New: Joinable Conversations

June 11, 2020

Effortlessly talk live with anyone and everyone in your Cocoon

When you're inside Cocoon at the same time as anyone else in your group, you'll be able to easily start a conversation with audio or video if you have a moment and want to chat. At any point, you can invite anyone in your Cocoon to talk, which will send a regular notification instead of ringing their phone. And once a conversation gets going, everyone else in your Cocoon will get a silent notification and can choose to join if they're "around".

When you're physically together, striking up a casual conversation with whoever's around is the most natural thing in the world. But this simple act hasn't transitioned gracefully from real life to digital life. We think there are two big culprits: the rigid structure of phone calls, and the innate public nature of social and communication apps.

Regular phone calls are anything but casual

Placing a phone call is a very deliberate action. You need to send someone the most extreme possible interruption, despite not knowing anything about their availability. If they were already looking at their phone, an incoming call will take over their entire screen without warning. Otherwise, it will persistently ring or vibrate until they make a decision. Of course to avoid that interruption, you could carefully co-ordinate a time to talk... but this is hard enough between two people, and becomes exponentially harder as more people are added to the mix, so group calls are especially difficult and scarce.

Modern apps have been chipping away at the rules of the classic phone call. Why can't a conversation get started without having to choose the exact participants and ring their phones? Why should you need to decide between audio or video up front? Why can't a call be joined by other people after it starts? This last question is especially interesting, but in practice it's really hard to get right. If a call is "joinable", who exactly should be able to join?

Private conversations need a private space

The vast majority of conversations in real life occur in places with clear boundaries, like a home. No matter who happens to around at any given moment, there's no question about who has a key. But most communication apps are organized around the address book: a directory of everyone you know. As such, they need to rely on complicated controls in order to manufacture intimacy. You may need to create new threads or URLs for every call, decide between letting everyone's contacts or only mutual contacts join a call, or "lock" a call after some people make it in.

In Cocoon, there's no need to navigate your way around a giant public space to find a corner of intimacy each time you want to talk. You've already chosen the handful of people who make up your Cocoon, and created your boundary. For well-established small and intimate groups, we think talking in Cocoon will be the closest mobile experience to talking in a real life private space.

We're hopeful that groups using Cocoon will have more conversations, and better conversations

More conversations will take place because all the major barriers associated with phone calls are gone. You no longer have to choose between interruption or co-ordination. Ambient status info (like seeing if someone's at home) can also offer a clue into their availability to chat. You won't need to dial any numbers or ring anyone's phone. You don't even need to know upfront who might join, since you already figured that out. And just like how bumping into someone in real life provides an easy opportunity to chat, running into someone online in Cocoon will do the same.

Conversations will be better because instead of being unnecessarily limited to the starting participants, they can grow serendipitously — in a stress-free way that preserves your privacy. Our team has been testing the new feature with our own personal Cocoons for the last couple of weeks, and the experience of having someone drop into a conversation is consistently delightful. Even just seeing a notification that your loved ones are hanging out together is always a little heartwarming, whether or not you end up joining yourself.

Towards a more natural way of coming together digitally

Our #1 source for inspiration when thinking of new features is to examine the natural ways that tight-knit groups interact in close quarters, and look for opportunities to meaningfully improve how these interactions take place digitally. Social behavior is so nuanced, but we still rely on a handful of blunt tools from the pre-internet era (like phone calls and texting) for almost all of our communication.

As we rely more and more on technology to stay tight-knit, our technology should strive to map more closely to how we interact in real life. We think this update is a proper step in that direction — a more natural way to come together, inside your private digital space. To try it out, you can download the latest version from the App Store.