talkasaur.us – dirt simple conference calling
Both at work and “for fun”, I’ve used join.me for any simple screen sharing needs. I remember the first time I used it. It was simple, and it just worked. You download a small app to share your screen, and everybody else visits a URL and gets instant in-browser viewing.
Let me emphasize the key points in case they were missed. It was simple, and it just worked.
The 19th century French novelist George Sand once said, “Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.”
This is clearly a gentleman who coded against the MSHTML library. 😉 I would say I was kidding, except that I’m pretty sure MSHTML was around in the 1800s.
When I saw that Twilio announced that they released an in-browser soft phone and started a 2-week contest around it, I decided to create a simple in-browser ad-hoc conference call tool. My mind immediately went to join.me’s simplicity and just-work-edness. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and with talkasaur.us I am seriously flattering join.me. 🙂
There have been a few situations in recent memory where having a tool like talkasaur.us would have been useful:
- Scott Hanselman wanted to record a group conference call for an episode of his podcast. I think they went through at least 3-5 different services before settling on something, and if I recall correctly (and I probably don’t) even that service wasn’t very satisfactory.
- Every group video chat I’ve done (which has not been many, admittedly) has ended up requiring me to a) put on clothes, and b) create an account or sign in with an existing account like twitter or facebook. When authentication gets added to the mix, simplicity decreases. Here’s a chart to illustrate, because data doesn’t lie:
So thus I decided to pick a horrible time, personally, to spend time on this idea of talkasaur.us – the name of which was conceived at 3AM in a state of delirium and because I’ve always been fond of any “*saur.us” domain for some reason.
The result is “Iteration Zero” – enough to submit my app to the Twilio contest, and test out the waters of interest. It works like this. The homepage gives you two choices: start or join.
When you start or join a conference, you get a view that shows you a few things:
- The current status (“connected”, “disconnected”, etc.)
- Sharing options – you need to invite people to your call, otherwise you could save yourself the time and just talk to the mirror.
- Actions – currently only muting and leaving the conference call (watch this space, though!)
- Participants – a realtime list, see who’s on the call, change your name, etc.
When you leave the conference, you get a single call to action: start a new conference again.
Bam. That’s it! Of course I can already think of features to add, and the list keeps on growing:
- Moderation tools: first person in gets the ability to mute others, kick them out, etc.
- Additional information: because the participant list is updated in realtime, we can display more information such as whether they are muted or not, and (if Twilio can implement my suggestion) even see who is currently speaking.
- Call recording/archiving
- External number integration – not excited about this, but it’s a possibility.
The whole thing about my idea is that it isn’t brand new, but it’s applying the discipline of keeping things simple and coming out with a better product.
And, because this is my tech blog, I’ll just do a quick list of the technologies I built this site on. Ruby, sinatra, heroku, mongodb (via mongoid), jquery, and of course, twilio. Let me just say, for a simple app like this, these tools were a joy to use, even if I did spend the majority of the time fighting battles with them.