Sonian started as a virtual company and has learned how to excel as a distributed team. Post Series A funding we have a new corporate headquarters, but we still have many team members working from all across the globe. To ensure “frictionless collaboration” we continue to use Skype with voice and video as an enabling platform that allows for easy collaboration.
Each remote employee is required to use Skype and/or GTalk voice and video chat to pair program and collaborate with each other. Recently we built an inexpensive video conference portable cart so that it’s easy to include remote employees when the team at HQ has a meeting.
Below are notes on our “Easy Collaboration Video Cart” codename “Project Farnsworth” (named after the original TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth)
All the right pieces:
1. $80 – Costco 6-Shelf Rolling Cart. Use this to hold everything, and the big casters allow easy movement around the office.
2. $20 – Mac Mini VESA mount. Allows attach a Mac Mini to the back of a VESA mount on the LCD panel.
3. $29 – Belkin Mini-DVI to HDMI cable. Best way to connect a Mac Mini to the LCD TV.
4. $99 – TrippLite Battery Backup UPS. The UPS allows us to unplug the cart and move to a new location without having to turn off the computer or LCD TV.
5. $200 – Used Mac Mini. The mini is the primary computer attached to the LCD TV and runs all the software.
6. $400 – “Costco Internet special” – Medium quality 40 inch LCD TV which has 7 inputs. One input connects the Mac Mini, the the other inputs are used to connect a Windows or Mac so the screen can be used as a big monitor.
Not pictured: Logitech external webcam, power strip, extra cables.
7. Software: OS X Snow Leopard, iChat AV, Skype, GTalk
8. Services: WebEx, GoToMeeting, looking at Glance and some others. Always seeking the best audio/visual web service to compliment the hardware.
The build is complete and here is how the project turned out.
1. Assembled cart with top-shelf at table height so the cart can be rolled up to a conference table to support a virtual room-esqu feeling.
2 and 3. Mini mount and cables
4. UPS tucked out of the way. A power strip is behind the UPS which has a 15′ cable to plug into a wall outlet.
5. Mac Mini. Note: will be mounted to rear of LCD but need to get a remote IR cable first.
6. Proscan LCD TV.
7. IKEA storage box to hold batteries for remote keyboard/mouse, misc. video adapter cables, etc.
8. Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse.
9. Logitech webcam with mount for LCD TV.
Beyond the hardware, the software and web services are key to making this work.
There is no single “magic bullet” software solution, so we opted for a range of software and services to be flexible and see what happens in daily use.
Skype is used for one to one audio and video conference. This is great when you have one remote person to bring into the meeting. I wish Skype had multi-user video chat to compliment the existing audio capability. I created a new user in our Skype business account and granted the user Skype credit for inbound and outbound voice calls.
Google Talk with Video is also useful and installed. Instead of allocating a $50/year Google Apps account to this project, I created a free Gmail account and enabled voice and video chat for the account. Anyone in our GAPPS account can interact with the free account.
We are still experimenting with web services for multi-user video and voice. We currently use WebEx and GoToMeeting, and are evaluating Glance and some others, seeking best price/performance. This is an evolving product space. WebEx allows up to 8 remote video feeds, so that seems like best service for us at this time.