Meditations (Web)Church

A year (and a bit) in the life of NewSpring's first Web pastor

Considering using Tokbox for small groups?

with one comment

Tokboxtokbox-live-video-calling1 fever is in the air after this week’s videochat orgy among the church Twitterati.

The platform has sizzle for sure. (It even has an API). But for me the question is:

Can Tokbox be used effectively for online small groups? Will the platform, and its potential for technical issues, distract people, or will it add to group interaction and sense of connectedness?

I started looking at Tokbox in late November based on a recommendation from Dave Adamson of Liquid Church, a member of the Internet campus Pastors Ning group, who was using it for just that purpose.

Toward the end of a five week test, Dave was already calling his TokBox experiment “an outstanding success,” with all seven participants, from four countries, agreeing to continue the group. (I haven’t heard back from Dave about the results of a survey he used to evaluate the experience. I’m hoping he’ll post something soon.)

With all the chatter about Tokbox and our campus launch coming up soon, I decided to take it for an interaction test-drive this morning with the help of some members of NewSpring’s CommTeam and a few invited guests.

We all agreed that hearing a voice and seeing a face helps tremendously with creating a sense of connection in a way that leaves text chat in the dust.

And a one-click-to-join, nothing to download, no-need to register system like Tokbox is going to be about as easy as it’s going to get for a multi-person video and/or audio chat solution aimed at a broad audience. (Tokbox even has a Facebook Firefox extension.)

We felt the video and voice quality was more than adequate for small group  purposes, and the latency did not seem unreasonable, although we did have U.S. only participants. And the platform is easily able to handle between 6 and 12, which is the optimal small group size.

But we also agreed that small group leaders and the participants would probably benefit from an orientation before plunging in.

Here are the top 5 initial suggestions for the “ground rules” we came up with. If you’ve used Tokbox or some other multi-person video chat, please add your thoughts in the comments.

  1. Walk everyone as a group through the mute/unmute, and camera pause/unpause functions in the individual chat window as well as the user’s microphone settings. The ability to amplify the mic, in particular, is very helpful.
  2. Everyone in the group must use headphones. The echo that comes from hearing the conversation through someone’s computer speakers is just annoying.
  3. Everyone must be in a quiet, private location so there’s no ambient sound or the possibility for interruptions. (For instance. If you’re borrowing public WiFi, try sitting in your car, rather than a coffee shop.)
  4. Everyone should agree to use a sign, preferably something that stands out easily amid the faces and lets everyone know someone wants to speak. Simply raising your hand to cover the camera works just fine, or you could use something like a piece of white paper.
  5. Group leaders should be comfortable directing and guiding the conversation, rather than always fishing for responses to questions from the group at large. That will cut down on the awkwardness of the conversational hand-offs.

There’s bound to be interpersonal awkwardness initially, and maybe some clumsiness in keeping the conversation moving. But isn’t that something even face-to-face groups grapple with?

What about you?

(P.S. If you are an Internet Campus pastor and want to be part of the Ning group, drop me a line for an invite.)


Written by NickCharalambous

December 17, 2008 at 3:27 pm

One Response

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  1. I am loving Tokbox. Been using it for about a week now. I think it could work really well for small groups.
    You are right about headphones. We had a group of 14 last night and the feedback was bad from those that didn’t have headphones on.

    Patrick Moore

    December 18, 2008 at 8:59 am

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