We say this often here at Cult of Mac: “This new whatsagizbob will change your life!” Perhaps we say it too often. But I can think of very, very few things I’ve seen where the phrase would ring as true as it does with Rabbit.
Rabbit is a videochat app and platform for Mac unlike anything you’ve seen, designed for immersive video socializing in groups, created by four ex-videogame developers, with mind-boggling attention to detail. You can even screencast movies, and share images and webpages over Rabbit.
And today, it’s been released as a closed beta (but read on to find out how to get your hands on a copy).
The first time I began playing around with Rabbit, I was stunned. It started with the interface; instead of one, or several people’s faces immediately popping up, Rabbit presents you with a screen full of rooms that can be entered, each with its own name, theme and art so they can be easily recognized.
Once in a room, you’re presented with bubbles containing people’s faces, each one representing a separate chat. Pick a chat, and you can interact with up to 10 other people, all having the same conversation — all of whom you can see and hear. Participants are gathered in little bubbles around a larger central bubble, and you can see each person’s face throughout the conversation. Rabbit has a special algorithm that figures out who should be center stage, and plops that person in the center bubble.
The rooms are persistent, the idea is that you can jump into a room and hang out at any time, and Rabbit is designed so that you don’t really ever have to turn it off (though obviously you can, if you want), meaning people could hang out ’round-the-clock, exist in Rabbit in a persistent state — sort of like how people hang out now on instant message clients.
The whole thing has the feel of a warm, welcome mingling of people at a party, and that’s exactly what the developers had in mind. Stephanie Morgan, one of the quartet and a former producer/designer at iOS game powerhouse Ngmoco, described it as a “cozy, happy place” when we sat down recently for a chat.
“People actually jump from conversation to conversation, and mingle from group to group, but they’re all in the same space.”
It seems like an insane amount of thought and care went into designing Rabbit in order to create an immersive experience— some of which you’d never notice while using the app. For instance, Rabbit actually has sound playing in the background, underlying the noise of everyone speaking; only in this instance, the sound mimics silence. Rabbit calls it “Room Tone.”
“Silence has a sound,” says Stephanie. “The sound of two people being quiet in a gymnasium is different than two people being quiet in a place with plush couches, for instance.”
And of course, there’s screencasting; watching a movie with up to 10 friends in Mumbai, Capetown and Adelaide is as easy as clicking a button to share the screen. In fact, you can share whatever is currently on your screen this way; or you can click on a button that opens a list of your open apps, and click on that app to share what’s on the app’s front window.
I’ve done my best to describe the experience — but the best way to understand Rabbit would be to experience it for yourself. Right now, that might be difficult.
The first issue is that Rabbit is Mac-only. Your friends still stuck on Microsoft machines won’t be able to chat with you; tell ‘em to get a Mac. And while there aren’t really any other hardware requirements, you will need to be running Lion or higher. Still stuck on Snow Leopard (or worse)? Upgrade.
The last issue is that, yes, today marks the launch of Rabbit’s closed beta, which means you can’t download and enter Rabbit unless you’re invited. Luckily, this is less of a problem than you might think. For one, anyone using Rabbit can invite an unlimited amount of friends — so it’s likely that, in very little time, and assuming you have friends, you may be receiving an invite from someone.
We’ve got something to help you out a little too: If you can’t wait, and want to be one of the first to experience Rabbit, the first 25 readers who retweet this post with the hashtag #GetRabbit will get an invite directly from Rabbit. See you soon.