Sqwiggle vs Sococo vs Hangout vs Skype
At my day job, we've recently been faced by an interesting conundrum: we have about half of our development team in-house, while the other half telecommutes from areas across the globe. This has caused a bit of frustration with our implemenation of scrum-style agile development.
We've found that it's of utmost importance for us to maintain a good flow of communication, and in some cases like myself, it's important to have face-to-face communication (I tend to come across as abrasive and arrogant in my writing...who knew?). So, we've been looking at different means of video communication.
Our first attempt was with Skype, which failed fairly quickly. Skype seems to be well-suited towards one-to-one communication, or maybe a three-way communication, but as soon as we have 5 or more parties involved, the video conference begins chopping up, frequently freezing.
We next tried Hangout and the experience was very similar. One thing that's nice about Hangout is that it'll try to "throttle" the amount of data being sent to ensure communication is still existent; if the network slows down, video quality will lessen, and if it's too slow, video will stop altogether, leaving voice. This was okay...but not nearly what we wanted, as every conversation ended up moving to voice-only.
After Hangout, we began mulling over our wants and needs. We had been using ScreenHero, which is pretty good for what it does, allowing screen collaboration, enabling pair-programming, so we wanted something similar to this. We also needed video communication, chat, and the ability to share files.
My boss, the wonderful Naoko, stumbled upon Sococo and we were hooked. The interface is, in a word, cute. You have an actual office setup, with conference rooms, a lobby, doors, etc. With earbuds on, you're able to hear somebody knocking at your door (if you've closed it), and you can let them into your office where you can have a video chat. The video and sound quality is excellent; it really does make it seem as if my co-worker in Chile is sitting in my office, discussing an issue. Inside each room is a number of screen displays that you can use to screen-share, show a web site, or any other such things. If you want privacy, you can close your door and then, people can only interrupt you when you allow them to.
Now, I realize that I'm heaping praise on them, and it is deservedly so, but there are also issues with Sococo. One thing that I find annoying is that it doesn't disable your screensaver during a video chat, which is fairly standard throughout the video conference industry. The "screens" in each office are nice, but a huge issue I have with them is that they're connected to the person who is enabling it, not the office. This is a little difficult to explain, so here goes: imagine I bring Bob to my office so I can show him a site I'm working on. I pull it up on one of the "share screens" and navigate around a bit. Now Bob wants to test the interface himself and tries to take over; he can't, because the screen is currently "mine", so I have to close that session and let him start up a new session on the same screen. This is rather backwards; if I'm sharing a screen in my office, it should behave as if I'm using an overhead projector, so I can pass off control to whomever. Also, oddly, there's no whiteboard function at all, which I found odd. Lastly, and this is a problem for me: I listen to music almost full-time, and I'd like for Sococo to take over all sound when I start a video chat. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen. (One small addition here: over the past month, we've twice started Sococo to find our office layout...smaller...as they shrink the amount of "office space" in an attempt to make more money from upgraded plans...this is annoying as hell)
So, in our quest to always have the "best tool", we decided to try Sqwiggle today and I was both pleased...and disappointed. It's a similar concept, giving the ability to start a video chat effortlessly. However, it fails in a lot of areas. First, one thing that sounds nice when they describe it is that it uses you web cam to take "snapshots" of you every five seconds so people can see what you're up to and see that you're at your desk and not busy. Well...in the first ten minutes of use, I had the joy of seeing my boss in all kinds of odd poses that looked somewhat demonic. That's not good. Video quality is excellent...up to four people, at which point one participant's voice changed to an evil robot. Also, there are EXTREME limitations to how many people can be in one room and one video conference at a time. So, for the time being, we've elected not to go with Sqwiggle, though their interface is definitely cleaner and more professional than Sococo.
So, tell me, what tools are you using to stay in communication with your remote employees?
Hmmm...this must have been a very original post....