In December, we wrote about Rabbit, a stealthy startup looking to change the way we interact via video chat. The company promised a video chat application that would shake up many of the conventions we’ve come to expect, and offer an alternative to the bland, mainly one-to-one experiences available today.
Now, Rabbit is ready to come out of stealth and begin to allow users to play around in its interactive video conferencing environment. The company is releasing its Mac app into closed beta, making the video chat service available to a limited number of users, which it will gradually scale up as time goes on.
There are a few major differences to Rabbit that you’ll notice right away. Unlike typical video chat apps like Skype, which you open or close based on when you want to use them, Rabbit is intended to run in the background, offering up notifications when friends come online or when they plan to join you in rooms to chat.
Oh, that’s another thing — the idea of rooms. While a few video chat apps have emerged to enable one-to-many communications, not all scale gracefully. Rabbit is built with the idea of being able to enter various rooms which could have potentially limitless numbers of people interacting at any given time. But just as you’d go to a party and not try to talk to an entire room of people all at once, Rabbit enables you to break down conversations into groups. Users can easily hover over groups and even other individual users to get a feel for what they’re talking about or how they’re interacting.
Another big part of the Rabbit application is content sharing. The app is built to enable users to share virtually any type of document or file that they have on screen, and can also be used to simultaneously watch or listen to various types of media together. The obvious use case is simultaneous group viewing parties for on-demand streaming video, and the app makes it easy for users to multitask, by letting users take on background tasks while still keeping a chat window open in the foreground.
There are other small advantages that Rabbit has over other chat apps — for instance, the ability to sign in with your Facebook account and easily invite friends to join you in rooms, or simply to let them know the application exists. Then there’s the fact that the window with a user’s own video image is hidden down in the bottom right corner, so it’s not a distraction while trying to interact with other people.
The video chat window attempts to adjust viewer camera perception so that it appears you’re staring someone right in the eyes while chatting with them, and all windows are circular rather than square, creating a more intimate environment for communicating with one another. All these little things add up in a way that the Rabbit founders hope will set it apart from the numerous other chat apps that have come before it.
The Rabbit founding team is made up of a bunch of former game developers who had worked at places such as Sony Online Entertainment, Acclaim Entertainment, Activision, Magmic Games, Hands-On Mobile, and ngmoco. The company is privately funded, with 10 employees, and is based in San Francisco. While Mac OSX is the first platform Rabbit is launching on, the team hopes to also make it available on iOS, Windows, and Android devices soon.