Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, videoconferencing services have blossomed. In the first quarter of 2020, Zoom reported making $328 million in revenue; more than double the earnings from the same quarter in 2019, when it made $122 million.
The same holds true for Google Meet, which, by April 2020, gained about 3 million new users every day.
But with lockdowns being extended all over the world, the need for a more casual way to meet digitally has risen. Where Google Meet and Zoom suffice for formal meetings, these tools can often be awkward when having an informal meeting with a group of people.
The problem with casual meetings
Using Zoom and Google Meet for casual meetings, such as Friday afternoon drinks, is not ideal. The reason for this is that these tools are not really built for this use-case. In real life, conversations tend to happen organically.
In real life, you can meet with a group of people but still have several one-on-one talks during the course of an evening, which simply is not possible in traditional videoconferencing tools.
In traditional videoconferencing apps, you look at the same grid of faces during the entire session, have to repeat your jokes because they are often lost in the noise, and if you are really unlucky, you get to experience uncomfortable silences that feel like they last for 10 minutes.
These tools are just no fun.
A different kind of meeting
Lately, I have been pushing people towards using Mibo. Mibo is a new kind of way to meet digitally. Instead of looking at grid of faces, you get to walk around in a virtual environment. There are some tricks that make Mibo work especially well:
- Volume level related to distance. If you stand closer to someone, you will be able to have a conversation. Walk away, and the sound will fade away with the increasing distance. This makes it possible to have casual one on one talks, even when joining as a group.
- An interactive island. At this time, interactivity on the virtual island is pretty limited, but it shows a lot of promise. You can pick up a ball and throw it through a hoop, put on different hats, play the piano in the saloon or sit around the table as you do your retrospective.
- Fun. The cartoony look is bound to make people smile the moment they join. This is a great icebreaker. Sure, it is not the most productive way to meet, but it will make things a lot more fun for everyone.
In the team I am currently working with, we are experimenting with Mibo for our sprint retrospectives. Everybody who has tried it so far is extremely enthusiastic about it and several groups are already agreeing on doing remote drinks via Mibo.
Room for improvement
There is still some room for improvement. There are some graphical glitches that allow you to use items through walls. You can throw a ball around, but it sometimes disappears into thin air.
It would be great to have more interactive options such as interactive whiteboards so that you can draw or write together. I can also imagine that it also would be nice to have some sort of concept of “private booths” that would allow people to have a private conversation without the risk of somebody eavesdropping.
At the time of writing, there are a lot of items on the island that just scream to be used but are not interactive yet. I suspect that this, too, will change in the near future. A simple way to share links within Mibo would also be really nice.
During our last meetup we had a conversation about the games that each of us played and we had no easy way to share the links within Mibo. Again, I can imagine this changing in the near future.
Of course, Mibo should not pivot to being a traditional productivity tool, but I believe that most of these things can be achieved without losing the fun aspect.
There are some caveats to Mibo. It's great for casual meetings, less great for formal meetings. This is by design. It's possible to have company-wide meetings with Mibo. You can even take the stage if you want to make sure that everybody can hear you. But be aware that there is no such thing as privacy on the island. Everybody can hear you as long as they stand within a certain distance.
Also, if you are not comfortable with people trying to stand on your virtual head, you should probably not use Mibo. From my experience, every session eventually ends in "stand here, so that I can jump on your head" and "let's see how high a tower we can make".
But if you are okay with that and are looking for a new, more fun way to meet with your friends or co-workers online, I can definitely recommend that you give Mibo a try.