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MIT Sloan Creates “Minglr” – an Open Source Skype and Zoom Video Competitor

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Meet Minglr, a video conferencing software created by the MIT Sloan School of Management. Minglr is an open-source software that competes in the video communications space. The video conferencing systems ecosystem has undergone a tectonic transformation in the last 5 years, with Skype, Zoom, Facebook, Google and Cisco — all targeting the business groups and consumers with their products and solutions. However, MIT Sloan’s Minglr is different. It is designed to support the impromptu, candid and informal conversations we all have before and after the formal meetings. It’s like a coffee table chat center for individuals and groups who like to engage in highly contextual interactions during the work from home regime.

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Minglr encourages those ad-hoc interactions are what people miss in today’s work-from-home environment’

To create Minglr, Prof. Thomas Malone of MIT Sloan School of Management had teamed up with Jaeyoon Song, an incoming MIT Sloan Ph.D. student, and Chris Riedl, associate professor for Information Systems and Network Science at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. Together, they developed a prototype of the software, building on an open-source video conferencing system called jitsi. Minglr is an extension of jitsi.

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“I think ad-hoc interactions—those ‘hallway conversations’—are among the most important things that people miss in today’s work-from-home environment,” says Thomas W. Malone, the Patrick J. McGovern (1959) Professor of Management at MIT Sloan and the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, who led the Minglr research team.

Thomas added, “From a collective intelligence standpoint, lots of research suggests that those random encounters are key to creative innovations in cities, research labs, companies, and elsewhere. And, we know from our own personal experiences that they are also critical to making new professional connections, forming social bonds, and building camaraderie in a group. But most people don’t realize how straightforward it is to create video conferencing software that supports these ad-hoc interactions.”

He added, “We want to demonstrate what is possible, and we hope that all major videoconferencing systems will implement functionality like that in Minglr.”

The team plans to make Minglr available as open source software to anyone who is interested in using the tool, including developers who would like to contribute to it.

How Minglr Video Conferencing Software Works? 

It works like this:

At a virtual meeting or conference, participants and attendees log on to Minglr and see a list of people who are available to talk.

The system lets them select the ones they want to speak with. They can also see the people who want to talk to them.

And, if they select one of those people, then both parties enter into a private video room where they can chat for as long or as short a time as they wish.

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Minglr’s Pilot Test Done in June Meeting

A working paper the team just released describes a pilot test of Minglr at the June MIT Collective Intelligence 2020 meeting, which was held online as a virtual conference. In one survey reported in the working paper, conference attendees indicated that conversations in hallways, lobbies, and at social events were the most important part of attending an academic conference.

And, in another survey, 86% of participants who used the Minglr system successfully said that they thought future online conferences should employ something like it.

“The positive feedback we received on Minglr has helped us see new pathways for its functionality,” says Song.

Song added, “We knew that the system could be valuable at virtual business meetings and professional conferences, but now we see potential uses in virtual classes, parties, and other kinds of social engagements. Minglr allows you to meet new people, chat with folks you already know, and spark different kinds of conversations. With Minglr, we see a future that involves much richer and deeper online interaction.”

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