Tinychat Videoconferencing Review

by Reads (17,793)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 5
      • Performance
      • 6
      • Total Score:
      • 5.50
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Super easy to start a chat
    • URLs are easy to communicate
    • Webcam functionality is seamless
  • Cons

    • Account creation is too complex
    • Poor layout and design
    • Crippled desktop sharing

By Dustin Sklavos

Tinychat takes videoconferencing back to the chatroom days of the ancient 1990s. Is this a welcome splash of retrofuturism, or just a design concept well past its prime? We break it down in this review.

Now personally, I haven’t been in a chat room since we got rid of America Online all those years ago. Maybe I’m out of touch with the young people and what’s hip these days, but I don’t know that chat rooms are all the rage these days like they were when I was a teenager (so, so long ago). Yet Tinychat is built pretty much entirely around the idea of the chat room.

If the scrolling images on the front page are to be believed, Tinychat is home to a lot of young, hip people, usin’ chat rooms and talking about makeup, boys, and whatever hippity-hop is playing on the radio these days. Kids still listen to the radio, right? I’ll give up the schtick and move on, but the point is that Tinychat positions itself as another social medium not at all unlike Tokbox.

Getting Started (The Hard Way)

Tinychat signup pageMost people are going to try and do the same thing I did when they arrive at Tinychat’s homepage: Create an account. Those that do are going to find the same things that disappointed me initially and made me question the validity of the name “Tinychat.”

The first sign-up window asks for the same general information that Adobe asks for with ConnectNow, for example. That wouldn’t be too bad, except that what follows are not one, not two, but four different profile set-up pages, each more esoteric than the last. While you can skip them all, that they’re even here is intimidating enough.

Tinychat account set up page

Hey, I just wanted to open a chat room, not create a “show.” Tinychat’s configuration suffers the same problems that tend to plague a lot of modern solutions (ooVoo, I’m looking at you): Too many options, too specific, and not enough guidance. Flexibility should be abstracted somewhat to allow more sophisticated users the control they’re looking for while avoiding scaring off the more casual ones.

And you see it gets worse. I guess if you were interested in producing a new and exciting communication medium, you might pursue these options, but this level of personalization can be off-putting for people that just want to chat with their friends. The really silly thing is that just by cursory examination, I can’t even find a general index to browse chats, so what’s the Channel thing for?

Getting Started (The Easy Way)

Tinychat instant chat option

Of course, if you just want to use Tinychat to communicate one-on-one, then there’s hope for you. On the front page, you can enter a room URL and click Enter Your Room without even signing up. Tinychat will allow you to sign in using an “instant” Tinychat login or with your Twitter or your Facebook credentials. From there just create a room topic and, presto, you’ve got your own chat room.

And it works pretty well, too. Fun fact: Under the Tinychat login, since it doesn’t ask for a password, you can just put whatever handle you want. No account required! To share your chat room with others, just send them the URL. It’s really simple, too, like Adobe ConnectNow’s and unlike Tokbox’s.

Ease of Use

Tinychat camera chatSo how does the chat room work? Fairly well, actually. I think what I’ve really appreciated about so many of these solutions is that the webcam and microphone configuration is largely non-existent; you just load them up and they work.

Assuming you took the time to create an account, your chat room is going to look like this. While the icons are simple — webcam and microphone toggles are easily accounted for — the overall chat room layout leaves a lot to be desired. I’m doing my primary testing on a 27″ monitor, using the 14″ screen on my laptop as a secondary. Tinychat’s layout was cramped on my big screen. While desktop screens are getting higher and higher resolution, laptop screens recently took a big fat step back when they switched to 1366×768 as their common resolution. Laptops are very popular, and this kind of layout simply isn’t going to cut it.

It gets worse when the camera goes on and my ugly mug materializes. Camera views take up a healthy chunk of real estate, and you can see there’s a lot of wasted space in this layout.

The technical stuff winds up being very easy to use; Tinychat uses Flash, just like its browser-based kin. It’s the mediocre layout coupled with the odd Show theme that starts to make Tinychat more troublesome.

Tinychat desktop sharing start captureFinally, for those looking for it, Tinychat does include desktop sharing, but it’s probably the most limited and poorly implemented design I’ve seen so far. Essentially, you move a fixed-sized window around your desktop and then click Start Capture. But again, I have an ungodly amount of desktop real estate (two screens, both running at 1920×1200) and I still couldn’t figure out how to move stuff around to make this useful. Adobe ConnectNow’s overlay was far, far better.

Conclusion

I must seem so horribly down on Tinychat. Indeed, it seems a bit schizophrenic at times, as though the ideas conceived in meetings didn’t quite get fleshed out in the most intuitive way. But the basic usage of Tinychat — as a chat room and video chat client — is cheerfully simple. I’ve been looking specifically at how far individual developers can streamline the concept of video chat before turning it into something akin to the iPod Shuffle that’s streamlined to the point of obtuse absurdity. Being able to just pop open a chat room off the front page without making an account? That’s pretty simple. And since Tinychat is Flash-based like its peers, webcam integration is relatively seamless.

While I think the social media bent overcomplicates things a bit, the core of Tinychat is still remarkably easy to use. If you’re looking for something a little more consumer-geared and don’t mind the dismal desktop sharing (assuming you’ll even use it at all), Tinychat’s the way to go.

PROS

  • Super easy to start a chat
  • URLs are easy to communicate
  • Webcam functionality is seamless

CONS

  • Account creation is too complex
  • Poor layout and design
  • Crippled desktop sharing



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