Less Wrong Study Hall: Now With 100% Less Tinychat

byMalcolmOcean3y9th Nov 20152 comments

30


Eight months ago, I announced that the Less Wrong Study Hall, a virtual coworking space where people do pomodoros together, has moved to Complice. Complice is a software system I made to help people achieve their goals. About 20% of rationalists who've tried it have started using it full-time, which by my math gives signing up positive expected value. Anyway...

What follows is a brief history of the LWSH's development thus far. If you just wanna try it, click here: complice.co/room/lesswrong

By embedding the original tinychat window within a larger page, I let users see what the pomodoro timer was up to as soon as they joined, and the page also doesn't let breaks run overtime because the timer just keeps ticking. Also, users could now show a persistent status of what they're working on.

But there were issues with this. First of all, tinychat. This flash-based chatroom was a huge pain, with 20% of users reporting that they hated it with the fury of a thousand burning suns[source]. It didn't work at some offices, or on mobile, and it couldn't readily scale to more than 8-10 users. But even if we'd had the best embedded chat system ever, it still would have been an issue, because you'd still have to log into it again, after already loading the Complice room. And it would still not integrate with the rest of the page.

It was easy to build a replacement for the text chat part, but one of the core contributions to the character of the LW Study Hall was the video component. By working with video on and audio off, we could have a sense of a social vibe without it being too distracting. Video has numerous benefits:

  • gives new joiners an immediate sense of "there are people here"
  • lets us be friendly and silly during the breaks, in a way that text just can't quite manage
  • helps people get a sense of each others' personalities, so that you have a sense of who you're coworking with even if you've never met in person
  • if/when you finally do meet in person, you already recognize each other!
  • the sense of other people watching you encourages you to be productive
  • makes being in the room alone less sad, because you know that at any moment someone could show up and see you there

And probably one or two others I haven't thought of. So we needed video. But video's a pain! After pulling my hair out trying to get it working this summer, I finally bit the bullet and just paid someone $500 to solve it.

Which means that we now have fully-integrated webrtc video! It still has some bugs that I'm working with this other developer on fixing, but it's already about as reliable as tinychat, so I figured it made sense to just transition now.

a screenshot of the lesswrong study hall

Among other things this allows is breakout rooms for if the main room gets too crowded (I expect this might happen in the days following this blog post, if not indefinitely hereafter due to increased awesomeness). Just add an extra "/something" to the url, where the something is any alphanumeric string, and then share that url with others in the crowded room. The timers will be sync'd, making it easy to switch between rooms. But also, now that we aren't using tinychat, it's trivial for anyone to make an alternate LW Study Hall that does 50-work/10-break pomodoros or whatever other timing you might want. To do that, go here (you need to be logged in to Complice).

Does the Study Hall work? This census suggests yes. Both in numbers and with this quotation someone left:

"Joining the Study Hall is probably the literal best thing that happened to me this decade. Thank you to the people who made this place exist."

Join us here: complice.co/room/lesswrong