Rabbit, a group video chat provider, emerged out of stealth mode Thursday with an app that wants to take on Oovoo, Skype and Google+ Hangouts by getting rid of that awkward moment of silence when no one is talking. The San Francisco-based company wants to stand out by adding background buzz to each chat room to resemble the sound you’d encounter when meeting your friends in public.
Co-founder Stephanie Morgan told me earlier this week that her team tried hard to make conversations in Rabbit, which will go into private beta early next year, feel like real-life situations. The background sound that drones out silence is one way to do this. Another is the way Rabbit structures social gatherings:
Each chat room can host an unlimited number of participants, but each group conversation is currently limited to 12 people. The app makes it possible to overhear multiple conversations at the same time, much in the same way you would be able to when going to a party where people mingle and chat in groups. Users can listen in on a particular conversation by hovering over a group with their mouse, and then choose to join the chat, or simply go elsewhere.
Another interesting design feature of Rabbit is its lens-like focus on chat participants. “You deemphasize the background and focus much more on the person,” she explained. Why is that important? Because nothing makes the remoteness of video chat more obvious than when you realize that the person you are talking to is in a room that looks completely unlike your own.
But Rabbit doesn’t just want to look and feel different than the competition. The app also offers some neat desktop sharing features that make it possible to easily share apps, web sites or even video streams with your chat partners.
Rabbit is now doing all this through a native OS X app; a Windows version is forthcoming, as are mobile apps for iOS and Android. But we are probably not going to see a web app any time soon because, in part, Rabbit wants to become the app that always runs in the background. The apps target audience is 17 to 25, and many of them already leave video chats running for 10 hours or longer at a time, said Morgan.