Can Some One Turn Me On?

Here’s our dirty little secret: for the longest time, our little team here at TokBox never used TokBox to talk to each other. There was no need. We all worked together in our Wes Anderson-esque office in SOMA, ate lunch together around our big table, and went for coffee breaks together at Epicenter on Harrison Street.

Then last summer I moved to NYC. I learned quickly that it’s tough to get a team that doesn’t have a remote co-working culture to pick it up right away — not even a team that works on video chat. Desk drive-bys for quick questions became long IM threads. Impromptu meetings with the whiteboard became “oops we forgot to call you” or “dammit, I can’t see the whiteboard” fails. Casual lunch conversation became…nothing.

We got better at this, but the turning point was when Double Robotics loaned us a Double to beta test (Disclosure! TokBox powers the video component for Double). We affectionately named it J9000.

My Double and I are about the same height.

J9000 and I are about the same height.

Some people thought this was funny. I thought it was OK.

At first, J9000 was more of a gimmick than anything else. I had trouble driving her (my fault). She fell down a lot (Double’s fault). The video chat didn’t always work (TokBox’s fault). People would either burst into peals of nervous laughter or get very quiet when she sidled up (no one’s fault but an interesting study in human-machine interaction).

But over time, things improved on all fronts. Iterations on the iPad interface made her easier to drive. The newer, more stable body made it virtually impossible for her to keel over (I crash tested her by running her into the wall repeatedly.  Some people enjoyed this a little too much). The reliability and quality of the video chat increased dramatically on WebRTC.

Most of all, people started to take her seriously. The first time I had an inkling that J9000 was going to make a real difference was at an engineering meeting that I was politely invited to, attendance optional. I drove into the conference room anyway and parked in a corner. Some of the engineers nodded at me, a couple grinned, but there was no awkward shifting or chuckling. I turned toward the presentation on the screen and watched. I didn’t understand some of the content and asked a couple of questions. Some one answered. The meeting adjourned and I rolled myself out.


Can you spot the Double?

And that was pretty much what it would have been like in person. No pre-meeting fiddling to make sure I was on, or slowing down in case I wasn’t following along with the presentation, or post-meeting recapping of anything I missed.

Badri in Madras, Ian in SF, Me in NYC (in SF via J9000) -- taken from Badri's computer

Badri in Madras, Ian in SF, me in NYC (in SF via J9000) — taken from Badri’s computer

When Lauren and I put together case studies with partners using OpenTok, we try really hard to get the Holy Grail of success stories — measurable data. With our Double, I’m stumped. What’s the ROI of being there? I’ve worked at TokBox for long enough to know that Important Stuff doesn’t always happen in meetings that get scheduled. It’s those meetings that you don’t need to be at but just want to sit in on. Or those meetings that aren’t planned at all but happen when people are working really late and start saying what they really mean. Sometimes it’s not meetings at all — it’s what people’s faces look like at lunch.

I don’t know what that adds up to, but I do know that as our little team becomes not so little, Ian‘s asked if we could get another Double. For upstairs.  J9000 doesn’t do stairs.

Like the rest of the TokBox family, she’s not perfect but I think she’s pretty awesome.

Going to coffee


Come by Song‘s API Discovery Meetup every other Tuesday to check out J9000 in action.