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Absurd:joy has launched its Tangle virtual collaboration platform into early access, and it has raised another round of funding in excess of $4 million.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Absurd:joy started out as a game company started by Owlchemy virtual reality gaming veterans Alex Schwartz and Cy Wise. They were frustrated by the lack of modern tools that empower teams to feel present, connected, and able to collaborate remotely. As they labored to make games in the pandemic, they pivoted to create a remote work hub dubbed Tangle.
It serves as a virtual platform for teams to connect and collaborate from anywhere. It was under testing since the company announced its funding of $5.5 million in August 2021. And now anyone can download and use it.
“We were trying to make video games and fell into the fortunate circumstance of building an entire communication platform,” Schwartz said. “I’m very excited about the funding. We have over $10 million in funding at this point. Until now, we were holding the floodgates of people who wanted to try it.”
The aim is to reduce meetings and put people first, said Schwartz in an interview with GamesBeat. And the goal is to produce something that is more joyful for employees to use than the standard Zoom, Google Meet, Discord or Microsoft Teams.
“Everyone is so sick of using the fragmented stack of tools that communicate remotely like Zoom for video and Slack to send messages,” Schwartz said. “We built this thing to really make it a lot easier to have collaborative moments together and spend the day with the team that you would normally be sitting next to in a physical space. Instead, we made this shared spatial audio persistent world so that you can be with your team and get things done.”
In contrast to those communication tools, Tangle is lively. It uses cartoon-like animated avatars that you can choose to represent you in the office. Those avatars capture your facial movements when you’re speaking, and you can use them in meetings when you don’t feel like going on camera, Schwartz said. If you really do need to use your camera, you have that option.
“We’re a bunch of designers focused on human psychology and experience,” Schwartz said. “We asked how do we just make this experience better. And we found that the big thing was people don’t actually want their video on all day.”
So the avatars can take over, and you can know someone is listening because the avatars mimic their facial expressions. You don’t have to get dressed up for the camera. You also don’t want the feeling of being watched all day and so that is why each person has a virtual office and you have to knock on the door and can interrupt someone only if it’s OK with them.
As far as 3D graphics animations for avatars go, Absurd:joy tried to keep it simple. If you get too realistic, you cross the uncanny valley and things start to look weird. If someone decides to open the office door, you can hear that through spatial audio and know that the person is now open to conversation.
You might say that the timing is poor because the pandemic is over (OK, not really) and everybody is back at offices now (OK, also not true). But Schwartz thinks that working remotely is here to stay and it has tons of benefits. I recently got a demo at a big company, and its parking lot was completely empty. Schwartz said many people would rather quit than return to the office.
“The pandemic was a catalyst for the change that was going to happen already,” Schwartz said. “Once you have that realization that you are productive in these other ways, and can be more flexible for workers, the only people that are going to be arguing the hardest for going back to offices are all those people who made those real estate investments.”
Like Slack and Discord, but different
Schwartz likens Tangle’s journey to that of both Slack and Discord. Both of those companies started out making games, but they both pivoted to make communications tools that have become extremely popular.
Today’s tools are designed around dated video meetings and heavy text communication. To meet the needs of modern remote workers, most teams must leverage multiple platforms and cobble together a fragmented set of disparate tools just to collaborate with their teams.
These tools were never designed for today’s remote use cases, often leaving workers with endless meetings and an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
They set out to re-imagine remote communication and built Tangle, a persistent virtual platform for collaboration that prioritizes culture, connectedness, and puts human beings at the heart. For instance, you can send the sound of an air horn for a job well done.
Tangle gives you an infinite canvas of rooms with privacy “doors” where spatial audio allows you to overhear conversations, like at a coffee shop, allowing for serendipitous swivel chair moments that aid in collaboration, or close your office door to have private conversations.
With Tangle, employees have more agency over how they show up to work with wildly customizable avatars, individual volume control, and intuitive celebratory reactions like confetti.
Schwartz said that a lot of others have tried created full 3D walking avatars to represent people, and the company thinks that isn’t something that people really want. It’s too complicated to navigate or move around. It slows you down in getting things done.
“We found that we lost just the camaraderie and social presence of feeling like you’re with a bunch of human beings versus a bunch of worker bees, like these are real people with real lives,” Schwartz said. “And so a way to connect and feel like a cohesive team is the real thing that’s missing from remote work software.”
The app runs at 60 frames per second because it comes from gamers. Actually, it’s so that there are no delays that slow you down and make you less productive.
In Tangle, you can raise your hand as you can in Microsoft Teams. But you can also increase the intensity and wave the hand back and forth if you have an important interruption to make. If someone makes a bad joke, you can send them to the joke dungeon and virtual prison bars will appear.
Tangle aims to reduce a glut of meetings and increase camaraderie, creativity and the serendipitous spark of being together.
“Instead of taking in-person culture and directly trying to plug it into remote life, we’re taking the best of in-office and remote and layering social features that celebrate being human,” said Cy Wise, Absurd:joy COO, in a statement. “When a team’s culture consists solely of back-to-back meetings and endless messaging chats, culture and productivity suffer. Tangle has built-in features that allow employees to send and receive social cues and show up as themselves, making Tangle sustainable and exciting for real-life human hearts.”
Some of the users are Lightforge Games and FarHomes.
“As a fully remote company since day one, we knew our success depended on solving remote collaboration — in particular the social elements of randomly running into others, overhearing chats, or even just hanging out,” said Matt Schembari, CEO of Lightforge Games. “We luckily found Tangle super early, and it fully shapes how we operate as a team. As our virtual hub, Tangle delivers the benefits of remote work while maintaining the social connectedness and fun of a video game studio”
Chet Kittleson, CEO of FarHomes, said that Tangle makes collaboration fun again. He said that whether it’s hopping into an open room to have a casual conversation, or knocking on the door of someone who’s heads down, Tangle creates the feeling of connectedness in remote work while eliminating countless hours spent in meetings.
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