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This Zoom alternative makes video calls more informal—and maybe even wacky

Mmhmm’s new OOO service is a more playful alternative to the grids we’ve all become accustomed to during the pandemic.

This Zoom alternative makes video calls more informal—and maybe even wacky
[Animation: courtesy of Mmhmm]

Mmhmm, a startup that launched during the coronavirus pandemic to make presenting in Zoom and other videoconferencing services less boring, is now launching its own platform for video discussions.

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Called OOO—pronounced like “ooh!” but also a reference to being out of the office—the new tool accessible in a web browser and on mobile devices is designed to replace Zoom and its rivals with a more engaging environment.

[Image: courtesy of Mmhmm]
In a recent demo, I met with Mmhmm cofounder and CEO Phil Libin in OOO, with videos of our upper bodies interposed on changeable backgrounds. Those backdrops included an 8-bit video game-style side-scrolling world, a crackling bonfire, a tranquil coffee shop with soothing music, the classic DVD bouncing logo screen saver with our faces replacing the DVD logo, and even my own living room.

While users can harness the platform for more formal meetings—Libin says he recently used it for a board meeting, complete with presentations recorded through Mmhmm—it’s also suitable for more informal, personal discussions.

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“We kind of wanted to do an online version of, let’s go for a cup of coffee,” he says.

[Image: courtesy of Mmhmm]
The whimsical animated backgrounds and interactivity that allows you to move about the virtual room, adjust your video opacity, and rotate your image might seem distracting. But Libin says they can make online discussions more pleasant and less awkward. The background noise of the crackling fire or music-playing coffee shop setting, for instance, can make pauses in conversation more bearable, he says.

“If you’re in a Zoom call and nobody says anything, it’s terrible,” he says. “The silence is super weird.”

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[Image: courtesy of Mmhmm]
In the demo call visit to the virtual coffee shop, Libin moved his video image into a large cup of coffee on a table, jokingly filling his real-life coffee cup from the larger vessel. It’s possible such gimmicks could get old quickly, just as folks seem less likely today than early in the pandemic to dress up their video calls with whimsical backgrounds or goofy filters. But the product also includes other features, like the ability to embed video from platforms like YouTube or Mmhmm’s upcoming Mmhmm TV—essentially a YouTube-style playlist of Mmhmm video presentations created at your business and shared with you—in the video chat environment.

“It’s like Netflix for all your work stuff,” Libin says. “It shows you all of your interactive communications and lets you watch them.”

[Image: courtesy of Mmhmm]
Users will also be able to build their own custom rooms with a tool kit the company plans on rolling out. Mmhmm, which emerged from Libin’s digital product studio All Turtles, is itself an all-distributed company, he says, offering employees monthly payments for their own workspaces, whether that means a home office or a spot at a coworking space. Libin, who’s currently based in Bentonville, Arkansas, the city best known as home to Walmart’s headquarters, says he frequently works from the library at the city’s renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where he is a member.

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Libin suggests that companies use a tool like Mmhmm for presentations and let people watch them on their own time, then connect with a chat tool like OOO for actual conversations. He says Mmhmm has also been used by educators for presentations, and he imagines that OOO will also be useful for educational collaboration.

At present, OOO is available in a free prerelease mode the company is calling a “dangerously untested preview,” but as the product evolves, it’s likely to have versions integrated with the existing free and premium editions of Mmhmm, Libin says. “We’re going to have it in this preview stage for a couple of months. Then, we’ll release it as a live product.”

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About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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