I equipped my desktops with HD cameras, took my MacBook Air on the road, and didn’t look back, until recently.

I noticed that twice last week I had horrible Skype connections. One was a US call and one was for a 30 minute presentation to a group of about 200 people in Barcelona at the Silicon Valley Comes to Barcelona event. In the US case I was using my Verizon 4G MiFi, in the Barcelona case I was tethered to my AT&T iPhone.

Skype completely failed in each case. Audio worked but we couldn’t get a sustained video connection. Each time we tried Google Hangouts as a backup. It worked flawlessly on exactly the same connection.

This was a classic A/B test. Yesterday, when I was on a Skype three way call, where one of the callers kept freezing and the other kept getting higher resolution focus, all I could think was “I wish we were on Google Hangouts.” After talking to a friend at Google who said that Hangouts is now pervasive at Google, I’m going to try it more frequently.

Any feedback from any of you about performance / quality of Skype vs. Google Hangouts?

Jul 31 2011

Remote Board Attendance Via Skype

I’ve been on a number of board calls this month while I’ve been in Paris. About half of them have been via Skype; the other half have been standard audio conferencing. I’ve also had a bunch of other meetings, discussions, and pitches via Skype.

The quality of the meeting and interaction – when all attendees are in person or via videoconference (in my case Skype on my laptop) – was 10x better than the ones via audio conference only.

I’ve been vacillating between a “physical attendance at all board meetings” approach or “video conference at all board meetings approach” to life. It’s impossible for me to physically attend all board meetings, but there’s no reason why I can’t attend by video conference. I’m now encouraging everyone I work with – as well as everyone that has a board meeting – to have a physical + video conference approach. It is so much better than having people on audio conference.

In several of the meetings, we simply set up Skype on a laptop and put the laptop at the end of the table. It’s a simple, low cost (free) solution, that works awesomely well. In one case, there was more than one person on Skype. Rather than try to do a Skype three-way (which works well also), the company simply set up two laptops with a separate Skype session on each. Skype audio seemed to work just fine in all cases but one, so we did an audio conference for voice and Skype for video.

While there will always be adhoc conference calls on short notice for boards that need to ratify something, for any meeting over an hour, or any scheduled meeting, putting the effort into getting everyone either physically there or on video makes a huge difference.

I know it sounds trite, but it’s remarkable how much better – even in a one on one conversation – the discussion is when it’s video instead of just audio. The calls are higher impact, body language is apparent, and people pay full attention rather than “minimally acceptable attention + email”.

We’ve been waiting for and talking about video conferencing for a long time. I think it’s really ready this time.