Zoom meetings and book clubs and coffee dates are fine. But unstructured Zoom parties are still so painfully awkward. Surely we can do better? I wrote for @WIRED about how to make virtual parties feel real, just in time for the holidays wired.com/story/zoom-parties…

5:03 PM · Nov 30, 2020

28
200
98
650
With special thanks to @starsandrobots for introducing me to the concept of proximity chat and @devonzuegel for taking me on tours of various platforms! And of course a massive thanks to everyone who joined me in the virtual hallway chat and @gather_town experiments!
2
1
0
42
In a Zoom birthday party, the birthday person turns into an ungainly hybrid of game show host and middle manager, calling on each guest in turn It's nice to see everyone's faces! But this is not how an actual party works.
1
3
2
45
Thank you to my friends who have invited me to their Zoom parties over the past few months and I'm sorry that I was also sitting there analyzing the social interactions, but really, you invited a linguist, what were you expecting? xkcd_linguists.png
3
2
0
71
An instagram version for all your "hey let's try this" friend-tagging needs instagram.com/p/CIOTcMiHHwX/
Replying to @GretchenAMcC @WIRED
Any chance you can make an Instagram post about this article so I could share it on Insta stories?
2
1
0
14
There's some fascinating research from Robin Dunbar and colleagues (yes, the same Dunbar as in Dunbar's Number) Turns out Dunbar also has other numbers, and one of them is four, the maximum number of people in a conversation before it starts splitting wired.com/story/zoom-parties…
2
17
2
53
The three to five person Zoom call is Actually Convivial and should not be underrated But, internet help me, I was still determined to have an actual virtual party wired.com/story/zoom-parties…
1
0
0
18
About as difficult as a Zoom call, on both counts (including a bit more complex for the host, and higher levels of complexity for more involved events, but the basic mode is pretty easy, people can join by just clicking a link)
Replying to @GretchenAMcC @WIRED
I'm a techno dope. How difficult is it to set up and work Gather?
1
0
0
9
Did I get Robin Dunbar, who is 73, to join me in Gather for an interview for this article so that I could nerd-snipe him into researching social interactions in virtual space? WE'LL FIND OUT IN 2-5 YEARS, WON'T WE (based on my estimate of the academic publishing timeline)
2
2
1
57
I have a list of 43 similar platforms and this might be a 44th, I confess I have not memorized the entire list, but I hope the different variations can learn from each other It definitely seems to be a concept that's in the air at the moment!
Replying to @GretchenAMcC @WIRED
Have you tried inspace.chat? Similar platform, it seems, to Gather (which I haven't tried). Wondering if there are advantages/disadvantages between the two...
2
1
0
13
It's really interesting to be in a space that's still not yet dominated by a few major players/big tech companies If you're an experimental type and want to spend an evening with friends hopping between platforms, here's a list: docs.google.com/spreadsheets…
Replying to @GretchenAMcC
It's so great that the list is that long, I love having different platforms to do different bits of my online life in (you're probably the person I have the most different platforms with lolol)
2
4
1
20
One thing I've noticed, having spent several months experimenting with virtual social interactions in any format I could try, is that virtual socials are lower "density" than irl ones, so I need more of them to get my baseline social needs met
1
1
0
18
I used to be able to go to a conference for a weekend, socialize very intensely, and then come home and not see anyone for a week! I can't do that now! Virtual socialization is like breathing low-oxygen air -- you need to take more breaths to get to the same baseline
3
3
2
34
I REALLY want organizers of conferences and other online events to pay more attention to the social side of things Even if I'm just like, going to a reading at my local bookstore, I'm also chatting with fellow attendees before and after, it's important
Replying to @GretchenAMcC
I think it’s also the issue of many virtual equivalents ignoring the before and after of events. they teleport us to our seats and then teleport us out, part of why webinars don’t work
5
5
0
41
It's a really good question and I'm still working on it tbh What I have so far is: spend a few minutes not talking in the conversation, inch your avatar away by a unit or two, hold for a little bit still not talking, then walk off
Replying to @GretchenAMcC
Have you figured out a good solution for leaving a Gather conversation? Without the nonverbal cues you can use IRL, I find you either have to interrupt to say goodbye or just walk off abruptly in another direction, both of which feel v awkward
1
1
0
17
For "figuring out whether to join an existing convo group already in Gather" I have: Approach group with your video turned off, listen in on a few turns, then if it sounds interesting or they greet you, join in, if not you can wander away and it's like you weren't "really" there
2
0
1
18
I have and it sounds very cool! However it felt intimidating to replicate for me, and for this article I've been specifically looking for things that would be easy for others to replicate
Replying to @GretchenAMcC
Have you heard about @tigershungry throwing a party in a google doc? onezero.medium.com/party-in-…
2
1
0
13
I tell people repeatedly "hey, I'm hanging out at the spawn point to help new people with the tech, but if your tech is working, please go wander around away from the spawn point so I know who still needs help!"
