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Interactive Annual 15:
experimental/virtual community

TokBox

Launch Live Site

“Impressive to both the technical elite and the pickiest designers. This project proves that applications can look as good as they work.” —Stacey Mulcahy

“This app does a nice job of aggregating IM platforms and simplifying video chat.” —Jason Ring


Overview: Requiring people on both ends of a call to down-load, install and configure software has been a major obstacle to widespread adoption of video-calling. TokBox has eliminated the barriers by enabling free video calls to anyone with a Webcam and a browser. A flat navigation hierarchy provides all core features (video call, instant message and video mail) from a single main view while interface conventions from existing social applications create a mashup of original interactions that make using the application familiar and intuitive. The site is also a full-featured IM client that allows connecting with several instant-messaging networks, resulting in ever-expanding friend loops.

  • • Users generate millions of minutes of live calls, as well as thousands of video mails and public posts and comments every day.
  • • A downloadable version of the site in the form of an Adobe air application enables users to receive calls even when the browser is closed.
  • • A feed alerts users to new video mails, missed calls, other friends coming on to the system and the activity of people they know.

Comments by Chris Fox

Did you meet with any out-of-the-ordinary obstacles during development? “The front-end interface of TokBox was originally developed using a fairly cumbersome collection of Web technologies, including PHP, JavaScript and HTML, which had severe limitations for building a rich Internet application. Moving to Adobe Flex allowed us to radically simplify development. It was also the perfect solution both for streaming video and developing the smoother, more elegant interface we’d originally envisioned. Moving to this architecture was a challenging process, but once we built the entire application in Flex, we were able to design and develop much more quickly and nimbly than we had before.”

What was the most challenging aspect of the project? “One of the primary challenges to designing TokBox was understanding and embracing user interactions that are unique to live video calling. Many sites have perfected interacting with and consuming pre-recorded video, but little has been done in the area of live video communication; it presents an altogether different set of challenges that require a totally new approach to interface design.

“First, live video communication is far more immersive and personal. We recognize that, while powerful and rewarding, it can at first be a little intimidating for users. When TokBox rings users, they ask themselves a multitude of questions, ‘Do I know this person?,’ ‘Do I look ok?,’ ‘Is my camera on?,’ ‘Is my sound working?,’ and in a split second, the interface needs to immediately resolve the questions in order for a user to accept the call. Then there’s the fact that two (or more) people are required to make a call; users must know if the person they want to reach is available to talk. We integrated instant-messaging as a means for solving this problem. Users can immediately see from within TokBox if a friend is online and signed in to their IM client and can call or video mail them right away, or send them an IM asking if it’s a good time.

“Unfortunately, we’ve also run into the issue of online privacy. We needed to strike a balance between creating an open network, that enables people to video call or mail friends who have not yet signed up to TokBox, with the need to protect people’s privacy. Our response to this has been to build-out a powerful set of privacy controls that enable our users to easily manage who can and cannot contact them.

“By listening to our users and using the product ourselves we’ve developed an interface that instantly communicates the right set of information and gets us closer to our goal of being the simplest video calling and video mail service on the Web.”

Credits

Deidre Caldbeck/Ron Hose/Micky O'Brien/Nick Triantos/Tim Wenzel, principals
Chris Fox, design director
Ron Hose, technical lead
Jason Freidman/Matthew Ghali/Gaurav Gupta/Max Kalika/Michael Kelleher/Melih …nvural/Badri Rajesekar/Kundan Singh/Adam Ullman/Cindy Wu, engineers
Damon Billian/Lauren Brockie, producers
Josh Michaels, program manager
John Conklin/Jim Kellas, quality assurance
TokBox (San Francisco, CA), project design and development/client