Silly: Joy launches early access to virtual collaboration platform Tangle

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Silly: Joy launched its virtual collaboration platform Tangle in early access, and it has raised another round of funding in excess of $4 million.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Absurd: Joy started as a gaming company started by Owlchemy VR gaming veterans Alex Schwartz and Cy Wise. They have been frustrated by the lack of modern tools that enable teams to feel present, connected, and able to collaborate remotely. While they were working on making games in the pandemic, they focused on creating a remote work center called Tangle.

It serves as a virtual platform for teams to communicate and collaborate from anywhere. It’s been in testing since the company announced $5.5 million in funding in August 2021. Now anyone can download and use it.

“We were trying to make video games and we were in the happy conditions to build a complete communications platform,” Schwartz said. “I am very excited about the funding. We have over $10 million in funding at this point. So far, we’ve been keeping the gates for people wanting to try it.”

The goal is to reduce meetings and put people first, Schwartz said in an interview with GamesBeat. The goal is to produce something more fun for employees to use than Zoom, Google Meet, Discord, or Microsoft Teams.

Tangle contains animated gifs.

“Everyone is tired of using a fragmented bundle of remote communicating tools like Zoom for video and Slack for sending messages,” Schwartz said. “We built this thing to make it really easy to have collaborative moments together and spend the day with the team that you usually sit next to in a physical space. Instead, we made this shared spatial sound a consistent world where you can be with your team and get things done.”

In contrast to these communication tools, Tangle is lively. It uses cartoon-like animations that you can choose to represent you in the office. Schwartz said these avatars capture your facial movements when you speak, and you can use them in meetings when you don’t want to go to the camera. If you really need to use the camera, you have that option.

“We are a group of designers focused on human psychology and experience,” Schwartz said. “We asked how we could make this experience better. And we found that the important thing is that people don’t really want to play their videos all day.”

So the avatar can take over, and you can know someone is listening because the avatars mimic their facial expressions. You don’t have to wear camera clothes. You also don’t want to feel watched all day which is why everyone has a virtual office and you have to knock on the door and you can’t interrupt someone unless it’s convenient for them.

As far as 3D avatar animations 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 this through the spatial sound and know that the person is now open for conversation.

You might say the timing is bad because the pandemic is over (well, not really) and everyone is back in offices now (well, not true either). But Schwartz believes remote work is here to stay and has many benefits. I recently had a demo at a large company, and their parking lot was completely empty. Schwartz said many people would rather resign than return to the office.

“The pandemic was a catalyst for change that was already going to happen,” Schwartz said. “Once you realize that you are productive in these other ways, and can be more flexible for workers, the only people who will have a hard time getting back into offices are all the people who have made these real estate investments.”

Like Slack and Discord, but they are different

Tangle has doors for spatial audio and privacy.

Schwartz likens Tangle’s journey to that of Slack and Discord. Both companies started making games, but both focused on making communication tools that became very popular.

Today’s tools are built around dated video meetings and text-heavy communication. To meet the needs of modern remote workers, most teams must leverage multiple platforms and put together a fragmented set of disparate tools to collaborate only with their teams.

These tools were never designed for today’s remote use cases, and often leave workers in endless meetings and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness.

They have set out to re-imagine remote communications and have built the Tangle Platform, an enduring virtual collaboration platform that prioritizes culture and connectedness and puts humans at heart. For example, you can send an air horn sound to do a good job.

Tangle gives you an endless amount of room with privacy ‘doors’ where spatial sound allows you to listen in on conversations, like in a coffee shop, allowing swivel chair moments that aid collaboration, or closing your office door for private conversations.

With Tangle, employees have more agency on how they look to work with highly customizable avatars, individual volume control, and intuitive celebratory reactions like confetti.

Schwartz said a lot of others have tried to create full 3D avatars of walking to represent people, and the company believes that’s not something people really want. Mobility or navigation is very complex. It slows you down in getting things done.

“We found that we just lost the camaraderie and the social presence of feeling like you’re with a group of humans versus a group of worker bees, like these are real people with real lives,” Schwartz said. “So the way to connect and feel like a cohesive team is the real thing missing in remote work programs.”

Tangle offers a lot of token customization.

The app runs at 60 frames per second because it comes from gamers. In fact, even no lag slows you down and makes you less productive.

In Tangle, you can raise your hand like 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 do. If someone does a bad joke, you can send them to the joke dungeon and virtual prison bars will appear.

Tangle aims to reduce the abundance of meetings and increase camaraderie, creativity, and the chance spark of being together.

“Joy COO,” said Cy Wise, drooling, in a statement. “When team culture consists only of back-to-back meetings and endless messaging conversations, culture and productivity are affected. Tangle has built-in features that allow employees to send and receive social cues and be themselves, making Tangle sustainable and exciting to real human hearts.”

Some of the users are Lightforge Games and FarHomes.

“As a completely remote company from day one, we’ve known that our success depends on our remote collaboration solution – particularly the social elements of meeting people randomly, listening to chats, or even just going out,” said Matt Shimbari, CEO of Lightforge Games. “Fortunately, we found Tangle very early on, and it fully shapes how we work as a team. As our default hub, Tangle brings the benefits of remote working while maintaining social connectedness and fun for the video game studio.”

FarHomes CEO Chet Kettleson said Tangle is once again making fun of the collaboration. He said that whether it’s jumping into an open room for a casual conversation, or knocking on someone’s door heading down, Tangle creates a sense of connectedness in remote work while eliminating countless hours in meetings.

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