I'm still using Gather for loads of things, including my recent birthday party! I have found that newbies tend to group around me like ducklings, making it hard to actually use the proximity thing & kinda turning it into Zoom-but-with-avatars. How do you scatter the ducklings?
2
2
0
18
Some people have been asking what social events are like in Gather, and other people have been saying they enjoyed the previous experiments I was running, so let's do it again! Two events for this weekend, on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon: forms.gle/N57nwE4c5vU8ve4Y6
2
2
2
24
also i love everyone tagging me and saying they are trying out doing events in proximity chat, gather or elsewhere, please continue doing this i feel like your all's virtual social event fairy godmother
.@GretchenAMcC introduced me to @gather_town and I agree: this is the way online parties (and conferences) should be. (also seconding the call for a virtual cheese plate)
4
0
0
29
Some people are doing Gather theatre events and I haven't been yet but it sounds cool!
Replying to @GretchenAMcC
We at @noproscenium have also seen interactive theatre-makers trying to do games/shows with live actors in this space: everythingimmersive.com/inde…
3
1
1
10
I'm gonna put this in the events this weekend, if anyone needs another incentive!
Okay if you build a "shared document" under productivity and put mangrove-coconut-bonobo.glit… as the url you can have a food and animal emoji bar lol
1
0
0
4
For an offline conference, it's polite to condense the schedule because of the difficulty/expense of being away from home For an online conference, it's polite to spread out the schedule because of timezones and people retaining other responsibilities
Replying to @drjulie_b
The best online conferences I’ve been to have reduced the talks portion, added some focus to the posters (e.g elevator pitches by all poster presenters to all audience) and have purposely included zoom networking and coffee breaks in random groups
Show this thread
1
4
1
23
What do I mean by condense/spread out a conference schedule? A single one-day conference offline needs to become 3 four-hour days online, or similar People often have other work/caregiving responsibilities, they're willing to get up early or stay up late but need to nap, etc
4
6
5
38
Not packing a conference schedule too tightly lets people organize meetups "around" the conference as a pretext Tbh, this is also true offline, the best conference I ever went to had half hour coffeebreaks and a 2 hour onsite lunch and I had SO MANY GOOD CONVERSATIONS
4
0
0
22
Spread! Things! Out! You cannot make a full-day schedule even slightly timezone-friendly, a 14 day conference sounds like a marathon to me but it's better than the alternative
Replying to @GretchenAMcC
The geo mega-conference AGU is typically 7 days of exhaustion. This year it’s 14. Pretty sure it’ll still be exhausting, but at least it’s less piled up!
1
0
0
17
I like the idea of parallel conference Discords in theory but so far (at least for large conferences) I've found that the lobby channels are too big to have the golden target of 3-5 person conversations, idk maybe other people have found it works better
Replying to @GretchenAMcC
Discord audio channels are also great for this kind of more casual chatting “in the virtual lobby” because you can do other stuff if you’ve got a wireless headset.
3
0
0
6
I mean I'm not sure that conventional offline conference structure is especially friendly for neuroatypical folks either, but it's still a point worth making
Replying to @GretchenAMcC
Plus the cognitive/physiological overload of virtual format requires extra rest/downtime, especially for neuroatypical folks.
2
1
0
6
It has! I tried out Gather Town back when it was still Online Town and was intrigued but kinda meh, it's gotten a lot smoother and more fully-featured since then!
Gather Town has come a long way in the last 6 months.
2
0
1
8
I think that the embedded games help but they're more like having board games at a party (still good!!) than lightweight stuff like cheese A virtual whiteboard that's designated as a guestbook might be a good start? Needs to work with or without other ppl
Replying to @GretchenAMcC @WIRED
Thank you for this article! It's an amazing synthesis of different iterations of talking to people online. What do you think about activity stations as a replacement for the cheese plate? Lightweight things like Gather's embedded games that exist as part of the map.
1
0
0
10
I wish I'd read @priyaparker's book before writing this article but I'm making up for lost time now! It was written pre-covid but there are a lot of relevant points for online events these days
I just adored this @WIRED piece by @GretchenAMcC on the next generation of virtual parties. It’s a must read in case you missed it.
0
0
0
7