Remote realtime tools for socializing
January 29, 2018 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to put together a toolbox of decent technological solutions for "group hang" activities that are not gaming* and don't require anyone to look at their own face.

I want to spend more meaningful time with my friends. Often when I do that I will have a party and we'll eat snacks and talk, or vaguely watch a movie and talk, maybe play a not-resource-management game in between talking, pretend to have a book club but just talk instead, or do crafts and talk.

But really, most of my life is and always has been largely on the internet, and I live in a giant expensive urban area where people move away a lot, many of us have anxiety/money/transportation/family requirements that make even a party across town a challenge sometimes.

I am planning to try a Drink-Talk-Learn with GoToMeeting soon, since I have an account for other reasons and most people can use the audio and presentation service with even modest computers. I've heard about some services that let people watch a movie on Netflix together, and obviously that could be done with just a clock and a link if necessary.

How else do people do this for fun or even work or other collaboration? What else is out there? My emphasis is mostly on real time - something a little more interactive-feeling than a group text (unless that's side commentary on some other thing happening, but see my screen/attention real estate complaints re Glitch below), and Slack/Discord are fine as IRC channels or a sort of private twitter, but my focus is for the people who are participating at the time of participation, nobody wants a recording or transcript of a party they went to. It shouldn't require that each participant spend any real money (but something that one person could pay for or pass a small hat would be okay) or have the latest greatest computer/phone. I'd like audio-based as well as text-based chat options.

And, most importantly, I don't want to look at my face for even a second, most of the people I know don't want to look at theirs either, post-it on the screen isn't a solution. An audio/presentation service in which each person can be a static avatar instead of video would be totally great for "this person is talking" purposes (like Skype for Business does) though.

*RIP beloved Glitch, but even that I could never get to work like I expected with being able to play or just stare at my character petting a pig and also use chat effectively, but something like that where nobody actually has to be playing and people don't disappear for half an hour to play would work.
posted by Lyn Never to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I used to sometimes cook & eat dinner over Sykpe or Google Video with a friend in a different city. Usually we'd be making different things, but cooking the same recipe could be fun too, as could a larger group of people. To avoid seeing our own faces, we sometimes pointed the webcams up at the ceiling or down at the cutting board.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2018

I do a regular video meeting with friends who are all interested in Persian mystical poetry. Because we are also discussing, not just reading the poetry, so we found video to be really vital. We use Skype, one of us has a group account, which I think allows for up to six people simulataneous. I used Google Hangout when I was in grad school.

We rarely have technical issues, but you should expect it to take a few weeks to iron out technical kinks - video works better on the laptop or the iPad, remembering all the parameters to set in the UI so it's a consistent experience.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 1:41 PM on January 29, 2018

I have an LDR and we've tried a lot of things. A few that have really stuck around are

1. Scrabble! We do real time using the server so we're playing real scrabble online. Don't know if this is what you were thinking of when you said "gaming" but I know not everyone knows about this.

2. Simultaneous tv/movie watching while chatting. We find this works better for content we have on-hand, or that is on at a scheduled time (as opposed to streaming) so we're on the same page, but we'll keep a chat window open and sort of blab with each other as we're watching something. Seems to work better for short tv shows (the old half hour sitcom) so there is time to get up, snack, whatever, and you don't have to restart. We literally count down 3... 2... 1... go to make sure we're starting at more or less the same time and then I have about 3/4 of my screen as the screen and 1/4 as a chat window (we use Adium, you could use anything) and it's nice.

So in your situation I might go do a deep dive into older media at the library or something so you can rip/share easily (I am your librarian, I am giving you permission to rip Upstairs Downstairs) and have a standing date to work through something. You could even do commentary on FanFare if you wanted but it's not as real-time-feeling
posted by jessamyn at 1:51 PM on January 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Dunno if it counts as socializing, but I use Mural for real-time collaboration for Design Thinking stuff. At it's core it's a real-time shared digital whiteboard, but there are lots of templates for other activities.
posted by homesickness at 2:39 PM on January 29, 2018

Ways to watch Netflix together - there are other apps that work with free services; some of these allow one paying member to broadcast to the group. (The apps are free for small groups and charge for larger ones.) I've seen friends on FlightRising and other gaming sites coordinate movie nights with things like this.

Roll20 is a tabletop RPG site; I find it has too much D&D/Pathfinder support at the expense of smaller systems (like, hex maps are overlays on a grid; they don't actually work as hexes), but I've enjoyed a few games there. (I got to play in a Fate Accelerated conversion of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl; that was a blast.) Some games are text only; some are text-and-voice.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:11 PM on January 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

For group movies or etc, you want, which creates a (private) room with integrated chat of various stripes (I think voice, but definitely video and typed) and then lets you log into netflix/youtube/etc and broadcast it to everyone in the room. It sometimes has a hard time with Netflix, but consistently works great for plex/amazon/etc. I use it almost daily to watch movies with my long-distance partner and can't say enough good things about it.
posted by mishafletch at 7:45 PM on January 29, 2018

You could do colouring books together where the camera is pointed at the page of the book instead of your face. You'd get to see how your friends' artwork is coming along, and just be relaxed and have that sort of free-association conversation that comes with colouring.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:00 PM on January 29, 2018

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