Posted by: Heather Shy on November 20, 2020 at 8:00 am
With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations on the rise again, most of us who had returned to the office are back at the desk/dining table or the office/bedroom. Most of us have missed our favorite live conferences this year. The annual big family gathering probably will (or should) be put off until 2021.
While part of this probably remains a relief to some, most of us are pretty well tired of all of the distance. “Pandemic fatigue” is a real phenomenon.
Teleconferencing options such as Zoom and Teams are a poor substitute for meeting in person. A screen full of “Brady Bunch” rectangles doesn’t allow for private conversations on the side, or the chance for a spontaneous chat in the hallway.
But what if something could?
Gather, a.k.a. Gather.Town, is a virtual meeting space with multiple applications. Create a space, and allow invited guests (or the public, if you dare) to use 2-D avatars to move around, triggering instant video chats when they get close enough to each other. (Edited 12/4/2020 to add: This is called “proximity chat.”) Designated areas can display posters, whiteboards, and video links. Private spaces allow for personal chats, while broadcasting allows one person to address the whole group.
How to Gather
Here are some ways people are using Gather:
Office Space. Educational tech company ConsiliumBots recreated their full office and conference space, complete with desk space for each employee, a full kitchen, and “outdoor” break room. On a smaller scale, linguist May Helena Plumb created a tiny, virtual workspace for her fellow PhD students.
Live Conferences. Another educational technologist, Joshua Weidlich, wrote a detailed article about designing and creating a Gather space for an entire conference. This extensive virtual space included a customized floor plan with several breakout rooms and instant connection to Zoom conferences.
Classrooms. Ruth Schirmer Valle teaches French and German in Tennessee. Her recent virtual French classroom included video tasks and whiteboard activities.
Family Gatherings. Noted artificial intelligence scientist Janelle Shane has been using Gather for book clubs and other small meetups. Next week, she is hosting a big family dinner on Gather. Her Twitter feed has a thread about the program, her setup, and some special surprises she has planned.
Gather Options for Businesses
Cost. Gather is free for up to 25 users at a time, with a sliding scale of premium offerings based on user count and available length of time. For example, if you generally expect less than 25 people in your “office” but want to host a 2-hour open house for clients, you can pay a small fee for the extra access during those two hours.
Custom designs. The basic account comes with a handful of pre-designed spaces. You can design your own, or hire a Gather designer to configure a fully virtual conference center. Hand over the controls to your most creative employee to recreate your office. Or let cousin Jimmy set up your grandmother’s house, complete with fireplace and game room.
Even many of the quietest introverts are getting a bit stir-crazy and wanting some personal interaction. Pandemic fatigue is real. We all need those spontaneous conversations, engaging presentations, and professional networking opportunities. If you’re missing off-the-cuff interaction in your work life, Gather might be the virtual meeting space you were hoping to find.