QuicklyChat, a Y Combinator-backed startup participating in the Summer 2012 program, has an interesting take on video conferencing. With its newly launched solution designed for small teams working remotely, QuicklyChat is trying to bring back ad hoc conversations, which are still the most valuable aspect to the in-office work environment. With its “push-to-talk” video chat system, your co-workers can immediately reach you – but only when your status indicator says you’re not busy.
And here’s the key selling point – that status indicator updates automatically based on what you’re currently doing on your computer. In your IDE coding? It’s red. Surfing Reddit? It’s green. Reading email? It’s probably yellow.
“We think video is really the best way to communicate with anybody,” says co-founder James Harvey, “because you get more context than you do with IM. But Skype and things like that are too formal,” he adds. “It’s like having your phone ringing. You wouldn’t want to have your phone ringing every time someone asked you a 10-second question.”
Harvey and co-founders Yuran Lu and Shaung You, all of whom met while at MIT, felt that this system needed two main things to be successful: an automatically adjusting indicator and the elimination of the ring-then-answer connection process.
The system works quite differently than how IM, Skype and other messaging programs have worked in the past. In all those scenarios, users have to configure their own status indicator to reflect whether or not they can be reached or if it’s OK to bother them. It’s really difficult to guess, though, whether that status indicator is accurate. You may remember to go red when you jump on a call, but then forget and leave it red all day. Other times, you may be slammed, but your green light keeps telling people “please ping me!”
With QuicklyChat, which runs as desktop software on either Windows or Mac (Linux is in the works), you no longer have to manually switch your status light indicator from green to red throughout the day. (Hooray!) However, you also no longer have the ability to ignore a video call, either. It just appears.
To be clear, the system does respect your privacy – it doesn’t tell co-workers what you’re doing specifically (e.g. surfing Reddit, reading email) – it only shows them the green/red/yellow indicator. And this can be further customized in the app’s settings. For example, it’s likely that a video editor is working when they’re visiting YouTube, not watching funny cat videos. Or you might feel that email reading is a “red” not a “yellow.”
Still, such a system takes a little getting used to. With most people, Harvey says that once they get over the initial “this is kind of weird” feeling, they appreciate the benefits. “We had one user say that he realized that this means when he works from home, he actually has to wear a shirt,” Harvey said with a laugh, “but that’s not that much effort to make,” he adds.
Eventually, the plan is to develop QuicklyChat into a freemium service, but for now the company is working on additional features like screen-sharing, for example, and they’re interesting in finding out what other additions users may want included, like file sharing or collaboration, perhaps. Meanwhile, during this public beta period, QuicklyChat is a free download from here.