How WorldWide Virtual Theater Carrousel used OpenTok

Guest Post

Sering is a community based theater company that sets up cultural projects for schools. They share their knowledge with other theater companies around the world. Although they make use of internet to communicate, they couldn’t find a solution that fitted their needs. They wanted a social platform that allows small groups of admins to work distribute initial content and let the project grow through a large number of participants.

Existing tools like e.g. Basecamp were found too complex in setup. So we ( and built a custom solution for them that fitted their needs and named it a “virtual office”. One of the many requests was the ability to organize a grouped video chat between the project managers and the participants. And with that -since it’s a global community of children and adults who don’t necessarily speak each other languages- the ability to automatically translate text-chat to the users language.

In the initial offer we made, we explicitly excluded the video-chat option, because it just seemed to hard to set up. We advised the customer to take a look at products like Skype and ooVoo. Although the customer was initially happy with that, we all soon saw that it wasn’t as user friendly as we hoped. The conversations were taking place outside the “Virtual office” and the tools didn’t provide text-chat with automated translations. This rendered them useless. We again received the request to take a look at it and initially we looked at ooVoo web-browser support. The main group of users of the “Virtual Office” run on Mac and the ooVoo tool was poorly supported for 64bit versions of Safari. Making it impossible to use.

So, we had to reset our research and begin from zero. I started searching Google for “video, chat, web-browser, integration”. A few links later I landed on the OpenTok website. The way the platform was described immediately fitted our needs. It would take away the difficult implementation of video streaming. It had good documentation. It was free of charges (which was important for the customer because they had limited budget). It had support for Ruby (which was important for us, since the app was written in Ruby-on-Rails) and -the thing that pulled me over the line- working examples in static HTML files.

So I hacked a few demo pages and after an hour I had a first version ready. The next morning we called Sering to do a first basic test with people in Antwerp. And those tests were impressive, so other countries were invited. Again, those test went well (however some people were struggling with hardware like headphone or mics, but that had nothing to do with the OpenTok implementation).

So, after designing the chat-tool, we were able to present Sering with a custom implementation of the Video tool, inside the Virtual Office, built in one day. And -in that same day- we’ve written our own html-ajax text chat tool that talks to Google Translate.

One week later the complete “Virtual Office” was presented at a big cultural event in Rotterdam to theater companies from all over the world and every one was impressed by the possibilities, and new contacts were made.

OpenTok is just so easy to use and has an official Ruby Gem that you can use in Ruby or in Ruby-on-Rails. You get to play with the implementation immediately (using a developer token) and once you are convinced that it’s working perfectly, you can create a user token with ease.

We are happy that we found OpenTok as a solution for a problem that seemed impossible to implement on that scale, and we are looking forward on new implementations for other customers.

— Stijn Mathysen