Video meeting/party where people can move freely between small groups?
April 2, 2020 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to allow participants in Zoom (or another similar system) to talk in small groups, and move freely between groups? Zoom lets you you divide a group into breakout rooms, but only the meeting host can create rooms and move people between them. I'm looking for workarounds and/or other systems that would give participants more freedom. I want this for conferences/meetings and also for cocktail parties. Do you have any ideas/suggestions? Have you seen anything like this done?

There are a couple of applications where I’m hoping to do this:

a) I run a lot of Open Space Meetings and Unconferences. These are meeting structures where participants get to create their own breakout rooms, give them names, choose which ones to go to, and can move around between then. I’d like to do this online.

b) I’d like to be able to run a cocktail party online. At a real-life cocktail party, people don’t stand in big circle and have one big conversation: They generally break up into pairs or small groups, and talk, and then move to other groups. People are free to approach people who interest them, and move between groups. I’d like to find a way to replicate/approximate this online.

I can think of two broad strategies in zoom to do this:

1) Use Zoom’s breakout room functionality. Have a designated host who people can message whenever they want to move between groups. Make it the host’s full-time job in the meeting to do this. (I am pretty sure only one host per meeting can do this in zoom)

2) Instead of using zoom breakouts, just have a bunch of totally separate Zoom meetings (maybe using multiple free accounts)? Have a central resource (a web page or google doc) that list these. Let people come and go between them.

Both of these solutions seem imperfect and a lot of work/hassle. They also seem complicated to do well.

Has anyone done this? Seen anything like this implemented? Any ideas/tips/experiences very much welcome!!
posted by ManInSuit to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We did this over the weekend for a board games and puzzling meetup. It is doable by making everyone a cohost.

There are still some restrictions: the host is the only one who can make people cohosts, so the host has to be not in the breakout rooms. We got four friends to each take an hour of host duty (since host can pass on the host status, but there can only be one host at a time).

Next, cohosts can only move themselves between breakout rooms after they are in a breakout room. So after making each new guest a cohost, the host needs to move them into a breakout room, so that the guest can move themselves around.

I would suggest making a “lobby” breakout room that guests would be put in when they arrive. We didn’t do this.

Last, guests who are using an -in browser implementation (instead of the desktop app or a phone/tablet app) cannot go in breakout rooms; nor can Linux users. To our knowledge we didn’t run into either of those, but we did run into one person who couldn’t figure out how to join the call and two others who didn’t want to try.

Overall it wasn’t perfect but was still a lot of fun and it was great to see people.
posted by nat at 10:38 AM on April 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh I forgot, since we were doing board games, we also prenamed the rooms.

Whether you name them or not, it’s a good idea to make more rooms than you need when you start; to our knowledge you cannot add a new room or rename a room once the breakout rooms have started.
posted by nat at 10:41 AM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: And for the “unconferences” you would accordingly need to solicit names from attendees beforehand; you can always have a few extra blandly named rooms (we had eg “board games 1” up through ten or so. You can have up to 50 rooms).

Also if you don’t have access to enterprise zoom, or some sort of paid account, your zoom meeting will end automatically after a fixed number of minutes, so I wouldn’t recommend trying this with a free account.
posted by nat at 10:46 AM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't know about video, but for Discord you can have multiple voice channels and people can hop in and out of them. You can either create a bunch with fun names ("hey let's head over to the Zebra Stripes room") or make everyone a mod and people create voice channels as they need them.

I know you can video chat with Discord but I've never done it, so don't know if it would work the same way.
posted by brook horse at 10:51 AM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I haven't used the app personally but this (b) sounds vaguely like Houseparty.
posted by typecloud at 12:56 PM on April 2, 2020

Response by poster: nat: Thanks! I did not realize that co-hosts could move between rooms. That is *so* helpful. I did a few experiments with friends. It works! As near as we can tell: It does *not* work if the co-host is accessing zoom via phone- they have to be on a computer. I mention this in case anyone else reading wants to try it, and also in case anyone knows something about this I don't.
posted by ManInSuit at 1:09 PM on April 2, 2020

Best answer: Yup, looks like you can't move yourself around as cohost if you joined via mobile. The full list of restrictions (which I didn't have correct above) about breakout rooms (who can join them, who can manage them, etc) is here: As with all of Zoom's documentation, you will get more complete documentation if you actually click on the platform type you are interested in (that opens up a bunch more info).
posted by nat at 3:36 PM on April 2, 2020

Response by poster: Update: The party was amazing. Thanks, Nat!!

If anyone wants to know more about how it went, or specific details of how to do this, I wrote an article about it:

How to Host a Cocktail Party on Zoom (and have better classes, conferences and meetings, too)
posted by ManInSuit at 12:18 PM on April 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

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