Standardization is a funny thing. You can use a tech tool for months or even years without realizing how bad it is. Then, when you try something better, you wonder how you ever got along with the bad setup for so long.
That’s exactly what happened to me with the most popular videoconferencing systems right now, like Zoom, Google Meet, or whichever one you like best. I attend more than my fair share of online meetings, just like most people do these days. I sometimes grumble to myself, but other than that, I don’t usually think much about how they work or what could make them better.
But then I found a new tool called Switchboard that I thought was very clever. It changes everything about how you work and talk with other people online. It takes the focus off of faces and one-way sharing and gives your remote meetings a much-needed dose of collaboration like in the real world.
And it’s not an exaggeration to say that once you’ve used it, you’ll never look at other videoconferencing systems the same way again.
THE SWITCHBOARD FOUNDATION
The story of Switchboard starts on a strange note.
When the pandemic hit, Amir Ashkenazi was upset about how his guitar lessons were going. He quickly found out that while services like Zoom and Meet were fine for simple conversations, they didn’t meet his needs for more interaction.
“I realized that the tools we call collaboration platforms today are just ways to talk to each other,” he says. Salary to hourly calculator, “They let us see and hear each other and even show a screen, but they don’t work well when we want to do something together.”
This made Ashkenazi want to find a better way to solve the problem. After two years of planning, building, and making changes, I made the Switchboard. Ashkenazi isn’t a rookie when it comes to starting up businesses. He’s already made and sold three big ones in the past (Shopping.com, which eBay acquired; Adap. tv, which AOL acquired; and Tookie, which LogMeIn snatched up before it even launched).
A switchboard is the easiest to think of, like a canvas that can draw your video calls. Instead of the faces of the people in the meeting being the default visual, it’s a desktop. This desktop lives in the cloud, are specific to that meeting, and is available for everyone invited to share.
“In the real office, we pay attention to the content,” says Ashkenazi. “When we have video conferences, we look at faces. It’s not normal; we’re not supposed to spend all day staring at our coworkers (police verification form).
The internet browser is the most important part of the Switchboard. It’s based on Chromium, so it feels familiar and lives in that virtual world. You can make as many windows as you need. That means you can open and run almost any web-based app, including Notion, Trello, Figma, Canva, and all Google Workspace services. Then you can work in any of these apps together without having to switch between views or use cumbersome manual sharing.
Switchboard lets you run almost any web-based app in a way that is truly interactive and collaborative.
It’s a sharp contrast to the usual video conference, and you can tell right away. And Ashkenazi wanted to do just that, even more so with Switchboard’s advanced features.
SIMULATING THE REAL WORLD
Traditional videoconferencing isn’t interactive because that’s how it works. Yes, one person can give everyone one thing at a time. But, as Ashkenazi pointed out, that’s not how we do things.
In Switchboard, he tried to make it more like coworking in the real world while also adding some useful extras. You can have several apps open simultaneously in any room, for example. Switchboard keeps you signed in to any service the way your regular desktop browser does.
And most importantly, anyone else you invite into the room can see and work on everything with you as if they were right next to you and on the same computer.
The Switchboard is set up so that many people can work on different apps simultaneously.
Ashkenazi likes to call it the first operating system ever made for teams, and the comparison works surprisingly well. Switchboard has an endless number of browser windows, and you can also drag and drop files right onto your shared canvas to make them show up in your room so everyone can see and interact with them. You must check this best video animation software.
It lets you put sticky notes on your work surface that look like widgets. You can paste the URL of a YouTube video to make it appear as a floating video that everyone can watch and listen to at the same time. And yes, you can still share your screen the old-fashioned way if you want to.
As for the faces, they are there, but they are not the most important part. Instead, Switchboard puts everyone in a meeting in small circles at the top of the room (though you can shift them around and change their size if you wish). Anyone can talk to the group and do anything with the things in a room. And if someone wants to present, they can use a special command to do so, and everyone else’s attention will follow them around the canvas.
When someone is presenting on Switchboard, the focus of everyone else’s screen moves to where the presenter is looking.
Switchboard has a big advantage over our current videoconferencing standards and even over real-world meetings, and that is that it is easy to stay in place.
Plain and simple, any room you make stays there, and anyone you invite can reopen it, come back, and keep working in it for as long as you want. Especially for companies that have regular team meetings or ongoing group projects, this is a huge improvement over having to dig up all your notes, open all the related apps, and start from scratch every time.
Ashkenazi says, “Video calls start with 0 and end with 0.” “Both the real world and Switchboard are places where things stay the same and memories are kept.”
Right now, anyone can use Switchboard for free, and that will stay the case until the end of 2022. Ashkenazi tells me that it will likely switch to a freemium model, with a free plan for individuals and a paid plan with more organization features.
And if he can promise one thing, what we’re seeing now is just the start.
He says, “You’ll see more collaboration innovations in the next three years than you’ve seen in probably ten years.”