Sqwiggle Makes Working Remotely Less Lonely, More Awesome

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Hey Marissa! Check this one out.

Sqwiggle is browser-based group video chat built with work-from-homers in mind. It’s got the office-like immediacy that Skype lacks, but without the noise of a Google Hangout. I’m kind of in love with it.

As someone who puts words on the Internet for a living, I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of the last 5 years working from my home. Awesome, right? Yeah, to a point. The first year is all about celebrating the fact that you’re still wearing pajamas at noon. By the second year, you’re talking to your dog on a regular basis. By the third year, you start getting mad that your dog isn’t talking back.

There are things that help, of course. You can use chat room services like Campfire or Hipchat with your team to maintain some degree of social sanity — but for actually, you know, seeing your team, and looking at their lovely faces, and talking like humans should, nothing really fits the bill.

You could Skype each other when needed, but the whole calling process feels archaic and slow. You could sit in a constant Google Hangout, but then you’ve got to deal with the endless roar of everyone’s background noise being mashed up into a symphony of barking dogs, lawn mowers, and coffee shop chatter.

Sqwiggle finds the comfy sweet spot somewhere between the two. It’s “always-on”, in a sense, but without the background noise or distractions.

Here, just check out the demo video:

For our friends at work who can’t be caught watchin’ YouTube videos right now (Hey! You should work from home!), here’s how it works:

Each company gets their own “Workroom”, with each member getting a spot in a Brady Bunch-esque grid of heads. When you’re not actively in a conversation with someone, you appear to them as a black-and-white still photo that gets updated a few times per minute.

To speak with any other person in the room, you just click their face — bam, you’re connected. No ringing, no answering, just an immediate conversation. It’s sort of like turning to speak with someone in the office, except you still get to wear your pajamas.

Want to talk with two or three people? Just click each of their photos, and you’ll be in a group chat. Others can tell who is already talking to who based on matching colored icons that appear next to your name. If you click on someone who’s already in a conversation, you’ll join that conversation — again, it’s like walking up and joining a conversation in the office.

While Sqwiggle hopes that people will primarily use the video side of their product for conversations, some things just don’t work over video. How do you share images, or links? What if you want to send a quick text broadcast to everyone in the room?

For these, Sqwiggle has a slide-out “Stream” drawer, which functions as an auxiliary chat room of sorts. Images, videos, and links are displayed in-line, and it can be used for sending quick blurps of text when a video chat isn’t necessary or practical. The Stream drawer shrinks and grows with the scroll of your mouse wheel, with the grid of talking heads scaling alongside appropriately.

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There’s no hard-cap on the number of people that can be in each room, though the team says things work best with 2-12 people in the current build.

Of course, there are all sorts of privacy matters to be considered with a set up like this; fortunately, this is something Sqwiggle is focusing on. They’re building a privacy mode that turns your timelapsed still shot into an anonymized outline, suggesting to your team that now is probably not a good time. They’re also considering implementing some sort of face detection, which would automatically enable privacy mode when you’re not right in front of your computer. Remembering not to bring your laptop into the bathroom, however, is on you.

While Sqwiggle is built to be run in the browser (it’s webRTC based, so it’ll only work with Chrome and recent nightly builds of Firefox for now), they’ve also got a super solid stand-alone client for OS X. Windows and Linux clients are in their plans, but those folks will need to use the browser offering for now.

Sqwiggle is free for the first month of use, but costs $9 per month per user thereafter. If you sign up for their Beta, however, they’ll knock the price down to $5 per month per user indefinitely. They’ve just begun to let teams into the Beta last night, with plans to get everyone in within the next week or two.